Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"Don't believe everything you see on the internet": Thoughts on KONY 2012

I heard the phrase "KONY 2012", and probably even saw one of the Shepard Fairey look alike posters before I knew about the video, before I knew who Kony was and what everyone was talking about. I wasn't one of the millions of people who watched it when it first went viral on March 5. I like to think I am pretty social media literate, but somehow I had missed all the links, comments and posts on facebook and twitter, and I haven't watched live television in months so there was no chance of catching it there. Most of the "news" I get comes from the literary and art websites I follow, or Gawker, and even then it somehow escaped me. I guess I was too busy worrying about my graduate thesis, which is what I should be working on right now instead of writing this, whatever this is...

When I did start to see the links, I kind of ignored them. I didn't have time to watch a 30 minute video, and so I read commentary on it instead, and articles about the backlash. I was able to piece it together enough to keep up with the conversation whenever it came up, and by this time I was aware of the director's subsequent mental breakdown. But today I finally sat down and watched the video, and attended a discussion on the Kony campaign, the implications and possible repercussions of the documentary, and most importantly, the truth about the issues facing the people of Uganda and other countries in Africa. (And no, Africa is not one big country in case you were still confused).

I had heard of the organization Invisible Children, but I admit I wasn't quite sure what they did or who they were really supporting in Africa, after more research, I am still not sure of those things. Invisible Children claims to have been working on unspecified "projects" within Uganda since their formation nine years ago, but if that's true, why aren't these projects mentioned anywhere in the video? If Jason Russell's goal is to urge our youth to get involved and educate themselves on the issues going on outside their own backyards, wouldn't it make sense to show them what they can do to help on the ground in Uganda, or at least let them see where their "few dollars a week" is going?

Instead, the only product we're shown is a "kit" for purchase, complete with posters, buttons, bracelets and other propaganda, and a 29 minute video that appears to have had Hollywood budget. My first reaction when I watched it was shock at the videos high quality in comparison to other documentaries I had seen on the genocide in Uganda and the Congo (Of which there are many by the way). Is it possible, I wondered, that the money Invisible Children has been raising over the last nine years was used to budget Russell's film? If so, I'm not so sure those who donated go their monies worth. 

Tonight, as I listened to people who grew up in Uganda talk about the issues, I realized just how
damaging social media can be in the wrong hands. Journalists have a responsibility to tell the whole truth, and to tell it as objectively as possible. If they don't, there is the watchdog. But we continue to get less and less of our news from actual journalists. Russell is not a journalist. We could argue by calling his film a documentary he has an obligation to tell the truth, but telling the truth through the creative arts has always been more complicated. We're still making up the rules. The lines between fact and fiction become blurred. This is why we don't read memoirs in the same way we read a news story, despite the fact that both claim to be telling "the truth."

Some Facts:
- Kony is not currently living in Uganda. He relocated North to the Republic of Congo in 2005.
- Since his relocation, many attempts have been made to find Kony, including collaboration efforts between the US Military and Congolese army created during the Bush Administration.
- In October of 2011, Obama ordered 100 US troops to track down Kony and other leaders of the LRA (Lord Resistance Army)

To read more:

The United States government has been aware of and involved in what's going on in Africa, despite what Russell's film asks us to believe. Unfortunately it seems that Mr. Russell is nothing more than a master marketer, which is probably obvious to most of us by now. The scary thing is the fact that he was able to convince people otherwise in the first place. What does it say about us that so many are willing to blindly follow and share information without asking any questions?

Instead of buying posters, maybe we should contribute to efforts on the ground in Uganda, headed by Ugandans, in order to help the victims move past the violent years when Kony ruled their lives. Instead of assuming the only way to solve another country's problem is by increasing military support from the United States, perhaps we should stop to research that country's own efforts first. Instead of promoting violence as a way to stop violence, maybe we should look to education, health and social care as a cure. Maybe?