On April 12th 2002 the world awoke to the news that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had been removed from office and had been replaced by a new interim government. What had in fact taken place was the first Latin American coup of the 21st century, and the world's first media coup...

In April 2002, a group of Irish filmmakers were filming a documentary on popular Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. They followed his tour throughout the country, and videotaped the support of his people, and got exclusive interviews with him describing the President's stance on Neo-Liberal policy and free-market economies. They actually showed the realism of a leader, and Chavez was beloved by his people because he seemed so in touch with the poor. Chavez would go into poor areas with an entourage, and try to get the support of his people and stress the need for education and democracy. During this, the poor pressed notes into the hand of the President ("Mr President, I need a bag of cement . . . " was one such letter).

Chavez is a very charismatic man. He gained election through a landslide. He became the latest Latin American leader "attempting to peel away the layers of the banana republic," as one pundit put it. He encouraged the setting up of community cells and educational workshops, as well as re-wrote the constitution, with the support of the majority. He set about re-distributing the money earned from his country's vast oil supply, dismantling the corruption of the state oil company.

Not everyone was pleased however. The opposition party disliked many of the President's attributes. It was not mainly a class struggle, though the filmmakers did view the middle-classes at their meetings ("Keep an eye on your domestic servants"). Many wanted a free-market economy, despite the fact that it could make the poor poorer. The leaders of the State Oil Company were also the leaders of the opposition party, and wanted it more like a business with private ownership than public, as the president had.

However, on April 11, 2002, Opposition forces stormed the Palace and engineered a Coup. This was a day after an anti-Chavez protest was held purposefully nearby a pro-Chavez rally. Obviously, it led to a fight, and a few people died. The Opposition party blamed Chavez personally, which became their ostensible reason for the overthrow. Chavez was forcibly removed from office, and the state-run television station was overtaken by coup members. The entire coup was recorded on film by these filmmakers and the ensuing struggle and rebellion by the people to restore their popular government.

The opposition party, led by a rich businessman, announced that it had created a new Transitional Government to assume power for the time being. They announced that the former president had resigned (when in fact he had been arrested and flown to a secluded island in preparation to exile him). Despite massive protests in the streets, the private news stations refused to air any footage of this, instead only showing demonstrations in support for the new government.

Chavez is no friend to the US. He went on television to denounce the US bombing of civilians in Afghanistan, brandishing pictures of dead children. He is a public friend to Fidel Castro. Immediately, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer announced that the president of Venezuela had resigned and that George W. Bush threw his support behind the newer (and he implied "better") government. Also included in the film were several clips of US Congressional Hearings where CIA director George Tenet made vague prophesizing threats that Venezuela had to bow to US interests. As the President of Venezuela and his ministers were trapped in the Presidential Palace before the Coup leaders began the shelling, you could hear muttering by many that the CIA was helping in this.

Within 24 hours of the Coup, the people fought back with the support of the majority of the military, retaking the Palace and state television station. They promoted the Vice President in the President's absence, following Constitutional protocol, and embarked on a rescue mission to recover the President. They got him back just before he was going to be put on a private plane and flown out. (It's never said in the film who the plane belonged to, leaving the audience to speculate whether it was the US government or the Opposition chartering a plane.)

The filmmakers are rarely shown in the documentary, and aren't seen doing any actions, they're unobtrusive, even in their narration. Yes, they made their sympathies clear, but they saved their film for the people around them. You get glimpses of the plotters, as well as the defenders. You see the dead, even before they hit the ground. The thousands crushing up against the gates of the Palace. The soldiers in secret preparation to retake that building. I have to say that this film was pretty gripping, and very contemporary.

The film was shot almost entirely in Spanish, with english subtitles and narration. The film records the remarkable events of when President Chavez was forcibly removed from office. They were also present 48 hours later when, remarkably, he returned to power amid cheering aides. Their film records what was probably history's shortest-lived coup d'état and the first South American coup of the 21st century. Think of it as perhaps the original idea behind the film Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

I found this movie to be amazing, giving you a behind the scenes look at a situation most only saw a blurb of on the nightly news. What many people in the audience found shocking was how the President was arrested and detained, while the overthrower claimed that the President had voluntarily resigned. NBC Nightly News reiterated the claim, making the world think that a legitimate power change took place, when in reality it was like there was a 48-hour civil war in the streets.

