You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on, or cop out…
Because the revolution will not be televised…
Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets 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.
from “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil Scott Heron
Nations, states, and nation-states rely on a logic of these three things: land, people, and narratives.
In the beginning, a nation-state fences off a plot of land with borders and guns and the threat of using those guns, and says: this is my land. The people within this land are my people. This is we. We are this. This land, this people, and not those people over there. Definitely not them. They can’t have universal healthcare or human rights. That’s for us.
And so the nation-state and the people start telling creation stories; or maybe the stories came first to legitimize the borders and the guns. Maybe the stories explain how the land and the people are a community. Maybe these stories tell the story of how this land and people are becoming a community, and who is not part of the community, and who and what the community ought to be. Lots of these stories spin yarns about the fatherland, and protecting ‘our’ women, or the motherland and protecting it from rapacious outsiders. States are borders, guns, and sex. Nations are land, people, stories.
Governments know this. Groups of people pretending to be governments also know this. That’s why they buy barbed wire fences, border patrols, border guards, tanks, warplanes, sterile but impressive parliament buildings and public art, scientists, story-tellers, nuclear weapons programs, teachers and television stations.
That’s why the revolution will not be twitterized.
Technology is a tool. Twitter, facebook, cellphones are tools. Christopher Hitchens is a tool. At the most, at the absolute most, Twitter is an effective, quick, cheap, easy and viral storytelling platform: you can tell a story in tweets. And stories are one horse in the national trifecta. But now that we have twitter, will all the world spontaneously erupt into justice and democracy and good governance?
I wish. You probably wish too. The US State Department apparently is a-hopin’ and a-wishin’ as well, and that’s why it ‘urged’ Twitter to reconsider its planned maintenance that would have left Iranians twitter-less during the aftermath of the disputed election. But cheering ‘go Twitter go!’ – just like ” the guy who sports a Che Guevara T-shirt but can’t locate Cuba on a map, or the lady who has a “Free Tibet” bumper sticker and no sense of what the country needs to be freed from” – does not make you part of the revolution. The revolution demands more. The revolution is more.
Still, go ahead, tint your avatar green. Change your location to Tehran. Use your computer as a server for a handful of Iranians trying to get their stories told. Retweet the mobile phone texts you receive from your Iranian friends. Bear witness. Hear the stories. Tell the stories. Wax lyrical about the lionesses of Iran.
But know this: the streets and the people are the revolution. That’s why the people take to the streets. That’s why the soldiers patrol the streets. That’s why the soldiers and the militia beat people, and shoot people, and kill people. Because the people are the story. The people are the locus of control. The people are it and when they are angry in the streets, they are a problem for those who would rule them. A very big problem.
And yes, that’s why Big Brother shuts down radio stations and TV stations and cell phone towers. But that’s the easy part. Controlling the people, when there are more of them than there are of you, in more space than you can physically control, all at once, is The End. Or The Beginning, depending on which side of the power struggle you’re on.
That’s why the author of this series of essays from the perspective of the “wo/man on the street (of Iran)” looks at every young person and wonders: What were you doing three weeks ago? Who were you then?
Here’s what the author did not wonder: what did you tweet three weeks ago? Because that is just the media/medium, and maybe the message too, if you understand what exactly Marshall McLuhan meant by that, and I don’t. But the story, the life, the blood and guts of power, the revolution, is the people when they take to the streets.
Viva la revolution. The revolution will not be twitterized.