Welcome to the first of a 3-part editorial series on guerrilla decontextualization, including a discussion of what it means and why the average person should probably care:
“…You are looking at the miracles and missing the meaning behind the miracles.”–Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright
Guerrilla decontextualization is a somewhat ungainly term that falls more out of line than in line with similar coined phrases such as: guerrilla marketing, guerrilla filmmaking, or guerrilla street artist. These comparable terms have in common ideas of creative expansion or independent expressiveness.
Guerrilla decontextualization on the other hand belongs on the more sinister lexicon family branch of the term guerrilla warfare. It can be defined as the practice of extracting such elements of media technology as video clips, sound bites, and manipulated images for largely two purposes. One would be to intentionally misrepresent an individual’s character or intentions in order to decrease any measure of influence or authority they might possess in either public or private circles. The second purpose would be to make the individual or organizations utilizing such practices appear more powerful, concerned, or knowledgeable than they actually are. Moreover, although the technology aspect of guerrilla decontextualization is often a dominant element, other factors can sometimes override it.
Another way of defining it would be this: the act of taking specific incidents or facts regarding an individual’s or organization’s life out of their original narrative context and imposing on them an outright false or greatly exaggerated narrative context with the hope of causing the subject of said narrative as much damage as possible. One significant example of guerrilla decontextualization during the 2012 presidential election campaign, though obviously not promoted as such, was actually a throwback to the 2008 campaign. It happened when a super PAC group of republican strategists attempted to reignite the controversy over remarks made by Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., President Barack Obama’s former pastor, during an impassioned sermon on abuses of governmental authority.
Confusing Sermons with Terrorists
Reverend Wright’s sermon was actually twice removed from its original context. Initial reports of the sermon on cable television newscasts described it as one delivered after September 11 while simultaneously implying it was presented just days following the horrific event. The reverend actually made his infamous “Goddamn America” exclamation as part of his “Confusing God and Government” sermon on April 13, 2003. His scriptural reference for the occasion was Luke 19:37-44, which he used to caution his congregation against “looking to the government for that which only God can give.”
This sermon lasted close to an hour, made reference to at least half a dozen nations in support of its theme, and was composed of approximately 5,000 words. Out of that Fox News, and subsequently opponents of Barack Obama, presented the public with a 15-second clip that made Rev. Wright, and by extension Mr. Obama, appear to be the biggest threat to America since the 9/11 hijackers themselves.
The obvious purpose behind the super PAC’s attempt to whip up hysteria all over again in 2012 was to send potential voters screaming toward Mitt Romney for imaginary protection from an imaginary threat. Should not individuals cast a vote for or against Mr. Romney based on a thoughtful assessment of his actual record and potential rather than on hysterical reactions generated by such manipulations? Unfortunately, neither fairness nor truth appears to be the goal of guerrilla decontextualists. The objective seems to be the exact opposite.
NEXT: Guerrilla Decontextualization and the 2012 Presidential Election Campaign Part 2: Fast, Furious, and Possibly Guerrilla Decontextualized
co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
and author of Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black
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