I’m amazed by the perfect social media storm created by #KONY2012 designed to spotlight Joseph Kony and the tragedy of child soldiers. I will use 28 screen-captured pix from #KONY2012 that I found illustrative to highlight the documentary’s strength, weakness, and intended / unintended consequences.
It is indisputable that Joseph Kony is now a famous/infamous man known to the world especially the youth that supported #KONY2012. Does it make it easier to capture Kony? Or will this fame actually make Kony harder to be found? I don’t know. Extending a blunt observation made by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2011 speech, even with all the military resources and technologies of the United States, it still took the CIA over 10 years to find Osama bin Laden.
To me, one of the most important achievement of #KONY2012 is to bring the tragic problem of child soldiers up front to people’s and politicians’ minds. At the same time, the oversimplifications also fail in important ways which I will talk about later.
I first learned about child soldiers in 2008 from Romeo Dallaire (his actions saved the lives of ~32,000 people in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide where an estimated 800,000 people were murdered) at Engineers Without Border in Calgary – Are all humans – Humans? Here is a video clip of Dallaire talking about his battle to end child soldiers in Nov 2010.
Note: Dallaire is the founder of the Child Soldiers Initiative, a project aimed at eradicating the use of child soldiers (see the team bios), and author of “They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children: The Global Quest to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers“.
Another clips of talking about Child Soldiers, the special tragedy of girl child soldiers, Responsibility to Protect doctrine.
Watch the insightful and chilling TVO interview “Former child soldier Ishmael Beah recounts his past” [note: Ishmael also has written “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier“, borrow it and have a read.]
I have serious reservation with Disney-fying or Pixar-fying complex and nuanced real world problems with misleading/manipulative presentation of facts to suit a targeted/expected emotional purpose even if the filmmakers’ intention is to do “good”. I need to remind myself the saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions“.
“Umm…what about northern Ugandans?
It is hard to respect any documentary on northern Uganda where a five year-old white boy features more prominently than any northern Ugandan victim or survivor. Incredibly, with the exception of the adolescent northern Ugandan victim, Jacob, the voices of northern Ugandans go almost completely unheard.
It isn’t hard to imagine why the views of northern Ugandans wouldn’t be considered: they don’t fit with the narrative produced and reproduced in the insulated echo chamber that produced the ‘Kony 2012′ film.“
Quoting Invisible Children’s (IC) responses to critiques re simplification,
“In our quest to garner wide public support of nuanced policy, Invisible Children has sought to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format, focusing on the core attributes of LRA leadership that infringe upon the most basic of human rights. In a 30-minute film, however, many nuances of the 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked.”
Turning complex issues into “an easily understandable format” is a nice goal but I think the documentary filmmakers have unfortunately crossed the line of “overlook” because of limited time boldly gone into the territory of manipulating/misleading.
And in a few scenes in the film, it is also implied child soldiers can be returned home after they are rescued when the truth is they will need lots of psychological help after they have killed (sometimes their relatives or even parents). And also the girls will be much much more difficult to re-integrate back into the society because, sadly, they actually feel shame and responsible for being raped!
The campaign’s 20/12 has definitely achieved its goal to get lots of people involved in pressuring the influencers and people with power. Again, the ultimate goals are what I have different takes than the filmmakers and IC.
IC’s lobbying effort resulting into President Obama’s authorization was presented as a “triumph”. There are some insightful critiques of this simplistic thinking in few of the referenced articles listed below.
Setting aside the problems I see in #KONY2012, this to me is the first large scale demonstration of how a comprehensive campaign can be launched and achieved critical momentum quickly. I believe this is definitely not the end and we are seeing how powerful this tool is. The constructive/destructive power unleashed & demonstrated by the #KONY2012 campaign is something that we have to learn from.
These are definitely some of the intended/unintended consequences. Will we, as a society, be ready to see the walls and buildings of our cities be taken over by one issue (thus our attention) when there are also many other issues as, if not more, deserving of our attention and care?
I will have to see what the Kony 2012 group will do on April 20, 2012 as a start to see. I want to say, the constructive/destructive power once unleashed & demonstrated, can’t be put back into the bottle!
“We are Shaping Human History” is true enough. How? And what are the consequences (good/bad) and the unintended consequences will remain to be seen.
When dealing with complex issues as depicted in #KONY2012, for those that are passionate and want to get deeply involve, it is very important you take time to read a lot and keep evaluating your views based on facts and insightful & careful analysis by creditable people.
Joseph Kony was indicted of war crimes by ICC in 2005. Can you imagine Kony simply claim that he is above international law and the ICC has no authority/jursidiction on his actions or crimes committed?
Well, allow me to point out that the United States government has so far refused to submit herself to the authorities of the ICC. And I hope one of the unintended consequences of #KONY2012 is to see US signing up to the ICC even though I am not holding my breath for this change of heart anytime soon.
References (updated Mar 10, 2012, 13:30 MST):
*) New York Times, “Online, a Distant Conflict Soars to Topic No. 1”
*) Guardian Mar 10, “After Kony, could a viral video change the world?”
*) CBC News Mar 9, “Kony 2012: Journalism and the viral video – David Michael Lamb looks at YouTube activism” Here is an excerpt,
“The video, of course, is not journalism, and doesn’t pretend to be. It is activism. It seduces people into thinking that if they do something or pay money, they can right a wrong.
It says putting up a poster really could lead to the arrest of Joseph Kony — which may or may not happen.
Remember, the Ugandan army, with U.S. Special Forces help, has been searching for Kony for almost four years now and hasn’t found him.“
*) Guardian Mar 8, “Reality Check: Kony 2012: what’s the real story?” (with video interviews of UK students for their reactions at the “7.27pm GMT / 2.27pm ET” mark, and insightful comment by “Steven Van Damme, Oxfam’s protection and policy advisor”, etc)
*) Globe and Mail Mar 9, “The new political norm: flash-mob activism”
*) WaPo, “Kony 2012: The anatomy of a viral campaign”
*) PBS NewsHour – “‘Kony 2012’: ‘Unprecedented’ Viral Video’s Message, Backlash Examined”
*) (updated March 10) After reading Invisible Children’s response to critiques re: Financials, I have to say the 37% spent on Central Africa programs is worryingly small compare to the percentage spent on Awareness programs and products (25.98% and 9.56%) plus Management & General expenses (16.24%).
*) Here are two insightful talks that I think are very worth watching in our post-#KONY2012 world.
University of Toronto: Malcolm Gladwell, Convocation 2011 Honorary Degree recipient (an earlier iteration of the TED talk)