“If Life Were Only Like This”: Woody Allen Gets Marshall McLuhan to Put a Pontificating Professor in His Place

The dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion cre­at­ed a mighty forum for those who once held forth from around the pick­le bar­rel or atop a stur­dy soap box.

The Inter­net has spawned many com­men­ta­tors whose thoughts are cogent, well researched and well argued, but they’re sad­ly out­num­bered by a mul­ti­tude of blowhards, wind­bags, and oth­er self-appoint­ed experts, force­ful­ly express­ing opin­ions as fact.

And, as you’ve like­ly heard, many con­sumers fail to check cre­den­tials before believ­ing unsub­stan­ti­at­ed state­ments are the rock sol­id truth, to be repeat­ed and act­ed upon, some­times to last­ing con­se­quence.

Com­pare the unman­age­abil­i­ty of our sit­u­a­tion to that of 40 years ago, when an obnox­ious blovi­a­tor could appar­ent­ly be silenced by the intro­duc­tion of irrefutable author­i­ty…

Ah, wait, this is fic­tion…

A notable thing about the above scene from 1977’s Annie Hallbesides how beau­ti­ful­ly the com­e­dy holds up—is that the bad guy’s not stu­pid. His qual­i­fi­ca­tions are actu­al­ly quite impres­sive.

(We speak here of the Guy in Line, not writer-direc­tor-star Woody Allen, whose rep­u­ta­tion has been per­ma­nent­ly tar­nished by per­son­al mis­con­duct, some of it easy to sub­stan­ti­ate.)

The scene’s best punch­line comes from pit­ting intel­lec­tu­al against intel­lec­tu­al, not intel­lec­tu­al against some myth­i­cal “reg­u­lar” Amer­i­can, as we’ve come to expect.

The audi­ence is well posi­tioned to side with Allen and his ace-in-the-hole, media philoso­pher Mar­shall McLuhan. It’s a revenge fan­ta­sy designed to appeal to any­one whose free­dom has been impinged by some loud­mouthed stranger sound­ing off in a pub­lic area.

That’s all of us, right? (Though how many of us are will­ing to cop to the occa­sions when we may have been the nar­cis­sis­tic jerk monop­o­liz­ing the con­ver­sa­tion at top vol­ume …)

The court­ly McLuhan, a last minute replace­ment for direc­tor Fed­eri­co Felli­ni, pos­sessed the per­fect tem­pera­ment to skew­er the over­in­flat­ed self-worth of a pon­tif­i­cat­ing ego­ma­ni­ac.

He was, how­ev­er, not much of a per­former, accord­ing to Rus­sell Hor­ton, who played the Guy in Line:

Woody would pull him out and he’d say some­thing like, ‘Well you’re wrong, young man.’ Or, ‘Oh, gee, I don’t know what to say.’… We did like 17 or 18 takes, and if you look at it care­ful­ly in the movie, McLuhan says, ‘You mean my whole fal­la­cy is wrong’ which makes no sense. How can you have your fal­la­cy wrong?

Read the recent, and extreme­ly amus­ing Enter­tain­ment Week­ly inter­view with Guy in Line (and voice of the Trix cere­al rab­bit) Hor­ton in its entire­ty here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mar­shall McLuhan in Two Min­utes: A Brief Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the 1960s Media The­o­rist Who Pre­dict­ed Our Present

Woody Allen Tells a Clas­sic Joke About Hem­ing­way, Fitzger­ald & Gertrude Stein in 1965: A Pre­cur­sor to Mid­night in Paris

Woody Allen Amus­es Him­self by Giv­ing Untruth­ful Answers in Unaired 1971 TV Inter­view

Watch a 44-Minute Super­cut of Every Woody Allen Stam­mer, From Every Woody Allen Film

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (3)
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  • George Schmidt says:

    I’m out­raged. what is that slan­der bout Woody Allen in today’s mail­ing. SHAME on you!

    Very dis­ap­point­ed. I love your web­site and emaills, but you owe Mr. Allen an apol­o­gy and retrac­tion.

    This is unac­cept­able!

  • Michael Carper says:

    I think McLuhan’s line about his “fal­la­cy” makes per­fect com­ic sense, as part of a par­o­dy. The whole scene is par­o­dy, a par­o­dy that tar­gets Alvy Singer and McLuhan him­self, and not just the Man in the Movie Line.
    It’s bril­liant.
    Thus, when the scene is not seen as satire, but as par­o­dy, it works.

    PS. I agree. The cheap shot at Woody Allen’s char­ac­ter is seri­ous­ly uncalled for. You should retract it.

  • Jean-Marie Clarke says:

    Hel­lo Folks, I’ve just binged on old Woody Allen films, includ­ing “Annie Hall”, and am a big McLuhan fan to boot, so I looked for­ward to that famous scene in the movie the­ater queue. I watched the scene in Eng­lish sev­er­al times, then dubbed in Ger­man and French, and with sub­ti­tles, because I stum­bled over that famous “fal­la­cy” line. Being a trans­la­tor, I know that it’s dif­fi­cult to trans­late a mis­take, because it seems to reflect on you instead of on the orig­i­nal. But the Ger­man ver­sion made sense, the French too, and it men­tioned the word “phi­los­o­phy”, so I gath­ered that that might be where the slip of the tongue was: “fal­la­cy” instead of “phi­los­o­phy”. If you look care­ful­ly, sou see that the next cut was made just as McLuhan smiles and starts to say some­thing to Woody Allen (sound already cut off), so he might have real­ized his mis­take. This take might have been kept because it’s such a beau­ti­ful play on words, a per­fect mul­ti­lay­ered freudi­an slip. I read some­where that it appears in the pub­lished script, but that could have been changed in the mean­time. In any case, I don’t think that this inclu­sion was meant to ridicule McLuhan, even if he was a cul­tur­al guru fig­ure and some of his ideas were not par­tic­u­lar­ly enlight­en­ing or use­ful. JMC

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