Friday, March 09, 2012

Make Kony Famous?

This 30 minute ramble of a video by Invisible Children is one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. It made me both cry and cringe. Problem is, I cringed far more than I cried. And I cried.
The good intentions are beyond reproach, as usual. Who doesn't want to bring a monster like Joseph Kony to justice? Or better yet, kill the bastard. Its humongous viral reach is now beyond discussion. But I sat there utterly flummoxed as it unfurled, way too slowly and randomly, over 30 minutes of can-do American pizzazz. It was so gnarly, it captured my attention.
I agree with the video that the internet and social media are capable of giving the public across the world the power to exert pressure for change in an unprecedented way. So far so good. Then there is this ominous voiceover by Impossibly Handsome, Well Meaning, Not a Little Self-Enamored Dude that the next 27 minutes are an experiment and in order for it to work we have to pay attention. Treat me like a 6th grader, but okay, still with you. Next? Footage of the birth of this dude's son. A full minute or more of his cute little coddled son doing cute things, like fake bombing someone's ass with a special effect (they both love to make movies, the film will have you know). A lot of me myself and I and my golden child so far. Then finally, around minute 8, the actual story of Jacob the Ugandan kid. This is the part where you cry and want to give Invisible Children all your money, you want to go into the jungle and kill that motherfucker Kony by the most painful means at your disposal. This is all that was needed.
But then the silliness starts: we are going to stop African warlord Joseph Kony and Dude is going to tell us exactly how to do it: with posters and bracelets and a lot of enthusiastic high school kids asking the US government to militarily aid a foreign army. Hmmm... Oh, and by tweeting Rihanna and Lady Gaga, among other celebrities. Celebrities. Wow. I'm sure this and tweeting policy makers like George Bush and Condi Rice will bring Kony to his knees.
Then, in what I consider the most cringeworthy segment of all, Dude brings out his poor son again (there seems to be a daughter in there somewhere, but she is ignored) and supposedly explains to him about "the bad guy". You can self-aggrandize all you want, but why bring your child into this? It feels staged and willfully naive and is terribly unseemly. After all, you are talking about helping children who live in a nightmare of poverty, war, disease and violence. Get your spoiled kid out of the picture.
That the kid and his dad seem to have almost the same simplistic notions of morality is a little scary and quite telling, albeit unintended, I'm sure.  In the United States we live in a universe comprised of moral absolutes. The rest of the world understands life is a gray area.  But here is the kid talking about the bad guys in Star Wars, and it seems in Dude's worldview there is not much difference between that and a horribly complicated African civil war. The over-simplification of the American "bad guy" ethos is what gets the US in hot water most of the time, after all.
I could not help but notice every time they showed the International Court most wanted list, the second guy after public enemy number one Kony was also an Ugandan. Another Bad Guy. What about him?
The biggest problem is the marketing aspect of the whole thing. It sounds, smells and looks like one of those integrated campaigns that win advertising awards at the Cannes Lions every year. This one is glib, simplistic, banal, self-aggrandizing, willfully naive, tasteless and embarrassingly tone deaf. Don't get me wrong: the Dude has tried to make a difference with great amounts of passion and persistence for 9 years, and his operation is as buff and shiny and beautifully produced as a Hollywood movie. I don't begrudge him his commitment. In fact, I waver between admiration and queasiness, because I am trying to do something similar for a more modest social issue concerning kids (getting Mexican high school students in NYC to finish high school). And I had the same idea, being a creative person, to use creative tools and talent to raise awareness. A lot of what I saw in the IC video is admirable, and worth emulating, but I found most of the creative strategy and execution quite disturbing. More schools and mentors, education and support for Ugandan kids? Awesome. Bring it. Cheerleading the US to interfere with the Ugandan Army? Is that the only option? I'm not so sure.
I thoroughly despise the concept of "make Kony Famous". I find the posters that Shepard Fairey has designed to be so cool as to make desirable the icons of the "bad guys" (Kony, Bin Laden and Hitler, another reductio ad absurdum). Does Fairey have only one visual idea left? It looks just like his Obama poster!
I find the whole thing naive in the worst kind of way. And I'm not even discussing the realpolitik aspect of it, which I barely understand.
Clearly a lot of the money has gone to produce this highly polished piece of work, which is extremely well done, beautifully shot and edited, as is the website for the organization. These guys are communicators, not policy makers. They may have succeeded in bringing attention to the issue, but the fact they are being harshly criticized points to an extremely flawed communications problem.
In short: the campaign makes little sense. The posters of donkeys and elephants merging with a dove with a Kony 2012? Confusing. This might work stateside, but what does the rest of the world care for the GOP and the Dems? It makes it seem like Kony is a third party candidate, an option even worse than Santorum, which until now was inconceivable. Don't be surprised if some yahoos actually think Kony is  running for office. This beside the fact that it is way too American-centric, instead of aiming for a more global reach.
Buried in all that slightly revolting can-do all-together-now spirit is a tagline that makes sense: "the one thing we can all agree on". A global campaign could be built around this idea, beyond our pathetic two-party system. However, it's lost among all the aimless American self-congratulation. The bracelet? Let's not even go there. Tweeting Ryan Seacrest? Barf. And the idea of making this criminal famous? Abhorrent. This is the plan to bring Kony to justice: under cover of night we are going to paper our magnificent cities in posters. Now the entire world will know about Joseph Kony. Is this going to make him come out of the jungle waving a white flag? He is probably relishing the notoriety as we speak. Terrorists love fame. That's how they terrorize. Is this the best way to bring the guy to our attention, let alone the plight of Africa? No. It is the glibbest, the most vulgar, the most unfortunately attuned with our own farkakte, assbackwards American celebutard values, but that doesn't mean it's good.

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