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James Ferragut, Published June 05 2011

Ferragut: Urgency became vapor

I was a kid. I thought I had seen enough of the world to have a realistic perspective on what was real and what was pipe dream. I didn’t know my world view was obscured by the fog of innocence and naiveté.

I was a politically aware high school graduate of 1968 and college student at Arizona State when Vietnam was raging, the race wars had evolved into militant offensives, leaders and students were being assassinated and the future looked as dark as a prairie thunderstorm.

But there was hope. More importantly, there was unity. It was the unity of politics and cultural cause. It didn’t matter which side of the equation you were on: The boomers wanting the war to end, segregation to evaporate or a government that served the “people.” Or older generations trying to protect values they worked and fought for. We were united by our cause but divided by our perspective.

It was hard not to think about these things when the Arizona National Guard had soldiers posted on classroom buildings on the ASU campus when Jane Fonda appeared at a Thanksgiving (post-Hanoi Jane) anti-war rally in 1971.

As I was driving my VW Bug to class listening to the greatest FM radio station on the planet, KDKB, I got a kick to the head from these words:

“You will not be able to stay home, brother. You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out ... the revolution will not be televised. The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions … the revolution will not get rid of the ‘nubs,’ the revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, brother. ‘Green Acres,’ ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ and ‘Hooterville Junction’ will no longer be so damned relevant … because Black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day. The revolution will NOT be televised.”

Gil Scott-Heron died last week, but his remarkable dictate, “The revolution will NOT be televised,” shook me. What Gil Scott-Heron said was cold and true. It was and still is a concise, clear rallying cry without equal. “The revolution will not go better with Coke, the revolution will not fight germs that cause bad breath. The revolution will not put you in the driver’s seat. The revolution will not be televised. The revolution will not be televised.”

The urgency of his message demanded our attention. The narrative left no room for uncertainty. It was clear. The revolution wasn’t going to play out like “Leave It To Beaver.” The revolution wasn’t going to be homogenized; it was going to be dirty, messy and hard fought.

But it wasn’t to be any of those things. The revolution was not televised. It didn’t happen. It became vapor. It was another pipe dream from a generation that didn’t know any better. A generation that hadn’t yet learned that life would soon do a job on us; that it would turn dreamers into fools, optimists into curmudgeons – mindless masses who spend their days watching life being televised.

Ferragut is a marketing consultant and regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary page.