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
IF THE WORLD KNOWS WHO JOSEPH KONY IS, IT WILL UNITE TO STOP HIM. IT STARTS HERE.
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.
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.