Why Your Kony 2012 Criticism is Wrong
Do More Than Just Watch
I woke up this morning to posts about "Kony 2012" clogging my newsfeeds. Assuming it was something about the 2012 American elections, I reluctantly Googled the phrase on my phone. I expected another gaffe, another issue the Republican candidates were bickering over. I was very, very wrong.
The thing is, the people who are criticizing the Kony 2012 campaign are too wrapped in their bubble to understand how positive something like this can really be.
The Kony 2012 Campaign
What I got instead, before I had even put in my contacts, was a 29-minute video produced by Invisible Children about Joseph Kony and his reign of terror in Africa.
The Lord's Resistance Army's existence was not news to me. I had seen another Invisible Children documentary in college circa 2006 and have read more than a few memoirs written by child soldiers and other victims of the LRA and similar rebel forces throughout the continent.
But this new movie made one thing very clear... a goal.
Instead of showing me a bunch of things that would make me upset, make me wish I had more money to give to the cause, make me feel guilty, Invisible Children gives me one command: spread the word.
Their theory is that if Joseph Kony and his crimes are made public enough, there will be sufficient pressure on American politicians to lend support to the effort to capture him and bring him to the International Criminal Court, where he will face justice for his wrong-doings.
But people have raised all kinds of (justified) questions about the campaign. After all, they are trying to distill generations of regional conflict into an accessible 29-minute video that will inspire its viewers to go out and fight for a cause.
I've seen all kinds of criticism, ranging from people insisting that the video doesn't do quite enough to critics asserting that the video is actually doing more harm than good.
Some critics are well-versed in the topic already, some are approaching it from different disciplines (like general politics or international relations), and some are downright ignorant.
But anything that moves millions to watch and share an idea deserves some holistic critical analysis. So let's give the Kony 2012 movement the attention it deserves.
A Simple Message
While I despise the oversimplification of any issue (I think this is a major cause of problems in American politics today), I still recognize that this process is necessary in order to develop a message. Impartiality, while desirable in information sources, is impossible, especially in a movie that is specifically designed to make people care.
How do you make a bunch of lazy idiots (and I'm not using those words lightly; I truly mean them) care about people across the world who are suffering, when there is so much suffering everywhere? You paint the picture as horrendously as possible. You make the solution simple. You explain it like you would a child (and in the case of the Kony 2012 video, you actually do explain it to a child).
Is oversimplification fundamentally wrong? Maybe.
Is it necessary? Yes.
People like simple. They need it in order to start building a complex idea in their heads.
It's important to remember the motives behind any piece of media. Did the creator make this movie to express himself? To rebel or make a statement? To inform?
We already know that Invisible Children is trying to make us care, so every choice they make about the video reflects that.
So should they have focused more on the Ugandan victims than the filmmaker's son? Maybe, but that doesn't fit the way they are setting up the narrative.
Are they really saying that we should all be facing the White Man's Burden, implying that others have no right to make choices for themselves? No, the video and the campaign simply insist that we who have the power to act in the face of injustice should do so.
Waking Up the World
Some people will watch the Kony 2012 video, post it on Twitter and Facebook, and maybe give a few dollars to the organization without looking into it further. Other people -- more thoughtful, (most likely) more educated people who are used to this type of inquiry -- will recognize the simplification in the film and will do a little more digging.
What does the LRA want?
What are the Ugandan and Sudan People's Liberation Army like, and should we be supporting them?
Is military intervention the best strategy for dealing with this situation?
These questions are far more complicated than can be addressed in the movie, but many people will recognize that they matter and will seek answers.
It is these people, the people who seek further education, who will continue to be the voice of the movement. Two weeks from now when Justin Bieber's hair is the top trending topic on Twitter again, it will be the self-educated who are still talking about Kony, who are encouraging law-makers and celebrities to discuss the issue, who are seeking justice.
In the short run, it doesn't hurt to have a huge burst of information, a punch in the gut of the developed world to say, "Hey, this guy is out there." How else will we ever wake anyone up?
Ultimately, it would be an huge victory, not only for Invisible Children but also for the internet community as a whole, if we could rally together to bring one man to face justice. There is so much information readily available... what if we could use it for good?
As a social experiment, the Kony 2012 movement could be enormously powerful. The voices of the people could prove useful as an actual, direct tool. Maybe people will begin to realize that we don't just vote every two or four years; our every action perpetuates or tears down the systems in which we live. Do you want to live in a world where men hand guns to children and force them to kill their parents? Of course not. So what are you going to do about it?
Another Place, Another Time
I would like Paul Rusesabagina or one of the other influential people who experienced the 1994 Rwandan genocide to weigh in on this issue. Does he think that social media today can influence and mobilize people in a way that was impossible when he was trying to acquire foreign aid during his struggle?
In the day-to-day when he was trying to keep the refugees in his hotel alive, he didn't care who came to save them or how, he simply did what was necessary. If some internet campaign had been able to step in and demand action from our respesctive policymakers, even if hundreds of thousands of the participants were underinformed, I am fairly certain that the Rwandans would have been better off.
Maybe this time, we can avoid the continuation of another smear on the timeline of humanity.