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Print is Dead!
September 14, 2009 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Print is dead? I was watching Ghostbusters (1984) this weekend, and at one point the character Egon Spengler is asked a question, to which he responds: 'Print is dead." What is the earliest recorded use of this phrase?
posted by thegreatfleecircus to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I see Google finding some 1916 and earlier mentions, but only in very specific contexts.

The Ghostbusters quote might very well be the origin of the (modern) phrase. It's certainly the voice I hear in my head whenever I read those words.
posted by rokusan at 11:17 AM on September 14, 2009


I considered that it was the origin of the modern phrase, but I didn't find any confirmation of that while looking around...
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 11:34 AM on September 14, 2009


I found a reference in the Antioch Review (1967) that uses "print is dead" as the characterization for Marshall McLuhan' scholarship, which make a lot of sense to me in this context. This previously is also pertinent.
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:38 PM on September 14, 2009


And it's worth nothing in that previous AskMe, there is a quote of McLuhan quoting Oswald Spengler about the destructive impact of the telegraph. Perhaps Egon Spengler was a clever take on this?
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:43 PM on September 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


From the DVD commentary via Wikipedia:
The character of Egon Spengler was named after Oswald Spengler and a classmate of Harold Ramis' at Senn High School named Egon Donsbach who was a Hungarian refugee.
posted by jferg at 1:02 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Urgh...worth noting. Someday, I'll learn to edit my metafilter posts
posted by mrmojoflying at 1:55 PM on September 14, 2009


Huh, I always thought he said "printer's dead" because he's fixing her computer setup and not paying attention to her.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:46 PM on September 14, 2009


Someday, I'll learn to edit my metafilter posts

But when print truly does become dead, we won't have to worry editing and typos! Yay!


Huh, I always thought he said "printer's dead"

I haven't seen the movie in a long time, so I forget the context of the discussion, but there seems to be a consensus that it was "print is dead," as demonstrated in this Ghostbusters discussion group. Someone adds that the DVD subtitles confirmed this.

Someone else in that group also mentions that the "print is dead" line actually gained some popularity in the early 80s in tech circles as the personal computer gained prominence. It likely wasn't the earliest recorded use, but Egon's quote may have just been a result of the growing sentiment of the time.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:14 PM on September 14, 2009


Someone else in that group also mentions that the "print is dead" line actually gained some popularity in the early 80s in tech circles as the personal computer gained prominence. It likely wasn't the earliest recorded use, but Egon's quote may have just been a result of the growing sentiment of the time.

Not that this directly answers the OPs question (which we've done pretty well, I think), but the ideas of Marshall McLuhan were in pretty heavy circulation at this time. Television was seen as the new medium of choice, there was a (falsely) perceived literacy crisis, in part, due to this public perception. What made this even more immediate was the promise of personal computers in every home and new communications technologies yet-foretold.

Ramis was always known to be a bit of an armchair philosopher so it wouldn't surprise me if he wasn't at least aware of McLuhan (and others) belief that the print medium was being subsumed. It also wouldn't surprise me if "Print is dead" wasn't in pretty heavy circulation already when Ramis brought it to the screen. Of course, afterward, it became a pop culture slogan.

If you look at the actual scene in the movie, you really see the clash of two cultures (which are often placed in opposition in popular culture) between Annie Potts character and Egon. Note that she has a big fat book in hand, trying to build a connection with him about a love of literature, and he deadpans "Print is dead."

I see a conference paper here for someone!
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:34 AM on September 15, 2009


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