KONY 2012 – Self-important manipulation isn’t activism.

Making Kony famous through KONY 2012 to raise support for his capture is misguided nonsense.

I first heard of Joseph Kony the same way that most of you did: A friend or acquaintance shared the video KONY 2012 on Facebook. The attached comment to this video tends to have similar scripting: “This will change you”, or “Stop what you are doing and prepare to change your life”. Very compelling. 

So compelling that millions have watched and spread the word, and many have no doubt donated to the cause that the film details.  The “viral” nature of the film itself  isn’t a bad thing.

The way that millions of people can communicate rapidly these days is truly astonishing, and I continue to marvel at it, good or bad. It’s an example of communication that could only exist in the modern age.

I’ve thought a lot about the very recent phenomenon that is the KONY 2012 campaign by the non-profit organization Invisible Children, and I want to be clear – I don’t believe that Kony or anyone like him should be absolved or forgotten about.

Before I tell you my take, I offer the following: helping others that are less fortunate than you, especially if they are suffering, is what humans tend to want to do. We sometimes need to be reminded of that, but it is there.  Helping children that are less fortunate than you, especially if they are suffering, seems not only obvious, but I would even go so far to say that it constitutes a moral imperative.

Plus, I am horrified by the idea that children are kidnapped and forced to kill, as detailed in the film.  That is one of the most ugly things I can ever imagine. It is plainly the stuff of nightmares, made all the more devastating by its reality.

I am not against donating time or money to charitable organizations that exist to provide aid to those that are in trouble. I have donated money to the Nashville Rescue Mission, an organization that I believe tries to make a difference by providing shelter for the homeless, rehabilitative programs for addicts, even support services for women and children in crisis. There are counselors there that work with people for months to help them with dignified human pursuits such as learning a skill and receiving their G.E.D., all the while not hitting the taxpayer up for a single dime.

Some people have a problem with this organization, and it’s not because of what they do. It’s because they are a faith-based charity. That alone bothers some folks. But I’ll bet you that those same folks will wear a KONY 2012 bracelet at the drop of a hat.

Invisible Children

I’m not going to bother splitting hairs about where all of the money goes for Invisible Children, or what some critics have alleged to be questionable practices - I realize that anyone can look at the books and interpret them differently.  They have been accused of being another example of neo-colonialism and even supporting another African military organization that is not free of controversy.

I will leave those examinations to others more qualified, such as former Uganda NGO Forum program director Arthur Larok.  Or maybe Ugandan Angelo Opi-Aiya Izama, who had this to say.  Writer Neil Gaiman has pointed to another post by Canadian student Grant Oyston that does a great job of summing up what many people feel about the film.

Raising Awareness… for African children or Invisible Children?

I don’t believe that the individuals that make up Invisible Children are racist criminals. I honestly hope that they are caring people that go to work every day thinking that they are helping. But the idea that IC might be using outdated info and hearsay to get people excited about hunting someone down is an uncomfortable thought to say the least.

That the filmmakers come across as self important opportunists that are using children – including the narrator’s son – to turn themselves into folk heroes is up for debate and largely a matter of opinion. So it doesn’t matter that I believe that the popular film comes off as self-important and manipulative.

And this idea, per the KONY 2012 website, that the IC campaign “AIMS TO MAKE JOSEPH KONY FAMOUS, NOT TO CELEBRATE HIM, BUT TO RAISE SUPPORT FOR HIS ARREST AND SET A PRECEDENT FOR INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE” is a startling piece of misguided nonsense. More on that in a moment.

By the way, the argument “but its Raising Awareness” only serves to prove that any organization can put their heads together and come up with something that is so compelling that millions will jump on board. It’s done all the time. You buy six packs of beer because of it. It’s called marketing.

Anyone can Raise Awareness by writing a letter accompanied by a signed petition to your local representative and on up the chain to lobby for or protest against anything, whether it’s an oversight in the park budget or a terrible idea for a statue in the town square. But do people do that anymore? I bet there are those in high places that count on the answer being no.

