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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

A prophecy from the prolific Gil-Scott Heron deciphered for the events of today

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Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Oftentimes used as a famous catchphrase or a hook in several rap songs or movies, the infamously prophetic poem turned song that was written by the extraordinarily influential and undercelebrated poet and musician Gil-Scott Heron, is now playing out in real-time.

As a kid, I probably heard the words “the revolution will not be televised” at least 100 times, as a joke, at parties, or as a summation of a semi-deep discussion amongst adults who were under the influence of alcohol.

Today, these words are no longer just a slogan for social capital, and I am now wondering if Heron actually gave us a crucial indicator as to when events will no longer be contained, and instead become truly revolutionary.

Today, the extraordinary events taking place across America are still being recorded on Twitter, YouTube, and the multitude of media news outlets around the world, all of whom depend on advertising revenue for their lifeblood. But none of this reporting is real, and only serves to sustain an emotional disconnect from the reality of what is actually unfolding.

But Heron warned us. He told us that after a certain point, the fake world will become the real world, and at that point, no one will be able to escape.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theatre
And will not star Natalie Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because
The revolution will not be televised, brother

Just as George Orwell complained about British society continuing to promote consumerism while simultaneously fighting Nazis, Heron saw the absurdity in believing that a true socio-cultural revolution could occur while the mainstream media continued to prop up capitalism. In 1940's Great Britain, despite daily bombings and thousands being routinely killed, the message to citizens was:

Buy stockings and lipstick, don’t stay home, keep the economy going!

And in the USA today, the news about brutal actions by police and the corresponding authoritarian propaganda by a political party that is seeking absolute control, are routinely interrupted by messages about new and improved cleaning products, a beer with a lime twist, and the next sporting event that will determine this year's champion.

These types of messages that promote the illusion of market-based normalcy send a message to people that everything is okay. As long as the economy, advertising, and marketing are happening, then everything must be okay.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

But Heron knew that once the seemingly impenetrable construct of capitalism was finally disrupted, then, and only then, people would have no choice but to actually pay attention to the tragedies of their oppressive and horrifically unequal society. Once the TV could no longer shelter people, then they would finally realize things were not okay, and then the revolution would take place.

You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag
And skip out for beer during commercials, because
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be televised
The revolution will not be brought to you
By Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a bugle
And leading a charge by John Mitchell, General Abrams, and Spiro Agnew
To eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary
The revolution will not be televised

Gil-Scott Heron wrote this is in 1970, at the end of one of the most tumultuous decades in American history. For many years these words seemed obscure, but today they are self-evident. It is now absurdly obvious that Heron could see what was inevitable.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theatre
And will not star Natalie Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because
The revolution will not be televised, brother

There will be no pictures of you and Willie Mae
Pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run
Or trying to slide that color TV into a stolen ambulance
NBC will not be able predict the winner
At 8:32 on report from twenty-nine districts
The revolution will not be televised

No reality shows, no games, no intermittent moments of relief. Heron clearly stated that even riots based on material gain would be no more.

Or trying to slide that color TV into a stolen ambulance

The message is clear and obvious. When the true revolution happens, there will be no escape. No one will be able to tune out, and no one will be able to profit off of it. There will be no winner and no corporate champion of progress. The political process will not elect a new leader of hope and equality. The only way that true change will happen is for the illusion of social separation to be shattered once and for all.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young
Being run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process
There will be no slow motion or still lifes of Roy Wilkins
Strolling through Watts in a red, black, and green liberation jumpsuit
That he has been saving for just the proper occasion

Still, today, many people watch from the sidelines, spectating and judging the horror of innocent people being gunned down by police and their accomplices. Many of these same people forgo the wearing of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for the same reason that they deny the existence of police oppression, which is that they simply do not grasp how close reality actually is to them.

Many people watch the horrors of police brutality from their offices, their homes, or in a public bathroom during a shopping trip to a big-box retailer as they seek a new comforter.

But when the real revolution comes, none of that will be possible. There will be no Target, no Wal-Mart, no news shows debating who is right and wrong. When the real revolution comes, no one will be able to hide or run away. When the true revolution comes, there will only be reality, and the real pain that comes with that. The inoculation of false media will have worn off and will be in very short supply.

All that will remain during the true revolution is the actual pain and suffering of the oppressed. All that will be heard is their shrieks just before they crush the system that doomed them to a short life of suffering and slavery.

“Green Acres”, “Beverly Hillbillies”, and “Hooterville Junction”
Will no longer be so damn relevant
And women will not care if Dick finally got down with Jane
On “Search for Tomorrow”
Because black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day
The revolution will not be televised

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock news
And no pictures of hairy armed women liberationists
And Jackie Onassis blowing her nose
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb or Francis Scott Keys
Nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash
Engelbert Humperdinck, or The Rare Earth
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be right back
After a message about a white tornado
White lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom
The tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight germs that may cause bad breath
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat

The revolution will not be televised
Will not be televised
Will not be televised
Will not be televised
The revolution will be no re-run, brothers
The revolution will be live

When the revolution finally comes, there will be nothing left to cling to for safety. When true change comes, there will no longer be a system that promotes rampant inequality through economic oppression. The fear of losing the existing system will no longer prevent people from becoming radicalized because the existing system will be so horrible and toxic, that even death itself would be better than remaining under the oppressive spectre of an extreme minority of wealthy elite.

The revolution will not be televised, because no one will have the luxury to be a spectator any longer. The revolution will not be televised because everyone will be a character in it, and no one will be able to escape.

Good luck. 04/09/2020

Written by

critical writer. teacher. satirist. wannabe journalist. www.joshuadopkowski.com

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