Noticing my own privilege is important to me. Unfortunately, due to those same privileges, it’s not something I do often. My problems are first-world, and nightmares arise out of my own imagination.
Pamela Reynolds, an ethnographer of children in war and professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University, writes of the difficulties of conveying the truth of war, especially when children are involved. She questions the credibility of today’s documentation of war; how the history of war, “including children’s role in it, is written;” and finally, how “[war’s] effects on the young [is] measured and weighed.”
Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video has gone viral. In the beginning, it basically compares itself to other banal bits of broadband, such as videos of babies with kittens and medical miracles. Jason “my middle name is Radical” Russell, the narrator of the video and one of the founders of Invisible Children, eases into a meandering milieu of shallow topics in order to soften the segue into the atrocities of the developing world. In what seems like a home movie reel of his blonde son, Russell finally gets to the matter at hand, atrocities against children, by inserting some slick graphics and telling the viewer that “these kids are just like Gavin.” And so the infantilizing, cheap parallels continue for 30 minutes, leaving me with questions. Do people really need to be babied into believing in the massive amounts of violence currently taking place? Do they need comparisons with cute American kids in order to care, shots of happy crowds shouting for justice in order to join the throng?
Invisible Children has come under fire for everything from its use of funds to its choice of friends. With more than $13 million in donations, and about $9 million in expenses — including salaries and production equipment — the organization gave out only a fifth of this to direct services. The policy journal Foreign Affairs wrote that Invisible Children “manipulates facts for strategic purposes.” A March 8 article in The Telegraph has quoted Ugandan journalists and bloggers calling the video “highly irresponsible” and counterproductive to effecting positive change in the region. An opposing movement called Visible Children publicized its counterpart’s support of the Ugandan government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, two entities with no small amount of blood on their own hands.
The video had 75 million view in one week, and viewers are getting the message and hopefully getting motivated. A March 13 article in the New York Times praises the video for summoning the heretofore “untapped power of the viewer.” But if this is true, then the world’s greatest tragedies must need to be handed to us stylishly, in streamlined snippets that cut apart anything resembling the true horror of the situation.
Maybe it’s the prerogative of a filmmaker to convey material in the way that will evoke the most emotion in the most people. But it must be mentioned that donors to Invisible Children receive a “Kony 2012 Action Kit” complete with t-shirt, bracelet, posters, stickers and the instructions to “decorate [themselves] and the town.” The organization basically directs its audience to participate in a stylish marketing campaign. It seems to me that this initiative does not complete any action outside of easing the conscience of the privileged.
Winston Kelly, a senior studying behavioral psychology at the University, called the Kony 2012 awareness campaign “fighting a fire with a super-soaker.”
“Empirical studies have shown awareness campaigns do not result in behavior change at any statistically meaningful level,” Kelly says. “People consider the knowledge of the issue as the first step, but so few people take step two or step three.”
Don’t let Kony 2012 fool you. Despite its not-for-profit status, Invisible Children is a business like any other. If you give a company a vote of confidence in the shape of a dollar sign, it will most certainly want to keep up the conversation.
The world needs to get going on its own conversation. Violence against the defenseless is one of the deepest evils. That being said, taking advantage of kids on any level through any means is wrong. Watching Kony 2012 may force you to check your premises, shock you with a nightmarish truth and cause you see the disturbingly expansive map of your own privilege. All of these things are unbelievably important. But donating money to Invisible Children for the sake of “awareness” doesn’t seem to do much but provide consumer satisfaction.
Vanessa Rychlinski is an LSA junior and a senior editorial page editor.