Please don’t #Kony me!
Former Hungry Beast host and Kenyan resident Kirsten Drysdale breaks down the #KONY2012 campaign for A Rational Fear.
This comment, perhaps more than any other, explains the uneasiness I feel over #kony2012:
“Well I think they need to get rid of this Kony bastard, then deal with the African govenment, The whole nation needs a over haul of government and structure..”
Where to start? The “African government”, “the whole nation”? It’s a continent, people, featuring 50+ countries and many thousands more distinct ethnic groups separated by geography, language and arbitrary national borders. Would we refer to Europe as one homogeneous entity? If we are ignorant of this very basic starting point, why should our opinions count?
It’s the Western world to the rescue, saving Africa from itself one status update at a time. The keyboard cheer-squad lobbying for the American military to take a single “bastard” down (one most people have never heard of before), as though all the world’s ills rest on individual bad guys and eliminating them from the picture will Make Things Right. Never mind the complexity involved, never mind the history of failed attempts, never mind the second- and third-order effects that invariably follow the good intentions of first-world punters in third-world environments. Buy an action pack! Wear a bracelet! Paint the town red! Click “Like” to get rid of Kony, yeah!!
Before I continue with my hater shtick, a disclaimer: I’ve been very conflicted about #kony2012. The conversation in my head since I first saw Kony on Wednesday night has gone something like this:
I’m really not sure about this… It feels gross. But Joseph Kony IS a massive prick, no doubt about it. Yes, but we’ve known that for years. Why should it take a slick video with a Triple J soundtrack to make the world give a shit? Because not everyone knew about it. Isn’t it a good thing to raise awareness about these sorts of issues? Well, yeah, but not by oversimplifying them and distorting the facts to appeal to people’s emotions rather than their intellect and moral sense. But people are motivated by emotion. Does it really matter if some of the details aren’t 100% accurate when the cause is worthy? When we’re talking about a campaign calling for foreign military intervention in a very poorly understood place, yes. It’s nice to see social media being used to attract world attention to something that actually matters though. Yeah, it is… but why this particular issue? Where’s all the money going? Would it be better directed elsewhere? Who’s behind “Invisible Children” anyway? Why does it feel like the film is as much about making its creators as famous as it is about Kony? Why do they come across like evangelical hipsters? You’re so cynical. You’re so gullible. At least these people are doing something. “Something” isn’t necessarily better than nothing. It depends on the something. Go fly a kite. You’ll have to speak up, I’m wearing a towel.
Ultimately, though, I think it’s gross.
The video itself features too many emotionally manipulative techniques to mention (Little Blonde Boy alone will give you instant Type 2 diabetes), but one shot in particular stands out for me: The dramatic re-enactment of a sleeping child being wrenched from his bed by (presumably) Kony, with the voice over “I couldn’t explain to [my son] Gavin the details of what Joseph Kony really does”.
Do people really think that’s how this works? That Kony tiptoes around Ugandan villages at night, salivating over slumbering children before dragging them back to the Lord’s Resistance Army HQ for a spot of parental target practice and facial mutilation? That he is the sole agent responsible for these atrocities?
This is the problem I have. It’s not that simple. It’s not a case of “1+1”, despite filmmaker Jason Russell’s claims that it is just that straightforward. Joseph Kony doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The conditions which allow him to do what he does are as complex as they are unfathomable to most of us. Putting the atrocities that have taken place in Uganda over the past decades down to one man is dangerously naive. For one thing, not all of the children in the LRA have been abducted. For many of them, it’s a better option than remaining a destitute orphan, and the reasons there are so many destitute orphans in Uganda go way beyond any of Kony’s misdeeds. For another, what happens after you send in Da Troops and catch Kony? How do you deal with what you leave behind? Who’s next on the list?
As an “awareness-raiser” (or should that be “fundraiser”?) #kony2012 has been highly successful. I hope I’m right in doubting it will achieve much more than that. Foreign military intervention isn’t something that should be influenced by a social media campaign trading on sentiment. This isn’t Earth Hour.
As the YouTube view count ticks over and concerned citizens gather in town squares around the world to make a statement on breakfast TV, we should ask ourselves this question: Would the world have the audacity to embrace a campaign like this if it were centred anywhere but Africa?
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