Our Revolutions Are Being Televised


How have the advancements of television and the internet changed our perception of war?

watching tv



“You will not be able to stay home, brother

You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out . . .

Because the revolution will not be televised.”

-Gil Scott-Heron

Every time I see a live or recently recorded media coverage of the Mideast or Ukraine/Russia wars, I think back to Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” The song came out well before the internet and seemed to be in part a satire of just watching a projected Black revolution on TV. Our country was at the end of the volatile and important Civil Rights era of the 1960s.

Nowadays, I also feel very odd and disturbed in regards to our media coverage. It can seem that I am simultaneously in the reality of the war, but separate from it. How much of this is just like watching a movie, sports, or entertainment? How are the wars influenced by broadcasting what both sides and the media pundits are saying? I am not innocent, either, becoming a sort of pundit too, racing to try to say something useful as quickly as I can.

One could say that the Hamas invasion of Israel was a revolution of sorts. Whether it is successful, time will tell. But the media images of brutal killings in Israel and Gaza, especially of children, must be disturbing to anyone with some compassion, images which were not seen so rapidly as war progressed in prior times. It almost gives me the false illusion that I can helpfully use my psychiatric expertise to tell which side what to do!

Right before Heron’s message, we had Marshall McLuhan, the media prophet of the 1960s. He came up with such sayings as “the medium is the message” and “global village.” He viewed the media as extensions of the human body, and that each technological advance would reshape and traumatize humanity.1 In other words, technological advances, for all their potential benefits, are inevitably traumatic and thereby a challenge for maintaining mental health.

Although it was 20 years ago, the war on terrorism in Iraq was on television. People felt more part of the war, if not in it, a “theatre of war” in which “all technology can plausibly be regarded as weapons.” As such, there is a powerful and influential media and psychological war going on in the current wars. It plays out in the lands of the wars, but also in the protests around the world, in our congressional hearings, in a man who set himself on fire across the courthouse trying Past President Trump, as well as in the escalating and intimidating student college protests. The internet makes it more personal and tends to amplify and reinforce one’s perspective instead of providing more knowledge and truth.

What are the best roles for psychiatrists in these current conflicts? At Yale, the President is a psychologist. Perhaps going back to our country’s conflicts in the 1960s and early 1970s and learning from history would be illuminating. We were at Yale then when I was in medical school. It was Mayday—May 1, 1970, the same year as Heron’s song release—and the Black Panther Bobby Seale was being tried for murder.

The expected riot did not happen. Explanations included administrator’s inviting protesters to sleep in Yale’s residential colleges, dining halls feeding them, teach-ins, unorthodox policing, and effective Black leadership by the secretary of the class of 1971, Kurt Schmoke, who later became Baltimore’s first African-American mayor.2 Mutual respect and not mutual humiliation became the order of the day.

As I understand it, the Yale psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton also helped behind the scenes. Later, in an interview by the psychiatric expert on trauma, Judith Herman, Lifton called for psychiatrists to be “witnessing professionals” to such political conflicts, watching and then using our specialized knowledge to help.3 That could end up in being arrested, as he was during the Vietnam War.

Yes, times may be different now, but so far there has not been much, if any, of psychiatric presence in the visible student protests at Yale or any other campus. Do we need to show up and help, even if that means we end up on television?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. Boxer S. Critic’s notebook; McLuhan’s messages, echoing on Iraq. New York Times. April 3, 2003. Accessed April 23, 2024. https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/03/arts/critic-s-notebook-mcluhan-s-messages-echoing-on-iraq.html

2. Chauncey HS. May Day at Yale, 1970: Recollections: The Trial of Bobby Seale and the Black Panthers. Prospecta Press; 2015.

3. Herman JL. Interview with Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton: a call for “witnessing professionals.” Psychology Today. July 9, 2018. Accessed April 23, 2024. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/decoding-trauma/201807/interview-psychiatrist-robert-jay-lifton

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