The revolution will be televised.

The revolution will be televised.

It is already underway.

Already, the first generation of the Frankfurt School, including Günther Anders as well as the more prominent and well known Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse, foregrounded the role of media in all of its many guises, mostly broadcast, radio, newsreel, film, television, but also print in shaping the collective mindset of the public.

But for all the ubiquity of the media at the time, as overwhelming as it was for writers like Anders who wrote on radio ‘ghosts’ in 1930 and George Orwell, publishing his famous novel 1984 in 1949, all of that was nothing compared to what television would become, and none of that holds a candle to the media revolution that is the internet, whereby one can spend every waking hour, without trying too hard, not merely in the presence of the media — television and radio had already accomplished that — but directly, actively engaged. The detail, this is the ‘tagging’ bit of such interest for curators of big data, that one might respond here or there, is irrelevant to the point I am making here.  What is crucial is that one gets one’s news (conventional or alternative, doesn’t matter), one shops, one explores one’s interest, curiosity, recipes, erotics, amusement, etc., via the internet.

Jacques Ellul dedicated a considerable portion of his own thinking on technology to looking at the ways and means of shaping ‘men’s minds’ drawing out not only the longer tradition of received doctrine in religion and social political history but also Edward Bernays’ ‘crystallization’ of opinion.

There are tons of footnotes to be added here but they’ve been added in posts elsewhere and earlier essays.

The revolution will be televised. 

It is already underway.

It will take place on a screen, on your smart phone, or tablet, computer, devices far more effective than the idiot-box of the Neil Postman, Marshall McLuhan generation of communications or media studies (a field so short on critical reflection that it often imagines itself to be issuing guidelines for working in ‘media’).

If Jean Baudrillard, arguably, provided some of the better analyses of the means of this tele-vising it is because he pointed to the one-way character of the new media.  ‘Speech-without-response’ he called it (see again, sans paywall, the same essay linked above).  And of course, the behavior specialists dedicated to addictive practice, inducing the same, went on to add rare and random rewards to the mix.  Which is how Twitter ‘works,’ how Facebook works. These ‘rewards’ are what you are checking for when you check your social media accounts.

Jean Baudrillard (1929 –2007)

 But the point here would be for all of that posting, tweeting, retweeting, there are no responses, no readers, no communication. And for Baudrillard, the reason is that “The mass media are anti-mediatory,” i.e., that is the contradiction in which Baudrillard specialized: they are, in a word, “intransitive. The fabricate non-communication.”

No sooner has one read this than, immediately, one protests. One knows better, one is informed by Facebook that one’s post has ‘reached’ so many, a specific number, of persons — nothing like a quantifier to give the proper aura of fact — “reach” being different from response to be sure, just where “response” precisely excludes what Baudrillard says it must include at a minimum: “responsibility.” But Twitter and Facebook, this is a great part of their charm, lack responsibility at every level. We have been programmed to be programmed: we expect the media to lie to us. Censoring, as we are now told that Facebook and Twitter will do, is expected.

The revolution will be televised. 

It is already underway.

All the information to be gained on Covid-19 from the mainstream reports, pro lockdown, pro PPE, pro vaccine development, is via the internet, including the news media. There are still traditional television versions of the same, usually packaged up for snippet access on You-Tube. But all non-mainstream views are likewise accessed through the internet. And these days, as of just the other day, quite as if this were not always already operative, YouTube, like Facebook, like Twitter, has announced it will block anything but standard ‘medical’ views on Covid-19, a disease that apparently changes constantly.

No freedom of speech. No non-mainstream research. No research. No debate. No thinking.

The revolution will be televised. 

It is already underway.

The secret is the ubiquity of the medium.  Control so complete that dissonant views make no difference to its efficacy.  Because the greatest virtue of the internet, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, is its monotone dimensionality and the funnel focus of attention.

Beyond anything George Orwell imagined, and he was talking about the current day as the current reign of surveillance and public calls for ever more surveillance, health being the greatest trump card ever, fear of the invisible enemy, the germ, the gold of the fascist state from time immemorial simply because compliance is a given, because our vulnerabilities are automatic.

The revolution will be televised. 

It already is.

Gil Scott-Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” 1970. Featured on the album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.

Also the title, qua quoted, of the 2003 Irish documentary film on Hugo Chavez’ 2002 coup in Venezuela, broadcast on Irish state television (RTÉ). See, for discussion, Rod Stoneman, Chavez: The Revolution Will Not be Televised – A Case Study of Politics and the Media (London: Wallflower Press, 2008).

Published by Babette Babich

Babette Babich is Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University in New York City. She has wide-ranging interests, with a special focus on the philosophy of science, philosophy of technology, including digital media, as well as art and aesthetics, conceived from the perspective of (classical) continental philosophy. She is interested in themes associated with classics, museum studies, political philosophy, and such.

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