Gil Scott-Heron Spells Out Why “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

Consider the influence of television, even in the digital age. Consider the power that networks like Fox and CNN continue to wield over that nebulous thing called public opinion; the continued dominance of NBC and CBS. These giants don’t really inform so much as sell packaged ideological content paid for and approved by corporate sponsors. There's really no need to update poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron’s radical, 1971 classic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” unless we wanted to change the names. His voice still speaks directly to the moment we live in.

We exist on a continuum of conditions that have worsened since the late 1960s—despite promises and appearances to the contrary—until they have become intolerable. Scott-Heron wrote and sang about those conditions since his fiery 1970 debut. “Dubbed the ‘Godfather of Rap,’” notes Brooklyn Rail in a 2007 interview, “Scott-Heron has become a ubiquitous and practically de rigueur influence for everyone from hip hoppers and indie rockers to aging literati and dyed-in-the-wool academics.”

One might think Scott-Heron’s classic spoken-word testament "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" speaks for itself by now, but it still creates confusion in part because people still misconstrue the nature of the medium. Why can’t you sit at home and watch journalists cover protests and revolts on TV? If you think you’re seeing “the Revolution” instead of curated, maybe spurious, content designed to tell a story and gin up views, you’re fooling yourself.

But Scott-Heron also had something else in mind—you can’t see the revolution on TV because you can’t see it at all. As he says above in a 1990s interview:

The first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. The thing that’s going to change people is something that nobody will ever be able to capture on film. It’s just something that you see and you’ll think, "Oh I’m on the wrong page," or “I’m on I’m on the right page but the wrong note. And I’ve got to get in sync with everyone else to find out what’s happening in this country."

If we realize we're out of sync with what's really happening, we cannot find out more on television. The information is where the battles are being fought, at street level, and in the mechanisms of the legal process. “I think that the Black Americans are the only real die-hard Americans here,” Scott-Heron goes on, “because we’re the only ones who’ve carried the process through the process…. We’re the ones who marched… we’re the ones who tried to go through the courts. Being born American didn’t seem to matter.” It still doesn’t, as we see in the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many before them, and in the grievous injuries and deaths from unconstitutional, military-grade police escalations nationwide since.

Scott-Heron asked us to question the narratives. "How do they know?” he sang in “There’s a War Going On” at Woodstock 94, above. How do the self-appointed guardians of information know what’s really going on? Television spreads ignorance and misinformation, as does radio and, of course, social media. This much we should know. But we’ve misinterpreted “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” if we think it’s really about mass media, Scott-Heron always maintained. Before we can engage meaningfully with current events, a revolutionary change must happen from the inside out. No one's broadcasting the truths we first, most need to hear.

via BoingBoing

Related Content:

Gil Scott-Heron, Godfather of Rap, Rest in Peace

Nina Simone’s Live Performances of Her Poignant Civil Rights Protest Songs

How Nina Simone Became Hip Hop’s “Secret Weapon”: From Lauryn Hill to Jay Z and Kanye West

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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  • DON KING says:

    REVOLUTION HAS TO TAKE PLACE IN ONE’S MIND AND AS A WHOLE IT WILL SHAKE AND WAKE UP A BELIEF THAT BEEN BELIEVED ALL THESE YEARS….THERE ARE SO MANY LIES THAT HAS DOMINATED OUR SOCIETY FOR SO LONG THAT EACH CHILD THAT IS BORN GROW UP WITH THIS MINDSET BELIEVING,EMBRACING AND LIVING THIS LIE…..THIS LIE IM TALKING ABOUT IS THE BELIEF THAT IM WHOLE AND YOU’RE LESS THAN HALF …YOU CAN SEE,FEEL AND TASTE IT IN YOUR EVERY WAKING MOMENT WHEN YOU WALK DOWN THE STREET.RACISM IS A DISEASE THAT WONT GO AWAY UNTIL WE AS A WHOLE WASH THAT DEEP SINFUL STAIN OUT OF OUR MIND..ITS A HUMAN BEING CHALLENGE..RE-EDUCATE OURSELVES,GOING BACK TO SCHOOL SO GOD CAN TEACH US HOW TO RID OURSELVES OF THAT “PANDEMIC” IN OUR MINDS…

  • Manuel Mesias says:

    @manumesias

    Allow me to update this Poem. I wrote this.

