“He got kicked in the back
He say he needed that
He hot willed in the face
Keep daring to motivate…”
–– from the song History by Michael Jackson
All were instances of events removed from their original context for the purpose of fulfilling an undisclosed agenda. The result often went beyond simple defamation of character, which is generally defined as any knowingly erroneous communication that damages an individual’s or organization’s reputation. By insidious contrast, guerrilla decontextualization usually involves partial truths made to look complete. It goes beyond simple defamation of character or slander because it sustains an entire culture devoted to manipulating public perception for the sake of financial, political, or social gain.
When Knowledge Becomes a Victim
What happens when history itself––as one lives, breathes, and knows it––is guerrilla decontextualized? How can history then provide authentic life-enhancing legacies if the person presenting it chooses to slant reality toward one angle or another because he or she prefers a version that makes his or her preferred demographic look more heroic? More humane? Or more worthy?
How could a guerrilla decontextualized history reveal that all individuals hold the potential––just as Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa did––to bless the world with uncommon gifts of transformative vision, sacrifice based on a seemingly endless capacity for love, and leadership based on a titanic will to serve humanity to the best of one’s ability? The answer is it likely could not. Such an intentional misrepresentation would lay a foundation for perpetual chaos rather than one for enlightened responses to tragic circumstances. It would serve to create assumptions that too many would accept as valid “facts” until those “facts” crash head-on into what might be experienced as–– a revelation. Or as––a violent conflict of interests.
The Michael Jackson Example
Minister and writer Barbara Kaufmann has addressed the subject of guerrilla decontextualization on both the Voices Compassionate Education website and on Inner Michael, where she offers the kind of insights into the spiritual aspects of Michael Jackson’s creative artistry that mainstream media mostly ignores. On Inner Michael, she included guerrilla decontextualization on a list of toxic strategies employed to: “effectively ‘otherize’ and dehumanize a People,” or, “a singular human being.”
In her discussion of Mr. Jackson as a target of guerrilla decontextualization, she pointed out that, “The ‘diva’ and guerrilla-decontextualized Michael become caricature never existed. The fictionalized Jackson that existed in the mind of a media hypnotized through fascination and indoctrinated via repetition, built the scaffold of that caricature with unexamined (and projected) assumptions.” Moreover, Jackson himself alluded to the syndrome––without naming it as such––in songs like “History” and “Tabloid Junkie.”
The example, if you will, of Michael Joseph Jackson in this instance is a particularly apt one because of his impact beyond the world of pop music culture and upon the global community in general. The results of the guerrilla decontextualization campaigns against him have become much better understood since his death June 25, 2009. That expanded awareness has accomplished even more than a much-needed clarification of Jackson’s legacy as a performer, philanthropist, and social activist. It has helped millions realize why the impact of his death was such a powerful one, creating what Kaufmann refers to as a spiritual emergency which left so many in a state of numbed displacement within their own bodies.
“If the society suffers a loss of soul, a loss of daimonic inspiration, of angel and genius, then before starting off in search of them, why not ask what might be driving them away?” –James Hillman, The Soul’s Code
Such values have included: taking stands against apparent injustice, the achievement of self-empowerment through education and personal faith, and endeavoring to develop individual character based on a sense of individual integrity. To date, there have been 10 articles published in the Text and Meaning Series which also explore the impact of guerrilla decontextualization:
1. Text and Meaning in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech
2. Text and Meaning in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
3. Text and Meaning in Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”
4. Text and Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus
5. Text and Meaning in Robert Frost’s “Dedication for John F. Kennedy”
6. Text and Meaning in the Life of Nelson Mandela
7. Text and Meaning in TJ Reddy’s Poems in One-Part Harmony Part 2
8. Text and Meaning in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Part 3
9. Mothers, Daughters, and Slavery Make Disturbing 2014 Holiday News
10. Text and Meaning in Michael Jackson’s Xscape Part 5
The series is not a stroll through nostalgia. It serves as one important tool for extracting important lost lessons of history, in the form of awareness-raising observations, from the intentional or unintentional sabotage executed through guerrilla decontextualization.
To Be or Not To Be Aware
One disconcerting goal of guerrilla decontextualization has always been the disempowerment of an individual or organization. A primary method for accomplishing the desired disempowerment has generally been a deliberate distortion of truth. The individual might have been a noted woman doctor struggling to improve women’s healthcare options but somehow portrayed as an “anti-traditionalist” attempting to destroy “the family as we know it.” Or an organization such as the Black Panther Party, attempting to feed, educate, and protect children in its communities when no one else was doing so, is depicted as a gang of gun-wielding thugs threatening to overthrow the U.S. government.
To be or not to be aware of why one believes what one does is a matter of individual choice that can have devastating, or rewarding, collective consequences. Anyone checking out the various commentaries around the Internet on guerrilla decontextualization will have some idea of how the machinations of corporate-controlled media can steer your attention down one path when it might be better served traveling another.
Many people can rightfully claim, as much as anyone can rightfully claim anything, that much of their lives have been spent stumbling through a cloud of cluelessness. At some point, a flash of sustained clarity reveals the difference between what someone would have you believe is true, and what you know from the depths of your own heart to the peaks of your soul to be true. What happens after that is up to you.
Member of the PEN American Center
and Academy of American Poets