Gil Scott-Heron, the African-American poet and musician who died this week at age 62, was most famous for his recording of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” a funny and uncompromising call-to-arms that envisions the downfall of the corporate masterminds who distract poor black people from the fact that they have no power. A sample verse:
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, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.
The fact that The Philadelphia Inquirer would extol Scott-Heron today – in a piece directly underneath an editorial about the late punk rocker Mikey Wild, no less — is a testament to the fact that everything Scott-Heron stood for was inexorably crushed by the corporations that control the political process, the economy, and the hundreds of mainstream news outlets that arguably deaden us to what’s really going on in the world.
If Scott-Heron symbolized an actual threat to the corporate state, The Inquirer wouldn’t be saluting him. You can tell this is true by the editorial writer’s tone and word choices:
America isn’t the same tortured nation it was when Gil Scott-Heron suggested that “the revolution will not be televised.” That’s not to say this country has solved every problem it had when Scott-Heron famously made that pronouncement in his 1970 poem. It is to say that in part because of the consciousness-raising of Scott-Heron and other politically oriented artists, this nation was confronted with its racism, sexism, classism, militarism, and myriad addictions, and led into meaningful dialogues, if not solutions.
Blah blah. America today is an even more tortured nation now than in 1970, when there was hope the plight of the poor could be solved by education and jobs training. That the middle class would keep growing thanks in part to a booming economy, reasonably priced housing and a fairly equitable tax structure. That the military machine might be overhauled and tamed in the wake of the ongoing disaster in Vietnam.
None of those things came to pass. We now have less institutionalized racism, but the black unemployment rate is as high as ever, and the rate for whites is almost as bad.
Scott-Heron was wrong. The “revolution” has not only been televised, it has been co-opted, shanghaied, downloaded, e-mailed, Facebooked and neutered by forces too powerful for naive idealists to seriously challenge.
Here’s what I’d ask if I had your ear, Mr. Editorial Writer: What’s the good of “consciousness-raising” if it doesn’t result in a better quality of life, materially and spiritually? What’s the point of “dialogue” if it goes on and on, deliberately skirting solutions?