Feb 1, 2011

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised": A Clarification

As I watch the revolution unfold in Egypt, I find myself with lots to learn and not a ton to say because I just don't feel like I understand the situation well enough to contribute to the conversation. But I have heard, more than once, a reference to Gil Scott-Heron's song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," because of the use of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. For instance, one of my favorite historical bloggers, Historiann, wrote a post called "The Revolution Will Be Tweeted and Facebooked As Well As Televised," and on All Things Considered last night Michele Norris said, in a report on Al-Jazeera's coverage of Egypt, "so the revolution was televised."

But I think these references are missing the point. The song's message was that people would have to get up off the couch and participate because "the revolution will not be televised....The revolution will be live." It was a critique of the numbing effect of the mass media, represented in 1970 (when Scott-Heron wrote the song) by television and advertising. Twisting it to say that the revolution will be televised/tweeted/internet-ed subverts the enormity of what's happening in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. The internet may be an organizing tool, but the revolution is not just being tweeted: it is happening live, right now, and hundreds of thousands of people have gotten off their proverbial couches to join in.

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