The #Kony2012 show

Photo by Glenna Gordon. Sudan-Congo border, April 2008

The boy had lost his brother, and as he wept before Jason Russell’s camera, Jason Russell brushed back the loose strands of his magnificent blond coiffure (who will play him in the movie version?) and told the boy in hushed tones: “It’s okay. It’s okay.” Jason Russell promised the boy that he, Jason Russell, would do everything he could, would stop at nothing, would move mountains if need be, just to make sure that everybody in the world would finally come to know the name of Jason Russell.

Wait! Sorry! The name of Joseph Kony. This is all about Joseph Kony after all. Not Jason Russell. Nope, nothing at all to do with him.

It must be because “Kony 2012” is about Joseph Kony and not about Jason Russell that there is so much footage of Jason Russell’s young son, Gavin, worshipping Jason Russell atop trampolines and on beaches and at kitchen tables, and professing his hope that one day he might grow up to be just like Jason Russell.

Obviously! I mean how the hell else do you make a movie about the Lord’s Resistance Army?

And so it was that Jason Russell came to make a film (well, the eleventh version) in which the heroic Jason Russell makes a film in order that everyone in the world should finally know the name of the  internationally-renowned, globally notorious, definitely already world-famous warlord, Joseph Kony. It was to be the untold story of a much-chronicled man.

If this challenge were not daunting enough, Jason Russell also took it upon himself finally to convince the world that Kony, the man who had hitherto been merely the very first name on the International Criminal Court’s most wanted list (indicted on 33 counts including war crimes and crimes against humanity seven years ago), should in fact be arrested.

Great Scott! Why didn’t anyone think of that before?

The “Kony 2012” show is here, and the whole thing is a miserable fraud.

It’s meant to be an “awareness-raising” film. What it is is a study of a bunch of vain and ignorant young people who can think and feel only in cliches and appear to be laboring under the notion that Mark Zuckerberg invented both compassion and democracy for them sometime around 2004.

They want to empower you. And as a group of entitled white Americans, they know exactly what real power looks like. That’s why they’re giving you the chance to demand that America wage yet another bloody war based on zero knowledge and maximum hysteria whipped up over the wickedness of a single foreign figure. This is what democracy looks like according to Jason Russell: the power to choose on Twitter and Facebook who is to be the next target of America’s moral manhunt, all with the benediction of a panel of biddable celebrities.

You say Zooey Deschanel has tweeted that she wants to stop Joseph Kony? You say Kony has reduced Vanessa Hudgens to tears? But of course, we must send in the drones.

A writer from Northern Uganda, Musa Okwonga writes in Britain’s Independent that he hopes the Invisible Children “see this campaign as a way to encourage wider and deeper questions about wholly inadequate governance in this area of Africa.”

And this, generally, has been the considered view offered by those fair-minded folk who recognise the film’s sheer idiocy but hope that the “awareness” raised by it will lead to intelligent engagement further down the line.

Unfortunately this completely misses the point. The point of the film is absolutely not to encourage deeper questioning of Ugandan governance. The name of Uganda’s Life President Yoweri Museveni is nowhere to be found. Instead the point is to “literally cry your eyes out” (see Twitter passim), having been moved into a frenzy of moral clarity by the quite revolting mixture of generalised disgust at black Africa, infatuation with white American virtue and technological superiority, and a dose of good old-fashioned blood-lust. (When it boils down to it, it is a call for assassination.)

You then parade your borrowed and branded sense of right and wrong (those production values are also your values, after all) by sharing the link to the film. Everyone except for Joseph Kony gets to feel that they’re in the right, and Jason Russell and his friends get famous for being good.

The problem with the “awareness” argument is that it suggests that interest in the war in Uganda can be separated out from the experience of intensely racialized and charisma-driven moral masturbation, an experience which turns out to be, more than anything, one of the most intensely satisfying kinds of identity-formation.

“Fight for that,” says one speaker, without letting on what “that” is, “because that is what is going to change this world, and that is what defines us.”

To ask people to climb down from the soaring heights of “Kony 2012” (remember how we fall down into Uganda from the heavenly realms of Jason Russell’s Facebook page?), a place where they get to feel both sanctified and superior, and truly descend into the mire of history and confusion is simply too big an ask. It would be boring and difficult and it would not be about Facebook or Angelina Jolie or coloured wristbands or me. When the euphoria evaporates and the Twittersphere has dried its tears (probably by the end of this week), all that remains will be yet another powerful myth of  African degradation beneath Western power–and Jason Russell will be famous and rich.

The blogging battles that have broken out in the past couple of days are welcome. This is being contested and the controversy, as well as the campaign, is becoming a big deal.

Foreign Policy features an excellent guest post (by Oxford student Michael Wilkerson) where he indulges in a spot of light fact-checking (whatever, so Kony and the LRA aren’t in Uganda, meh), points to Invisible Children’s dubious finances (surprise!), links to a strong piece by Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama and poses the timeless question: what are the consequences of unleashing so many exuberant activists armed with so few facts?

One consequence of all this is that in the future we’ll have to get used to crowdsourced foreign policy that will come with dollops of the white man’s burden and most likely won and lost in popularity contests on social media: for example, #Kony2012 was quickly displaced by #stopKony2012 at the top of the Twitter pyramid.

As for Jason Russell and Invisible Children: Earlier today a Ugandan writer friend wrote to me wearily but pithily:

Invisible Children is quite notorious. They are still stuck with the old, “sexy” Kony story even as Ugandan children die of a mysterious illness [nodding disease]. They refuse to move on. Man, those guys have made money marketing this idea. It’s disgusting.

* Picture Credit: Glenna Gordon.

97 thoughts on “The #Kony2012 show

  1. underneath your frustrating sarcasm you seem to just be sore Russel found a method that worked and you didn’t. Truth of the matter is there were a lot of people talking about Kony but they were only talking to each other and Russel finally got “the masses” to listen. May be messed up the way he did it but that says more bout how messed up the masses are not about him plenty of people use the need for a Savage Victim Savior myth for less noble purposes.

    • Yep…”Phony 2012″ has got you hook, line and sinker!

      Listen to the “Kony 2012” narrator’s own words when he says that the US would not intervene unless there was something in it for them…only to later imply that it was the campaigning of “invisible children”, that changed their minds!

      Now – go to google and look up “Uganda, Oil discoveries”. You’ll soon find out that only a few years ago, GIANT oil reserves were discovered in Uganda, rivaling even those of the middle east. There’s your reason! There IS something in it for the US powers-that-be…and it’s hidden in plain sight.

      This is a cynical FAKE grass-roots campaign, in order to get the those who are typically against military intervention to actually campaign for it! It’s brilliant, and diabolical. They totally earned their “evil genius” badges for that one.

      …And watch out – because there’ll be plenty more where that came from. Traditional media is losing it’s hold, so they’re turning to the same kind of “guerilla marketing” techniques long employed in the corporate world, with a focus on social media.

      Face it – You’ve been DUPED!

      Next time, try to be a little less gullible…and engage in some research and critical thinking.

  2. Mr. Ross’s thoughtful piece gestures at this but doesn’t quite come out and say it: Am I the only one who sees the eye of a child exploiter massing his own child army in the direction of the Kony 2012 video? I found the tone and the angle to be profoundly disturbing – I actually couldn’t even watch it. It is literally as if Jason Russell is starring as Joseph Kony, and that in a film putatively about exploited children. I’m left with my head in my hands wondering how things could come to be such a complex mess.

  3. Hi are using WordPress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up my own.
    Do you require any html coding expertise to make your own blog?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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