Amazingly, due to Chavez's education of the public so well in terms of teaching the masses to read the Constitution of Venezuela, they understood what was going on and actually managed to reverse the overthrow, reinstating President Chavez within 48 hours. This was an impressive feat considering there were 5 television stations in Venezuela, 1 state run and 4 privately run. The four stations viciously attacked the president on many issues, and spun the issue, even telling lies in places to demonize the president and accuse him of being Hitler. When the overthrow took place, they tried to tell the majority that this was a great new thing for the people, when there was actually rioting in the streets.

Americans watching this film should learn of several things.

1. Do not trust everything the White House spokesman says. The evidence in this film was a serious blow to their credibility.
2. Be wary of privately-owned news outlets, the ones in Venezuela in particular were so devious that the audience viewing the film was shocked at how boldly they could lie. It was a poison seeping into the wider world. When the coup was reported in the Western media, it was done using footage broadcast by these private channels, mainly that of pro-Chavez supporters apparently firing on an anti-Chavez march as it made its way to the Presidential Palace. If you panned back, though, you would have seen that there were no protesters on the street below, and that those shooting were attempting to protect themselves from the sniper fire that left 10 people dead. The camera had panned back, but the footage had been edited to remove that bit.
3. Don't always trust CNN. They were interviewing the newly-installed President via phone and he lied that he was in control at the Palace, where in reality the Palace was back under control of the previous (legitimate) administration, and he obviously wasn't there.
4. Question what you see about other countries' politics. This includes Haiti, Iran, Iraq, etc. which all fell victim to the same traps. An opposition member later boasted on television when he thought it was over that he planned the riot out to act in his favor, deliberately firing the first shots and then blaming it on the president, with doctored footage to help his case. International media then ran the video, trusting the news station's integrity.

This film has won multiple awards, including Best Documentary in Italy and in Britain. It was going to be aired at Amnesty International's Canadian Festival, but they received a threat by certain Venezuelans of violence, so they omitted it.


It is now on Youtube in its entirety.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip...

Because the revolution will not be televised...

The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal...
There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts...

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay...with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion...

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 revolutions will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver's seat.

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.

Gil Scott-Heron

As the end of the sixties approached there was an intense shift in the struggle for equality as the fight for civil rights gave way to the demand for Black Power and Gil Scott-Heron surfaced in the mainstream music of the early 70s with albums such as What’s Going On and There’s A Riot Goin’ On. One of the great unheralded voices in popular music just might be the man who composed the lyrics to the electrifying song, The Revolution Will Not be Televised. It debuted on the 1970 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox and its powerful poetic imagery along with the stunning power of his voice are timeless and chillingly relevant to any age.

With carefully crafted lyrics the songwriter creates contrasts between the irrelevance of television and the unrefined power of significant events. The words are very powerful to read but to get the full effect one has to listen to the piece. The awesome combination of soul, funk and verse made Scott-Heron one of the most intuitive political singers of the 70s and early 80s.

Born in Chicago his early years were spent between the mean streets of the Bronx and the South. His estranged father played for the Celtics and by the time he was nineteen he had published his first novel The Vulture. Essence magazine called it "a strong start for a writer with important things to say." He admired the work of the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes and before he left his teen years behind he published one more book and a volume of poetry. It was Scott-Heron’s forceful readings near the end of the 1960’s that led to the very literate, frequently militant work of performances like The Last Poets. One biographer notes that songs like "Johannesburg, recorded years before most of the public had even heard about the tragedy of South African apartheid, combined jazzy backing tracks, Scott-Heron's authoritative talk-singing, and words that carried plenty of baggage without showing the strain. "

The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In four parts without commercial interruptions.

