as you contemplate the nature of love and service required
in the 21st century.”
–Cornel West, Hope on a Tightrope
To what extent might the phenomenal entertainer and humanitarian Michael Joseph Jackson have been the target of an extended guerrilla decontextualization campaign throughout the second half of his life?
Hardcore devotees to Jackson’s music and altruistic humanitarian vision would say there can be no question that he was targeted in such a manner. Hardcore doubters might say maybe he was the one doing the guerrilla decontextualizing through the evolving manipulations of his public profile as a performance artist. They point to his chameleon-like shift from a distinctly afrocentric appearance in one decade to androgynously multi-ethnic in the next, and in his final years to an almost ethereal projection––a figure solidly in the world but somehow already afloat beyond it.
The answer to the question of who was guerrilla decontextualizing whom might be answered with a simple comparison. Examine the size of the newspaper headline fonts, the amount of space allotted in magazines, and the time made available on radio and television stations to coverage of Jackson when allegations of sexual abuse were leveled against him during the 1990s and later in 2005. Then compare those same elements––headlines, etc.–– to those utilized when it came to reports that debunked, disproved, or presented confessions of outright perjury where those same allegations were concerned. The first dominated the media to a nearly overwhelming extent while the latter remains almost non-existent.
Or try this: perform an experiment by looking at some of the more sensational media footage on Jackson with the volume turned down to mute. A particularly interesting specimen for this experiment would be the infamous “OMG-he’s-dangling-the-baby-from-the-balcony” incident. The word “dangle,” as defined in various editions of Webster’s Dictionary, means “to hold loosely and swaying.” Turn the volume down when watching the news clip of Jackson with his youngest on a balcony and you do not see a man holding his child in a loose manner. While the choice to hold the infant on the balcony before the gawking crowd below probably was not the best parenting decision he ever made, it is clear that he had a very firm grip on his son. The idea that he did not comes from a mind other than one’s own. It also came from the media trend, well established at the time, of prepping reading and viewing and listening audiences to expect weirdness from Michael Jackson. In short, people saw and heard what they were told to see and hear.
Slurred Speech or Not…
The essence of who and what Jackson was more than anything else––the context which likely defined him more than anything else–– may have been revealed at a moment painful to witness. It was during Dr. Conrad Murray’s trial for manslaughter for Jackson’s death, when the public was allowed to hear a recording of Mr. Jackson heavily under the influence of propofol, which the beloved icon dangerously relied on to put himself to sleep. The powerful drug acted somewhat like a truth serum. Jackson’s compromised consciousness first revealed his anxiety over the planned This Is It concert tour and then insisted through strained articulation on expressing concern for children around the world: “….I’m taking that money, a million children, children’s hospital, the biggest in the world, Michael Jackson’s Children’s Hospital… I’m gonna do that for them... God wants me to do it…”
Slurred speech or not, it was the words he struggled to speak that revealed the defenseless vulnerable core of his heart and soul. He’s clearly referring to using profits from the tour to build a hospital for children. His years of charitable works and contributions had already demonstrated there was virtually no end to his capacity for serving and giving. Moreover, there is no overboard egoism exploding from the tape: it’s about doing what he believed God commanded him to do. Dr. Murray, although unintentionally so, added further definitive proof of who and what Jackson knew himself to be.
Scandal and Integrity
Popular culture itself, mainstream media, and segments of society in general feasted on Jackson’s seemingly larger-than-life personality and talent in a number of unhealthy ways. Scandal is often far more profitable than integrity. Many either envied him or felt threatened by the power of his increasing popularity. The marketplace mechanisms of soulless commercialism driven by heedless greed transformed his image––whether or not it was attached to Jackson’s reality–– into a kind of cash cow that got fatter by the day. Whether certain interested parties liked him or disliked him, they enjoyed slicing off whatever piece of his fame they could claim for their own. Does that mean the narrative of his actual intentions and the authentic substance of his actions were guerrilla decontextualized to such an extent that possibly even he lost––at times, in the flood of false reflections that can swallow an individual’s life––sight of his truest self?
What may be most important to consider at this point are several questions, such as: Why was it so important for so many to emphasize negative accusations capable of destroying a man’s life over proven positive attributes capable of enhancing the quality of life for millions? And just as important: what impact has this need and the public’s enabling of it had on the psyche of those who so eagerly indulge it? What are the ripple effects waving through each of our ordinary lives at this very moment?
founder of Creative Thinkers International
and co-author of ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love
YouTube video below courtesy of MichaelJacksonWebTV
A Guerrilla Decontextualization Notebook
Summer-Song Rhapsody for Michael Jackson
Sampler of Dubious Guerrilla Decontextualization Ethics
Dancing to the Paradigm Rhythms of Change
Modern-day Guerrilla Style Traditions
Poetics of Paradigm Dancing in the 2012 Presidential Election Campaign
Guerrilla Decontextualization and the 2012 Presidential Campaign Part 1
Guerrilla Decontextualization and the 2012 Presidential Campaign Part 2
Guerrilla Decontextualization and the 2012 Presidential Campaign Part 3