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This article is part of the Black History Month issue, online now.

Analyzing Scott-Heron: Why the revolution will not be televised

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Gil Scott-Heron

The Revolution will not be Televised (Flying Dutchman, 1974) by Gil Scott-Heron.

“The revolution will be televised.” “The revolution will be livestreamed.” “The revolution will be live-tweeted.”

These are some of the sentiments that have been heard over the past year in response to the growing protests and outrage against police brutality and acts of violence against the Black community. However — none of these phrases are true.

People often quote the phase: “the revolution will be televised,” without knowing that this statement is a corruption of the Gil Scott-Heron 1970 poem, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Scott-Heron emphasizes this titular point in his poem, but this hasn’t stopped thousands from misquoting the late poet.

It’s finally time to debunk this misconstruction by analyzing some of the poem’s verses and how they can be applied to our society today. Scott-Heron recorded the poem in the 1970s, and while many of the references and allusions are over 50-years old, the core message of the poem still resonates.

He opens the poem with a stark demand:

You will not be able to stay home, brother

You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out

This verse already outlines the tone of the poem as he is stating that, when the revolution comes, one will not be able to plug in their television and watch passively from the comfort of their home. He argues that change can only come with active participation, a message that he stresses throughout the poem.

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

Once again Scott-Heron affirms that the revolution will not be sponsored by an advertiser, nor will it be conveniently broadcast without commercial interruption. It is also important that he mentions the former United States president Richard Nixon, who infamously started the “war on drugs,” which continues to detrimentally impacts Black people south of our border.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay

Scott-Heron states the clear intent of his aforementioned “revolution.” The term “pig” refers to the police and he states there won’t be any broadcasting of innocent Black men and women being shot and killed by the police.

This statement can be interpreted in two ways. One, he may be providing commentary on mainstream media’s tendency to neglect news about police brutality, especially in the late 1960s and 70s. And when it is broadcast, it is often sensationalized and shown with “instant replays.” More likely however, this line is referring the fact that the revolution will not allow for this type of violence to go unchecked, even to the extent that it won’t even be televised.

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

In accordance with his allusions to television, he states that what happens on the next episode of the TV show Search for Tomorrow will pale in comparison to the fights for justice and equality that Black people will be advocating for in the streets. Unfortunately, 50-years later, Black people are still protesting in the streets in search for that brighter day.

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

The final lines of the poem deeply reiterate its message. There will be no re-run or recordings of the revolution. The revolution will be live and in the now.

If you haven’t already picked it up, Scott-Heron is not talking about an actual, physical revolution. This is why saying “the revolution will be televised” is so wrong.

Scott-Heron’s revolution is bigger than a movement or march. It is so much bigger than anything that can be captured on film. It is bigger than the trivialities of daily life. It’s an internal change of mind and attitude; something that can only come from a moment of insight. A moment of insight that demands a change to the status quo.

Scott-Heron remarked, that only once this happens, can individuals be ready to create tangible change in society, for the betterment of Black lives. This is why the revolution can only be live.

So unfortunately, contrary to your social media feed, the revolution will not be televised, livestreamed or even broadcast for that matter. You’ll just have to wait for the revolution to come to you.


This article is part of the Black History Month issue, in collaboration with the Western Black Students' Association and Interrobang, Fanshawe College's student newspaper. Read the full issue online now and find it on stands Monday.

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Editor

Mudia is a culture editor for volume 114. You can contact him at mudia.iyayi@westerngazette.ca.

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