Medium as the (ego) Massage

Well, it took longer than I thought it would, but it finally happened. I recently had my first “Marshall McLuhan” moment and it was everything I’d hoped it would be.

For those of you who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, let me give you a little context.

There’s a scene from the 1977 Woody Allen comedy “Annie Hall” where the main character is in an argument with a pretentious college professor in line at a movie theater. The professor is pontificating about the ideas of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, to the great annoyance of the protagonist.

Finally, fed up with the professor’s wrong-headed analysis of McLuhan’s ideas, McLuhan himself suddenly appears from off-screen and informs the professor: “You know nothing of my work.”

Well… just a couple days ago I was in a Henderson restaurant, trying to get my bearings after yet another fast-paced and frenetic morning at the Henderson Daily News, when I heard the distinctive sound of my last name being uttered nearby.

Turning my head in the direction of a group sitting a few tables behind me, I started eavesdropping on their conversation. That’s right, I was totally listening in on what was being said about me. Call it vanity if you like, but it was a morbid curiosity that motivated me more than anything else.

It seems there was a question or debate about something I’d written in a recent column, a specific detail of history or religion that one of the individuals thought I’d misunderstood.

Now my arrogance is not so much that I felt compelled to go correct where he’d obviously misunderstood me, but I did find it interesting and it was a nice little massage to my ego. Nevertheless, my food soon arrived and my focus was quickly diverted. The conversation blended into the low murmur of the other patrons in the restaurant.

Suddenly I heard a raised voice say: “Matthew Prosser’s sitting right over there, why don’t you ask him yourself!”

My attention riveted, I looked in their direction with a smirk. Some at the table started laughing and one fellow, who I assume to be the one with the disagreement, had an expression of sincere surprise.

Recognizing one of the men in the group, I walked over to their table and offered my hand. He explained the nature of the disagreement to me briefly, saying the his friend simply thought I was mistaken in my understanding of the issue and my column reflected as much.

I turned to the man and said, in a deadpan voice: “You know nothing of my work,” before breaking character and laughing. I doubt he caught the reference but I explained it and then gave a quick defense of my perspective, the perspective which had informed my column.

The man was gracious, though I don’t think he was at all convinced. We agreed to disagree and I left them to their meal and conversation, returning to my own. As I finished my lunch and returned to work, I thought about the exchange and reflected on my place within this community.

I thought about the fact that my work goes outward in many directions in this community, that my half-baked and hastily written opinions have the distinct possibility of being discussed by the people who bother to read the op-ed section.

Of course, I am under no illusions that my words can necessarily convince people. But it made me realize that my parents and my wife aren’t necessarily the only ones reading what I write.
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And I think the real moral of the story is that, if you see me out and about, you better watch what you say…  it might just end up in the newspaper.

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