A volatile beat poem The Revolution Will Not Be Televised conveyed the right tone of honest anger when it was released because Scott-Heron had tapped into the invisible revolution of lurking pop culture vultures, prepared to re package rebels into more-palatable versions. For example Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were produced for prime time TV beatniks in the persona of Maynard G. Krebs. From his straight-faced attacks on racism to his withering sarcasm of the Great Society and media nonsense - each line is awash with a contemptuous turn of phrase. Wrapped up in the political poetry was a new combination of social commentary and blues funk that has since become a socially relevant voice of today. While Motown records pre-packaged poor black singers from inner-city Detroit into desirable, marketable products, television had become the most effective control of the masses in history.

This was a true revolution imperceptible among the naked teens frolicking at Woodstock. The constant bombardment of media images changed the thought processes of Americans and following those images came the advertisers. Scott-Heron spoke passionately about blacks' inequality in the artistic industry and about their unrelenting invisibility within the consumer friendly repackaging. Tom Terrell writes in his linear notes for Evolution and Flashback: the Very Best of Gil Scott-Heron that his angry, rhythm-infused poetry was "avant-garde compared to what was going on in early 70s black pop (Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield)."

Scott-Heron confronted widespread fallacies of black America by accusing the white admen of stealing "black" catchphrases like "Right on, Tiger" and "power to the people" for their marketing schemes. He also criticized the American people for unconsciously tolerating the reality that corporate America sponsored the appeal of popular culture. He pointed out that a corporate controlled network television could not embrace the waves of social, cultural and political change. His verses warned of a looming “social apocalypse borne of centuries of injustice and pent-up frustrations that can no longer be dulled, contained, or diminished by the drugs of capitalism."

Scott-Heron proclaimed that the revolution would be in the gutters and on the streets. His verses are directed at black, white and corporate America and it was a call to action. While the news was being broadcast by the biased television stations into the comforts of suburbia, the armchair politicos were blissfully unaware of the deteriorating inner-city conditions of the early 1970s.

Today Gil Scott-Heron remains a towering figure in black popular music. With a Master's degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins his forceful, no-nonsense street poetry motivated a legion of intelligent rappers while his engaging songwriting skills placed him square in the R&B charts later in his career. In 1972 he joined with Brian Jackson and formed the Midnight Band the same year Esther Philips covered of Scott-Heron's wrenching heroin-addiction tale Home Is Where the Hatred Is. In 1984 he collaborated with Bill Laswell on the anti-Reagan diatribe, Re-Ron and in spite of anti-drugs themes like The Bottle and Angel Dust, Scott-Heron still wages a long-term battle with substance abuse.

By merging Afro-American social politics with jazz and rhythm and blues Scott-Heron forged the missing link between the beat poets and jazzbos of the 50's and 60's and the rap--hip hop artists of the 90's. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised sparked its own revolt inspiring minorities to utilize the powerful rap medium as their forum for widespread political discussions and within a decade, Scott-Heron's rhythm poetry had melded into the popular culture through groups such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Silent for nearly ten years after the release Re-Ron, the proto-rapper revisited the recording music industry in the mid-'90s with a memo for the gangstas who had followed in his footsteps. His 1994 album Spirits began with Message to the Messengers and it was aimed squarely at the rappers whose sway, positive or negative, held deep meaning for the children of the 1990s. He urged them to take accountability in their art and in their community.

Capitalism learns how to sell anti-capitalism

Even though Gil Scott-Heron and The Last Poets proclaimed, “the revolution will not be televised,” since then the revolution has been merchandised as a pre-packaged lifestyle. It’s available at the local mall where $19.95 buys a black mask, a spray can and a protest sign. It comes in the form of access to a blog where one can write about the police brutality suffered while chained across Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. That "revolution" was, in fact, televised and commodified and can now be rented from Hollywood Video. The lyrics continue to be used and abused by the very agents mentioned and its message still rings loud and clear. Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised hit a raw nerve with street rhythms that foreshadowed Whitey on the Moon and Brother, yet today it has become not only extensively sampled, but undeservedly reduced to a cliché.


For a full text of lyric please visit:

Gill Scott Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised:

Gil Scott-Heron:

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (Gil Scott-Heron) © 1971, 1988 Bienstock Publishing Company (ASCAP)

The Revolution Will Be No Re-Run, Brother - The Revolution Will Be Live:

CST Approved.

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