Jumping on the Kony 2012 wagon, no, off, no, on, no…

March 7, 2012

in mark my word: twitter will doom us all,marketing at work,no manual for parenting,this i believe

Unless you live under a rock, or you are my husband, by now you must have seen (or chosen to skip) this video, KONY 2012 (video at the bottom of this post for all you under-the-rock-dwellers), and it is possible you are already tired of “hearing” about it on your Facebook or Twitter (or even, dare I say, Google+?) stream.

Here is what the non-profit organization, Invisible Children, the people behind one of the most brilliant marketing campaigns I have ever witnessed (and by calling it a “marketing campaign” I do not mean to trivialize the issue to which it aims to raise awareness of), says to be the objective of this well-executed video:

KONY 2012 is a film and campaign by Invisible Children that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.


It is possible that you, like me, thought to yourself, “Who the f is Joseph Kony? And why should I care? And what the f is going on?”

Well, making you aware and thus making you care IS the objective of this video that is the talk of the town today. It had 100,000 views on YouTube last night when I shared it on all the social media channels; as of now, there are more than 15 million views. In 24 hours. It is a trending topic on Twitter and Facebook. Of course, detractors and critics have come out of the woods; it seems that nowadays rocketing fame and popularity cannot evade the fate of soon becoming notoriety. Invisible Children‘s charity score and financial practices have since come under severe scrutiny.

[Update on March 8, 11:30 am: The video now has almost 37 million views on YouTube, i.e. the view count has more than doubled overnight]

But Joseph Kony and the atrocity he and his army has been committing is being talked about. I’d say Objective Achieved.

As I said, this is one of the most brilliant campaigns. As I scroll through the slick website and all its social-media-optimizing graphic designs and html code (TWEET the celebrities and politicians directly from the website to make them aware, because, sad yet true, when George Clooney is pissed off by something, people that matter actually listen), I could not stop being amazed at how this was not a brainchild by some corner suite on Madison Avenue. I will let the pundits and scholars and all the commenters out there do the debating for me/you. Read this one if you must: Taking ‘Kony 2012′ Down A Notch, and this one, Stop Kony, yes. But don’t stop asking questions. But by god, do not read the comments on YouTube; they really make you lose faith in humanity: one glowing example accuses this video/campaign as an Obama conspiracy.


Here is my Facebook status at 10:28 pm last night:

My boys insisted that I watch a video today. I thought, Not another stupid YouTube video (Yes, Charlie the Unicorn I am looking at you!) I am glad I “obliged” and watched this very well done, call for action, film created by Invisible Children. It astounds me that Joseph Kony is number 1 on the war criminal list and yet I didn’t know about him and the atrocity he has committed


The least we could do is to pass this movie on on the Internet.


When I was watching it, my 9-year-old (Mr. Monk) came to watch it again with me. He was alternating between being sad, outraged, incredulous, and agitated. He was doing those jumping without moving his feet thing that people do when they are excited about something but don’t know what to do with it, or where to start. His eyes were red, and yet shimmering with hope. Yes, hope.

And that’s what I think Kony 2012 did the most brilliantly. It breaks down a complicated political/social/historical/economical/national/global/humanitarian situation into simple, forceful messages that people of any background, age, education, intellect can easily grasp. Sort of like a call for action for the drive-through generation. Of course, that is also one of the shortcomings picked out by its critics, that Kony 2012 does not provide the whole political/etc. context. Because if it did, most people would not even click PLAY. Sad but true. Even well-intentioned, compassionate young people, the target audience of this video (complete with t-shirts, bracelets, posters and pins!), would have been too overwhelmed by the hopelessness in the situation, “So, there is nothing nobody can do about it?” What would they have done? Probably go back to mindless YouTube videos that show the myriad ways a guy can get his crotch hit by some foreign object.

Yes, it’s a First World Problem, that our young people have to be spoon-fed easily digestible messages, but this may be a start, their first engagement in social activism, no matter how whitewashed it is. (Why don’t people criticize all the walkthons and fundraising that I have been forced to donate to because I do not like my children to hit up relatives/friends for money? Don’t even get me started on how the retailers donate $1 stinkig dollar per crap to our school. I will just give you the money directly, Mr. Principle. School fundraising is, IMFHO, MOST. STUPID. IDEA. EVER. How about youse don’t vote down property tax increase so we don’t have to send our children out to be extortioners?! And why do we need to buy more balls for the playground??!!)

Even more impressively, people behind Invisible Children understand that in order to get the masses to do something, you have to tell them what and how, and keep it simple. We are all Homer Simpsons. Or in the case of its actual target audience, you have to make sure the actions you are calling for are well within the capability of teenagers and young adults: Camp outside an embassy in protest. No. Tweet Lady Gaga. Yes. This is not said in jest. They’ve smartly figured out that in order for there to be a cause, you need a celebrity + a political figure to carry the torch. How do you get a celebrity to carry the torch for the said cause? The power of fans, most of them young and passionate. How do you get a political figure to care? When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt come-a-calling.

