“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.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.