Salvaging Kony 2012
By: Sofiya Mahdi
I don’t think a single individual who engages in social media has forgotten, or was prepared for, what the internet viral video Kony 2012 did to galvanize raising awareness and simultaneously invoke questions on how we approach compassion. As an article published in The New York Times aptly states, “you need a lash before you have a backlash,” and this lash certainly made quite an impact on its viewers.
The video itself is simplistic in its message; Joseph Kony is an evil dictatorial figure from Uganda who has forever marred the lives of countless children in Uganda and surrounding areas. Sophisticated graphical representations of these child soldiers are supplemented by powerful, concise dialogue as to what these atrocities are. Children are forced to kill their own parents; they are often abducted from their homes in the dead of night.
Cutting edge video editing provides a compelling tale of Jacob, one of the aforementioned child soldiers. We are drawn to his pain, his broken hope, and his fragments of optimism that have been dampened by his traumatic life experiences. How could the world have stood idly by while a child grows up in a world where he would rather die than persevere? Jacob consequently breaks down in tears as the reality of his situation, his future and his solitude batter his conviction into submission. His story is juxtaposed by Jason Russell, the director of the film, interacting with his own son. Explaining the situation to a young child was a stroke of “marketing” genius. Watching the realization that Kony needed to be stopped dawn on a little child as opposed to a jaded adult was thought provoking.
Consequently, the video spread through Facebook, Twitter, and several other internet forums in a matter of hours. Internet memes were immediately generated to counteract the growing phenomenon, such as “posted the Kony 2012 video on my profile…now think I’m a social activist.” Unfortunately, these harmless jokes do hold some validity. The line between supporting the cause out of genuine, informed concern and solely jumping on the campaigning bandwagon because everyone else did was blurred. A backlash was a certainty. Critics slammed the Invisible Children organization for their questionable financial allocations, and the organization was further accused of commercializing and oversimplifying the sociopolitical situation regarding Kony. Joseph Kony has been recognized as a threat for about seven years, but we only choose to make ourselves aware now that there’s an attractively packaged documentary on the issue.
Subsequently, the Kony campaign took a major public relations hit. According to an article published in the Guardian last Wednesday, Jason Russell was diagnosed with psychosis. Russell was found running around the streets naked, striking his fists into the sidewalk. A man who had devoted years to informing the world of broken children had finally broken himself. Sadly, this event served to paint a picture of our passivity. Were we fired up by the Kony situation itself, or by the campaign Kony 2012? Were we more concerned with obtaining a Kony 2012 bracelet as a fashion statement or as a statement of our beliefs in eradicating injustice? Would this incident serve to collapse all credibility of the Invisible Children campaign? All of a sudden, any uncertainty regarding the issue manifested itself in a very real way.
Ironically, the International Business Times covered a story in which comedian and actor Jason Biggs of “American Pie” mocked Russell’s breakdown. Consequently, that video went viral too. Clearly, we have a wide spectrum of material we deem pivotal to share with the wider world. To make matters worse, a representative for Invisible Children commented, “Who’s Jason Biggs? Was he famous once or something?” A disappointing display, where someone should have opted to take the high road in this situation. A cause which still plagues our world has been belittled to adults bickering over media reputations. No longer is the focus on Joseph Kony’s vices, but our own.
The month of April is set to witness the manifestation of the Kony 2012 campaign in full swing, through plastering posters on buildings and additional screenings of the film. However, we must draw attention back to the heart of the matter, to Jacob and the countless other child soldiers who are still suffering because of Kony. We would be insensitive as a global community if we got preoccupied with our own skepticism, our need for dramatics, or our apathy when faced with so much strife in society. How the campaign progresses and whether actual change will occur is still up for debate. However, we as active global citizens have it within our own power to dictate how this situation ends; a fact often forgotten amidst our preoccupation with pessimism and our own lives. Perhaps now we’ve been provided with a clear-cut opportunity to change the lives of a few, we could be well on our way of changing the lives of the many.