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Putting Text and Meaning to the Guerrilla Decontextualization test (pt. 1 of 2)

“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

A mask respresenting distortions of guerrilla decontextuation looms behind title text.
Postered Poetics

Upon the launch of the Guerrilla Decontextualization website in August 2012, the concept that inspired it was defined primarily in ultra-modern technological terms. Examples of the practice included the following: short clips from longer videos presented as definitive statements of an individual’s beliefs, photographs of private moments marketed for public entertainment, and statements made decades ago reported on the evening news as though they were made just a few hours earlier.

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 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 dislocation within their own bodies.

NEXT: Putting Text and Meaning to the Guerrilla Decontextualization Test (part 2)

by Aberjhani
author of The River of Winged Dreams
and co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance

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