The actionable instructions at the end of the video are so concise and simplistic that even Mr. Monk was excited and convinced that he, a 3rd grader, could do something about it. He’s been brooding since last night. The story of Jacob really struck a cord and he could not stop thinking about Kony 2012 the whole day today. Finally he asked, “Mom, is it ok if I buy a kit from Kony 2012? And also, I would like to donate. What do you think? Do you think $3 a month will be ok?”

I said, “Of course, honey. I am very proud of you.” And then I went, SHIT, and started reading all the comments on all the posts.

I am a cynical curmudgeon. Yes, I was emotional for about half an hour after I watched the video despite the gnawing discomfort I had, and started bombarding the Internet with “OMG. You’ve got to watch this video to find out who Joseph Kony is!” In my defense, people do need to know who Joseph Kony is, and need to be reminded that child slavery/abduction/abuse/etc. is still going on even though CNN stopped reporting it.

The shit moment came because I had not vetted Invisible Children as a charity. Unlike my kids, I have heard/read/been disgusted by how some charities turned out to be the front for people to line their own pockets. Sharing the video and getting the word out is one thing; putting money where it deserves to go is something else. I would be very very upset if Mr. Monk’s money went towards some shady charity taking advantage of young people for their innocence and compassion. And I worried because… this campaign has been too well executed. What can I say? I am a cynical curmudgeon.

So I sat in front of my computer and followed along the multiple threads of debates raging on the Internet, gritting my teeth, seeing all sides of stories and finding no solace. For some reason I had the false flashback of pulling petals off of a flower, “He loves me. He loves me not.”

They are legit. They are a sham. They mean well. They are doing this wrong. You did the right thing. You have been taken for a fool.

Watching Mr. Monk cautiously calculating how much all these will add up and figuring out whether he’s saved enough money to pay for it, I had not the heart to explain to him the cold, hard reality of the world. Not about how sometimes people that mean to do well are actually doing more harm. Not yet.

A supposedly simple, straightforward lesson of compassion and “let’s do something to help someone else” is in reality far from being that.

Or, did Kony 2012’s meteor rise to fame cause the complexity? If we ignore its notoriety and the speed in which it reached that notoriety, could this still be a simple straightforward opportunity for sheltered young people in the first world to be inspired to care, and to care enough to take actions no matter how simplistic they are?

Sadly, after reading 1000+ impassioned comments, I have no answers.



Alexandra March 11, 2012 at 10:54 am

It’s something. It’s gotten people talking. It’s taken our heads out of our rich (compared to the rest of the world) arseholes.

It’s made kids talk. It’s brought Kony’s name up.

What is the perfect answer?

There never will be one. We only do what we can do.

And how can that be criticized???

I am excited to see the teens at my son’s school plan and gear up for April 2012 night.

That’s the most world awareness I”VE EVER seen in them.

Absence Alternatives March 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm

I agree. Of course, I had to go and read articles that accuse people like me of “using this merely as a way to feel good and forgetting that it’s more than just a cause”. Not everybody can be an active activist.

At least a lot of kids actually know where Uganda is now. That’s more than we could say 1 week ago.

Naptimewriting March 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Exactly what I was thinking, Empress.

And the fact that, within a few days, Thomas Lubanga was found guilty in International Criminal Court means that all the talk—about Kony about the charity, about how best to help, about how social media actually makes change snowball—was more than worthwhile. Whatever he spent, it’s worth it.

Because the visibility of such atrocities is the point.

Pretend he just saved the world, celebrate his empathy, and take a deep breath. All the things in this world are just devastating. Every day I learn two or three new things that just defeat my desire to make the world better. All you can do is speak up, raise decent humans, and put your money where you can.

And even if it was a waste, it didn’t hurt anything or anyone.

You’ve done a good thing, subWOW. So has your son.
Naptimewriting´s last blog post…Sucked in by the cute

Elly Lou March 10, 2012 at 5:18 am

I did the same thing. Watched it. Tweeted it. Panicked. Googled it. Panicked again. Checked it’s charity rating. Calmed down. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Is it wrong to couch a message in terms your audience will understand if it possibly detracts from the message? I honestly don’t know.
Elly Lou´s last blog post…Paperweight

Absence Alternatives March 10, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Thank you! It’s nice to know I am not the only one.

tricia March 10, 2012 at 1:38 am

I hadn’t seen it- and it is very powerful. I haven’t researched the organization behind it- but it seems pretty clear that there is a very real tragedy happening. Horrible. Thanks for your thoughtful post-
tricia´s last blog post…C&C Green Works Product Review

Absence Alternatives March 10, 2012 at 4:16 pm

You are welcome. Really just needed to clear my thoughts by purging my mind. Didn’t help a lot though since I am more confused than ever. Ha.

