The first criticism that anyone might voice regarding voting for a proposed “King of Music” is the question of why Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson are so frequently presented as the top two contenders. Why has the great Stevie Wonder’s name not been included in the conversation, or that of Great Britain’s Cliff Richard, country music’s Garth Brooks, or the acknowledged late “King of the Blues” BB King? The answer is possibly more notable than many lovers of popular music history might think.
Presley’s contributions to 20th-century American music are as much a part of the overall evolution of musical culture as anyone of the period. Where Presley surpassed most of his peers, however, was in his dual role as an actor starring in more than 30 full-length feature films.
For his part, Jackson’s remains the voice and creative vision that gave the world the best-selling album of all-time to date: Thriller (1982). In addition, no one disputes the revolutionary impact that his multiple talents had on the music-video industry, an impact that many to this day try their best to duplicate.
Putting Media Objectivity to the Test
First, try mustering enough courage and stamina to watch mainstream television evening news for a month or so. During that period, keep a record of how many times reporters find a reason to mention Elvis Presley, the Beatles, or Michael Jackson. If the results reflect patterns observed over the past few years, you might notice that among these equally iconic celebrated talents, Presley and the Beatles are generally cited about 2 or 3 times a month compared to 0 times for Michael Jackson.
In addition, when Jackson is mentioned, it is more often within the context of “news” that may be described as negative resulting from sensationalized legal issues (no matter how thoroughly or often said issues have been disproven). By way relief-like contrast, the “news” about Presley or the Beatles will celebrate a “milestone” in connection with their career achievements. For the sake of variety, an announcement might be made about the “discovery” of a previously unpublished photograph or another collectible item long believed to have been lost or destroyed.
When he died on May 21, 2015, network news anchors honored Louis Johnson of the Brothers Johnson by identifying him as “Michael Jackson’s bassist” (on Off The Wall in 1979, Thriller in 1982, and Dangerous in 1991). The tie-in allowed them to give the great guitarist’s passing national headline status. It was an exceptional kind of recognition because references to how Jackson’s trailblazing labors made the careers of certain superstars possible tend to be rare.
The Difference It Makes
So why should anyone other than hardcore media critics or die-hard evening-news fans care about balanced media reports on the Beatles or Elvis Presley versus clearly unbalanced reports on Michael Jackson, or on others whose stories are similar to Jackson’s? What difference could any of it possibly make in your life?
Well, possibly a lot.
The difference it makes is that such biased “reporting” (whether subtle or not so subtle) contributes to the maintenance of cultural environments made toxic by racism. These in turn often do the same when it comes to xenophobic fear, hatred, violence, and other forms of close-minded intolerance invoked in the name of any given ism or phobia.
Guerrilla Decontextualization by Omission
If it is your preference to live and die under conditions that promote social and political regression, then on a personal level there is no problem with the kind of mindset just described. If living under the conditions presented is not your choice, then there is a problem. Call it an unhealthy insistence on incubating aspects of the abbreviated mind syndrome through the covert practice of guerrilla decontextualization by omission.
It is the type of thing that prompts more lip-biting scowls than smile-lit selfies. As a practice, it falls into the same category as legacies of erasure and historical exclusion. Each generates an unchecked warped version of reality that is left to promote misinformation and to encourage destructive dispositions. What novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says of rejecting attempts to define places with a single story also applies to people:
“…When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”
Likewise, when we reject the callous dismissal of a person’s (or a people’s) greater definitive truth, we reaffirm the value of human integrity for its own indispensable sake.
Whether one is an admirer of Michael Jackson’s phenomenal music and philanthropic achievements is not the central point. Guerrilla decontextualization by omission is. Despite the ungainly cluster of syllables, it may be understood simply enough as follows: the distortion or diminishment of an individual’s professional status and legacy by excluding them from appropriate acknowledgements.
The instinct to employ such a tactic emerges as a characteristic of an abbreviated mind. The practice may be just as damaging as guerrilla decontextualization in its most basic forms, which overemphasizes fragments of a greater truth for the purpose of defaming one human being or group to the advantage of another.
Guerrilla decontextualization by omission, however, may also be described as a form of shunning which, in the end, may cause greater harm to the shunner than the shunned. The reason is because the one doing the shunning would be the person unknowingly cultivating an abbreviated mind due to his or her unwillingness to look at the larger picture. If they were willing to adopt a more expanded perspective, they might see that part of what it reveals is the possibility of becoming themselves targets of the ignominious practice and not appreciating it very much at all.
Editorial Note: This article is part of a series by Aberjhani exploring the aspects and implications of the abbreviated mind syndrome in contemporary society.