What was Gil Scott-Heron thinking when he declared, in his most famous song, that the revolution would not be televised?
The phrase doesn’t work either literally (revolutions of any significance since the song was written in 1975 have all been televised) or as part of a more detailed argument. viz
(a) The revolution will not be televised because there will be no demand for coverage. Clearly untrue. Even if every last protester was out on the streets, including the elderly and infirm, there would still be a television audience among those under siege from the revolutionaries. Besides, when you got home from the riots, you would want to sit back and watch the highlights.
(b) The revolution will not be televised because there won’t be a revolution, since would-be revolutionaries are too busy watching television. A circular argument if ever there was one. It assumes that there must be potential revolutionaries to justify the existence of a revolution. What is a potential revolutionary, anyway? It’s like a non-practising prostitute.
(c) The revolution will not be televised because counterrevolutionaries control the media and will suppress it. Television companies might be owned by a group of unsympathetic tycoons, but it would still be in their interests to cover the revolution. It might not be televised objectively, but it would certainly have screen time.
(d) The revolution will not be televised because there will be a power shortage. Scott-Heron may have believed that the revolution would be started during an electrical workers’ strike similar to the British experience in December 1970, when the Electrical Trades Union slowdown did indeed cause programmes to be stopped mid-broadcast. However, neither this strike nor any subsequent ones amounted to a revolution.
(e) The revolution will not be televised because it will be slow and organic, and thus unsuitable for television coverage. In that case, it’s not a revolution at all, but an evolution.
(f) The revolution will not be televised because by the time it happens a new form of broadcasting will have usurped television’s role. It has been 30 years since the song was written and television is still the dominant medium. Scott-Heron didn’t give a time frame, but three decades is a bit of a stretch for a political commentary, wouldn’t you say?
But I don’t want to be a stick in the mud. Lots of people like The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, so why not just tweak the lyrics a little? To finish off, here are some ideas for alternative titles. Other suggestions welcome…
The resolution will not be televised. A problem I myself had recently when trying to connect my PC to my television set.
The devolution will not be televised. John Prescott’s failure to get enough votes for a North East regional assembly spells curtains for the sale of broadcast rights.
The restitution will not be televised. Let’s face it, the Elgin Marbles are never going to go back to Greece.
The absolution will not be televised. Not unless the Catholic Church has a radical rethink about the nature of confession and strikes a deal with a reality television company.
The red solution will not be televised. Adding oxalic acid to ammonium thiocyantate and iron(III) chloride hexahydrate is unlikely to make good television, even on Tomorrow’s World.
ps: this is not serious. If you are a race warrior who believes that violence is the only solution to inequality, go and harass someone with a less-developed sense of irony.