The revolution will not be televised

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The revolution will not be televised (1970) is a poem and song written and sung by the American poet and musician Gil Scott Heron (1949 – 2011). Considered a precursor of rap and hip hop music, the song perfectly fits in the social atmosphere of discrimination towards black people that was still present in the USA in the ’60s and ’70s.

By 1970, there was a profound shift in the struggle for equality as the fight for civil rights gave way to the demand for the so called “Black Power“, a political slogan. In fact, the Civil Rights Movement had lost its focus, being ignored by a wartime US government, and the voices of its leaders were silenced by jail or bullets. Black popular music reflected this change. The voices on the radio stopped preaching brotherhood and togetherness and started reporting the real facts, while the music got more aggressive. This song makes no exception.

In the song, Heron criticizes television culture and its attention only for capitalism and the so called “WASP” culture: capitalism is not the route of change and, above all, the truth cannot and will not be correctly mediated by those people who are in control of the images that are broadcasted, because it would be dangerous; rather, the revolution and the truth exist out in the streets, but they always wait for someone to bring them up.

Popular culture works like a sort of “drug”, distracting people from what they really ought to be doing to change the world and to take control of their own lives. Television separates everything with commercial advertisement, synonymous of something false, fictional, inopportune towards what happens in real life: this is not possible in a real revolution and the spectator cannot rest for example during the commercial; that is the reason why television is inappropriate to make a revolution (at least by broadcasting it).

Since the first line of the song “You will not be able to stay home, brother” Gil Scott Heron invites people not to stay at home but to go out and to make a revolution to change the situation because the black Americans too are being distracted by what is broadcasted and hopes they will start taking action to bring about that change. Some of them have already done a lot for the revolution, but it is necessary to go further. Otherwise any real change for people will not take place in future:“the revolution will not be televised”.

Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution will not be televised

Marco Tartaglia (VF)

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