At any rate, I believe this occurrence - if not a passing fad – may leave deeper grooves than any of that. So my problem is not not with Invisible Children, really. It’s our compulsive behavior as Americans that I’m worried about.  

KONY 2012 and America’s misplaced priorities.

I think what is happening right now is a great learning tool for all of us, and we should be careful where we take things like this.

I’m troubled because I believe that this film, while highlighting a real person and the atrocities he has committed, is actually a sophisticated beer commercial. One of the best ever made. And it is only serving to prove that people can be manipulated very, very well. 

The same people that are capable of one day protesting military involvement anywhere else in the world seem to be able to turn right around and support the very same type of thing just to achieve moral superiority by proxy. 

It sounds to me as if these guys would just love to commit millions of tax dollars and American troops to conflict in Africa.

This sudden “movement” concerns me and others because it feels disingenuous, and its alarming to see that people are beginning to promote it vehemently when we have more pressing matters on our hands than helping privileged white kids sell T-shirts with a criminal’s name on them.  

I can’t help but shake the feeling that this will set a precedent that can lead to other campaigns that legitimize Empire Building and makes it cool to put our fists in the air, dress alike and scream “go get that guy!!!”. Does that bother anyone else?

Do you think that anyone will actually benefit from Allied forces rolling through Africa, entering towns and trying to identify whether each male is or is not a member of the Lord’s Resistance Army?  Has that scenario ever gone well?

I’m going to get wild for just a second. Really go out on a limb.

Why doesn’t Invisible Children just offer a reward for someone to sell Kony out? People screw each over all the time for chump change anyway. Or if they are really into the idea of sending forces in, then hire mercenaries.

Why raise a ton of money and have a day of action only to urge government involvement and soldier’s boots on the ground?

I’m puzzled that we aren’t hearing more about their involvement with building schools and making it safe for teachers and students, because they claim to do that very thing. Why in the hell are they worrying about making Kony “famous”? It is, quite simply, in phenomenally poor taste.

The idea that they want to make Kony so famous that the world will have no choice but to nab him is just idiotic fiction. I am certain that his victims believe he famous enough.

If this is for the children, then that should be the focus, right?

 Am I missing something?

I wonder what would happen if they had made a similar film that reminded us:

- that there are school districts in your state that can’t (or won’t) buy current textbooks and routinely feed your children pizza and French fries every day because it looks cheaper on paper.

- that there are growing levels of poverty and unemployment right here due to an uninformed public that constantly votes against its own best interests because it believes that it has no choice.

- that our collective dignity is being eroded as we are sold things such as another new car or a better way to blend a smoothie or that investing in the stock market is a good idea.

And all the while, a privileged few laugh at what they consider to be the unwashed masses while pocketing another bonus. To whoever is reading this, I want you to be strong and healthy and free and alive. But when you buy everything you are sold, you are not free. You are taking a gateway drug to fascism. That’s where this behavior leads.

Enact local charitable action first.

Our priorities are messed up. I’ve been guilty of it as well.  But I’ve also been waking up to the reality that we aren’t actually taking care of ourselves. We have to spend our energy on making sure that we are setting the example through transparency in public matters, education, and the support of the civic entity that is our street, block, town, state, and country. And the only way to do that is to begin locally. Oh, and take money out of politics, but that is a different post.

If Invisible Children’s cause moves you, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t, then you certainly should help them. But take the time and ensure that it’s the best way to do it for yourself. You can do it without showing off a wrist band or a loud t-shirt, or supporting a group that comes up with a misguided campaign to make a warlord famous. Or, even worse, wants to put more weapons in Africa.

You want to put fliers up? Wear the same t-shirt as the next guy? Raise Awareness? Make a film? Point your camera at an East St. Louis school district, or a women’s abuse shelter in your area, or maybe your local equivalent to the Nashville Rescue Mission. If you can find one.

This article was originally published March 10th, 2012 under the title “KONY 2012: My Two Cents”. The contents have not been altered.

Brian Edward Smith is founder and editor of WeRinCtrl.com.

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