Monday, March 12, 2012

Phony 2012

At the behest of the student newspaper, my thoughts on the Invisible Children documentary, Kony 2012: (I didn't use swear words and fist shaking since I didn't want to scare the young 'uns.)

I would like to believe Kony 2012 is a well-intentioned exercise, but in execution it comes off as sensationalist and exploitative posturing. It's also jarringly narcissistic—and repetitively circles around the filmmaker, Jason Russell, instead of the eponymous subjects of his organization, Invisible Children (IC). Overall, it is yet another unfortunate example of the trope of the third-world child manipulated to become a justification for Western interventions. What makes this campaign particularly dangerous is that it calls for a neo-imperialistic military intervention. 

As a viewer, I would protest the condescending and paternalistic presentation of facts in Kony 2012. The explanation that Russell's toddler gets is, literally, what viewers get too. According to experts in the field (see International Crisis Group’s November 2011 publication in the UNHCR, for example), the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is no longer a significant threat in Uganda, so the information presented in Kony 2012 is misguided at its best, and willfully misleading at its worst.  Also paternalistic is the presentation of Ugandans solely as victims—the many successful efforts of Ugandan GOs and NGOs on the ground are completely ignored. One of the glaring examples of the ways in which it would appear the film is out of touch with basic ground realities is the way Ugandans are repeatedly referred to as "Africans." (Obviously, Africa is not a country; it is a continent with a myriad non-interchangeable nations!)

As a global citizen, I'm mystified by the focus on a manhunt instead of on relief and reconciliation issues. If 30,000 plus children are hurt and suffering, and the warlord who executed this is in powerless exile, shouldn't the immediate focus of this outreach be about the rehabilitation of these children? The Charity Navigator profile for Invisible Children suggests that as a charity, IC contributes 32% or less of its revenues to operations on the ground that actually protect and educate children. This is unacceptable. The Kony 2012 video urges its viewers to donate $30 to buy bracelets and stickers, donations that fund expensive air travel and other administrative costs for people from San Diego. A far more responsible and utilitarian donation would be to donate to local organizations based and staffed in Uganda such as GUSCO (Gulu Support the Children Organization), in Northern Uganda. 

A few questions:
·      Is Kony 2012 misguided? Yes.
·      Is it banal and sloppy in its presentation? Yes.
·      Is Kony 2012 evil? No. To many, especially young people, this video has brought an awareness and consciousness of realities in other parts of the world. This is welcome, and an example of what Maria Lugones has called “world traveling” or engaging with different ways of living.
·      But can we crowdsource our way to justice? Perhaps. The successes of the Arab Spring are rife with citizen documentaries. But as that example shows, there needs to be committed activism on the ground—being willing to show up to protest while being threatened with guns, for instance.
·      Can so-called slacktivism (the slacker activism of clicking "like," "share," or "retweet" via social media) and shoptivism (buying stuff to signal activist engagement) enable justice? It’s a beginning, but cannot substitute for engaged activism or genuine support. Clicking/Buying a button will never be enough.

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