Absence Alternatives March 10, 2012 at 12:03 am

Adding more articles with fair arguments that I like in the comment section because some day I may want to look back and perhaps I will have a more elucidated perspective then:

Why We Should Take Heart From the Backlash Against Kony2012 : “One final catch: It is important to criticize the Kony2012 campaign and others like it for their misguided approach to “helping” people in need. But it is also important to be careful in that critique… In the end, the people (teenagers) who spread this video were motivated by a desire to help, no matter how misguided and problematic the organization behind it. It is easy to be cynical, but the desire to do good by your fellow person is widespread. The video’s virality demonstrates that. May the Kony 2012 backlash result in informing that desire, so that it is humbler, smarter, and can recognize a no-good campaign the next time one comes around.”

And it’s on New York Times frontpage today. Whoa. I love this comment and I am hoping that more kids who’ve seen and been moved by this video are engaging in critical thinking and debates like this:

My high school kids (and cousins at other affluent, metro suburban high schools) are CONSUMED with debating the merits of Invisible Children, the dilemmas of ‘slacktivism,’ pro and con KONY 2012, what makes a charity a charity, and Facebook as a tool for social change. They can now find Uganda and Congo on a map of Africa. Teachers are devoting class time to it and giving it context. Whatever his motives, if Mr. Russell, Twitter and Facebook have compelled so many good, smart kids (and their teachers) to take a substantive, critical look at the whole host of issues here, halleluia. They’re having, like, legit discussions about, like, the world that they’re going to, you know, like, shape, and stuff.

Magpie March 9, 2012 at 9:16 pm

I haven’t watched the video, but I have been reading and following and I’m fascinated and skeptical. What I really want is to hear from some friends who spent a couple of years in Uganda, but I haven’t yet.

Absence Alternatives March 9, 2012 at 11:37 pm

If you do, please share (if possible)! There are reports saying Ugandans are outraged by this video. ALL Ugandans? A sample of a few? Would like to know too!

Kathy March 9, 2012 at 11:16 am

Thanks for your post, Lin. I haven’t yet watched the video but plan to do so this afternoon.

Absence Alternatives March 9, 2012 at 11:36 pm

You are welcome. Just trying to figure it out for myself. I guess I am obsessed because I don’t want to admit that I’ve been taken for a fool…

Absence Alternatives March 8, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Final note on this: couldn’t help myself so posted a comment on this post “The Soft Bigotry of Kony 2012”. Usually I am the first person with a bull horn on the internet complaining about White Guilt and inherent racism in these things, but the critics have been robbing me the wrong way. I left a rambling comment:

My 9-year-old watched this video and decided to buy a “kit” and donate $3 every month. I had not the heart to tell him what The Internet thinks of Kony 2012. To the accusation that Kony 2012 is doing more harm by diverting money and resources that could have gone towards Africa… using myself as an example: I make annual donations to RedCross, Feed America, Doctors without Borders, and Heifer because I believe (& I am not trying to convince anybody else to agree with this assessment) that these charities will make the greatest impact with the limited amount I donate. I have never even thought of making any donation directly towards Uganda or any other African countries, and all the reports on corruptions and how little money actually goes towards the efforts, false or not, to some extent made me hesitant in donating to any of the organizations doing work in Africa. (Yes, DOB and RedCross are global NGOs, but I donate to their specific disaster relief efforts outside of Africa).

After reading almost all the articles/posts and following all the debating threads, I am thoroughly confused, and all I want to do now, and YES, I am privileged to even have this option even though I am not white nor male, is to go turn on the TV and watch mindless reality TV shows and forget about this whole thing.

Yes, I feel better about myself knowing that I am a better person because I donate to charities. There. There is my apology for being in a privileged position to make charity donations.

But then I saw this. Ugh…

dufmanno March 8, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Today this was ALL OVER our local news stations and radio talk shows and MAN was there some crazy back and forth. I will say that if nothing else , perhaps this made some people actually take the time out from whatever it was they were doing to look up and see what is happening outside of their tiny microcosm.
The world is big. It has many atrocities. It also has many good hearted people. Maybe someone who never took the time to see or research these things is doing it now because you or someone like you retweeted or blogged about it.
dufmanno´s last blog post…The List

Absence Alternatives March 8, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Thank you. My son’s friend put a map of Africa on his FB and asked people to identify where Uganda is. So at least now a bunch of kids KNOW where Uganda is…

Dufmanno March 8, 2012 at 6:12 am

I’m STILL confused. It upsets me that I can’t be sure about these people even though I’m itching to do or give something. Almost makes me wish that we all did have the wherewithal to camp out somewhere in order to make a difference.

Absence Alternatives March 8, 2012 at 7:45 pm

I think I should get a life instead being obsessed. It is now up to 40 million views, and there are TONS of posts/articles criticizing this campaign and the organization, and in general, the US and American’s penchant to “want to help”…

I am glad that Invisible Children issued a well-thought statement refuting most of the criticism, esp. their financial practices/integrities.

As for criticism “you should not be telling my stories”, well… I don’t know what to say to that. My initial reaction was snarky: well, thank you very much for giving me the permission to NOT CARE. As for other white people telling these white people that they are being paternalistic and condescending, I guess it is fashionable nowadays for hipsters to get some “self awareness” by accusing each other of having white guilt.

I think I am done with this. I have a life. Yes, a privileged, first world life, to get back to.

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