    The Revolution will not be televised

    ///

    The Revolution will be Streaming Live – XXI

    They will tell you to stay home, brother
    They will tell y’all shouldn’t plug in, tune on, drop out
    They will try to make you lose yourself in Hip-Hop
    And ask for a beer during your time breaks, because
    The revolution will be Streaming Live
    The revolution will be Streaming Live
    The revolution will be made by YOU
    Using Apple and Huawei, Twitter or Tor
    The Revolution will be Streaming Live pictures of Trump blowing
    And leading a charge by Lincoln, Malcolm X and George Floyd
    To Wendy’s in a fancy Soho shopping mall
    The Revolution will be Streaming Live
    The Revolution will be Streaming Live brought to you by Tiktok K-Pop warriors
    And will star Snoop Dogg, Billie Eilish or Seth Rogen
    The Revolution will wear a face masks for Covid-19
    The Revolution will get rid of the old thinking
    The Revolution will be make you feel stronger, because
    The Revolution will be Streaming Live, Brother
    There will be pictures of you and Kaepernick
    Kneeling down in front of a shopping cart stopping a looting down the block
    Or trying to release anger on a Color TV or a vandalized Ambulance
    Fox will declare victory, fake news they say
    But at every time and everywhere
    The Revolution will be Streaming Live
    The Revolution will show pigs shooting brothers with instant replay
    The Revolution will be Streaming Live, pigs shooting people on Instagram
    The Revolution will show pictures of Kobe
    As a reminder of how intense this year has been
    There will be slow motions frames and live debate with Don Lemon
    Talking about #Blacklivesmatters and red cap supporters
    And the things some anonymous people exposed to the masses
    “The Kardashians”, “Netflix”, and The last season of G.O.T
    Will no longer be so damn relevant
    And woman will lead the healing of society
    On search for a better tomorrow
    Because black people will be on the streets looking for a brighter day
    The Revolution will be Streaming Live
    There will be highlights on the eleven o’clock news
    And pictures of hairy armed women liberationist
    And Michelle Obama blowing her nose
    The theme song will be written by Jay-Z and Tom Morello
    And sung by Lady Gaga, Bad Bunny, and Green Day
    Miley Cyrus and BTS
    The Revolution will be Streaming Live
    The Revolution will be always Live
    During the encounter with the white tornado,
    White lightning or white supremacists
    You will not have to worry about an elephant in the room
    A tiger in the septic tank or the scarce of toilet paper
    The Revolution will be better with adblocker
    The Revolution will clash Trolls and Hackers and Influencers
    The Revolution put you in the driver seat
    The revolution will be Streaming Live
    Will be Streaming Live
    Will be Streaming Live
    Will be Streaming Live
    The Revolution will have Hashtags, brothers
    The revolution will be Streaming Live

    Wrote by: Manuel Mesias Inciarte

  • Margarita Hughes says:

    But Scott-Heron also had something else in mind—you can’t see the revolution on TV because you can’t see it at all. As he says above in a 1990s interview:

    The first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. The thing that’s going to change people is something that nobody will ever be able to capture on film. It’s just something that you see and you’ll think, “Oh I’m on the wrong page,” or “I’m on I’m on the right page but the wrong note. And I’ve got to get in sync with everyone else to find out what’s happening in this country.

    If we realize we’re out of sync with what’s really happening, we cannot find out more on television.

    I agree and its along the same lines as Don King.

    ‘What is it in us that seeks the truth? Is it our minds or is it our hearts?’ – Quote from A Time To Kill.

    As for the pandemic, we dont know the killer of COVID 19, but we know the killer of this virus and STILL no vaccine. We need to acknowledge institutional racism before we can deal with it.

    Education education education from nursery age onwards, and not just a tick box exercise. Wake Up Everybody Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes

    RIP Mr Floyd. My thoughts are with his family and the l was going to say, the insurmountable amount of other families.
    But you shall overcome. We HAVE to, we as humanity have to.

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