That T-shirt superstar is Joseph Kony – the leader of a group responsible for more than 100,000 deaths in Africa, as well as the kidnappings of 60,000 children. Back when America gave a shit about that, we took it upon ourselves to pilot a massive hashtag campaign that included an awareness day on April 20, which coincided with one of Kony’s most horrific massacres. While that sounds reasonable on paper, the problem was that the entire Kony 2012 movement was so blindly centered on the perpetrator of the attacks, that they forgot to consider what plastering this guy’s face everywhere would do to his victims. As one Ugandan citizen pointed out, this was the equivalent of the rest of the world using Osama Bin Laden on all their T-shirts, posters, and party accessories to honor 9/11.
See, making someone famous for their atrocities only works if we follow up and keep tabs on that person. And in Kony’s case, no one in Uganda needed a reminder that this man existed – and all us rubberneckers on the outside weren’t doing shit to help catch him. But, of course, we would be shitting ourselves to think that any of this had to do with finding justice or helping victims, instead of satisfying our own need for a “good versus evil” brawl. It’s the same reason why we’re so quick to condemn secretly recorded racists such as Hulk Hogan and Donald Sterling, without addressing how shitty the act of recording someone against their knowledge is.
Truly extraordinary. This appears to be an example of some mind-blowingly misleading video-editing from Invisible Children.
Skip to 3:00, featuring an event last week in Gulu, N. Uganda, screening KONY 2012. In the video, it looks like people are rallying in support of Invisible Children. Here’s what really went down, from the Daily Monitor, a Ugandan newspaper:
“At least 10,000 people gathered at [the stadium] to watch the Kony 2012 video. Dissatisfied with the content, the crowd pelted the organisers with stones, injuring a police officer identified as Pamela Inenu and two musicians hired to sing at the event. Police fired teargas at the crowd, and live bullets in the air, injuring dozens, who also lost valuables including phones and money.”
Looks like this bit didn’t make it into their video. Fun project: Tweet @invisible if you’d like an explanation from them. You can also tweet at famous people!
Last Saturday morning, the world was supposed to wake up to city centers plastered with bright red posters telling us to STOP AT NOTHING. Cities and towns were supposed to be covered with the messages of peace and common cause that made themselves known through youth who came out to “Cover the Night.” The end game of the Kony 2012 video – the most successful viral video campaign of all time – was supposed to be a physical world awash with the graffiti of digital empathy.
The consensus, though? The thing was a flop. Hardly anyone came out.
There are, in short, PhD dissertations to be written about the Kony campaign and the way it exploded and, at least for the moment, faded. In the meantime, though, there’s one more thing worth highlighting: the branding the campaign took on, almost – almost – in spite of itself. Invisible Children’s campaign became not just about Kony, and not even just about Invisible Children, but about the guy ultimately informing us of Kony’s evildoing: Jason Russell, the Invisible Children co-founder. Partly, of course, things got personal because the video made them personal: “Kony 2012” starred not only Kony himself, and not only Jacob, one of the Ugandan children affected by the warlord’s tactics, but also – famously, infamously – Jason Russell and his son. The video forced viewers to see Kony’s story as an extension of Jason Russell’s story, and of Jason Russell’s organization’s story, and of Jason Russell’s kid’s story. That was supposed to be what made the thing “relatable.” That was its power and its pitfall.
But it also meant that the campaign’s fortunes were connected to the person – which is to say, the persona – of Russell himself. When he fell, publicly and embarrassingly, the campaign fell, too.