I didn’t do a Friday linky because I was mad busy & decided that making sense of Kony was a better use of the time I had. Now I share! Because the internet is crying out for one more opinion about Kony! HAPPY TO HALP!
So, you will have not missed that last week the social medias were alight with Kony2012, a viral campaign concerning bringing an African bad guy to justice. It got so big, so fast, that it became real news. Even the 6pm bulletin here in little old NyewZillund carried quite a long story on the phenomenon!
The campaign is by an outfit called Invisible Children and centred on a video that explained who Kony is. It also made clear that sharing the video will help bring Kony to justice. I watched the video. So here are some things:
(1) Apparently a video can go viral even when it is 29 minutes long. This is flat-out incredible. All those grumpy old self-important men who write columns and books about how the internet is the end of concentrated attention can choke on that.
(2) The video is plainly the work of a self-important white male American. I kept wanting him to shut up. Likewise the endless images of red-shirted activists sticking up posters and running around and hugging black people. (But see note 1, below)
(3) But hey, there seems to be a powerful core there. Kony is plainly a bad dude. It is worth knowing about that, and worth fixing that, if we can, right?
Well, sort of. It gets complicated pretty fast. There have been many, many replies to the Kony video and wider campaign, and they come from all directions and focus on dozens of different issues. Sifting through the mess, I’ve fixed on one thing that, in my opinion, a chap or chap-ette should bear in mind when considering Kony2012:
If a step of your plan for justice is “influence the Pentagon to deploy the U.S. military into a foreign country”, then you better be damn sure you know what you’re doing.
As is obvious – I don’t have any confidence that Invisible Children have thought this through. Their promotional material certainly doesn’t indicate any thinking AT ALL about this type of issue, which strikes me as straight-up crazy. The military issue is the big one, to me, because it means even the raising awareness idea at the heart of the campaign, the laudable impulse we have to build a chorus of voices against injustice, becomes problematic as it is tied into the projection of U.S. military force.
Here’s some of the discussion that led me to focus on this issue:
The Justice in Conflict blog breaks down the problems with military intervention as a Kony “solution”. See also a later defence of this post, and a great Salon article by the blog author: Kony2012 – the danger of simplicity
See also a different, complementary take on the dangers of military intervention, also in Salon.
And: “The idea that popular opinion can be leveraged with viral marketing to induce foreign military intervention is really, really dangerous.” – those extremist peaceniks at, er, the Kings College London Department of War Studies.
So there’s that. (See also note 2.) It’s why I’m not keen on this campaign.
And with that comment this post could end, but I have loads more tabs open, so I’ll carry on. Because there are many other concerns about Invisible Children. They have been criticised for questionable accounts & poor value as a charity (contested), and for framing the Kony problem as a white man’s burden. (Note, at the end of the article, the tweets by Teju Cole who is my new favourite Twitter follow.) (Also, more on the white savior complex.)
Two big critical themes seem to be more prominent than others. (Certainly more prominent than the concerns over military intervention that I see as the biggest problem.)
One is oversimplification. It’s a complex situation and the video and campaign paint it as a simple one. It is dangerous to oversimplify a complex situation, say the Warscapes crew. Or, more snarkily:
“On March 6, hundreds of people told me to take thirty minutes out of my evening to watch Invisible Children’s Kony documentary. If, on March 7, you’re not taking thirty minutes out of your evening to read the International Crisis Group’s November 2011 report on the way forward for stabilization and conflict resolution in LRA-affected areas, you’re not doing your job correctly.” – from the blog Securing Rights, which is actually a lot more sympathetic to Invisible Children than many voices, see their fascinating response to discussion.
The other is the absence of Ugandan and other African voices. The value they bring to the table is self-evident, and the fact that I’ve got this far without addressing their absence shows that I’m embedded in my white western perspectives too. BoingBoing did the work of pulling a whole bunch of good stuff together. This link is worth clickering.
Right. That’s enough of Kony2012. I’m personally more interested in Syria, showing both my personal as well as geopolitical biases. I would be very interested to hear from other people about Kony – not about whether you agree with me or not (although yes I am interested in that also), but rather how you’ve navigated the whole Kony webstorm. Did you ignore it? Watch the video and leave it there? Get into the arguments? I’m curious how we navigate controversy and information these days.
Note 1: Being self-important isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re in the activism game. A certain douchebagginess can certainly help get things done. I just won’t like you very much.
Note 2: The viral video not only has the Pentagon as the heroes, but its feature U.S. politician, leading the charge on this issue, is none other than infamous climate-denial doofbrain Sen Jim Inhofe. Check out his other greatest hits. My favourite: “In 2006, Inhofe was one of only nine senators to vote against the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 which prohibits “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of individuals in U.S. Government custody.” AWESOME ALLY FOR YOUR SOCIAL JUSTICE CAMPAIGN DOODZ.