Kony 2012 Part 2 – Criticism

8 Mar

In the few hours since I posted about Kony 2012 I’ve gotten responses from multiple people criticizing Invisible Children and after reading pro-, anti-, and ‘commentary’, my opinion is this:

The topics I talk about and which exist in this (very complicated) world are complicated and people can argue for and against a course of action and still not be wrong.

Kony should be brought to justice – Right

Spreading information – Right, as long as the information is right?

We should manipulate people to do so – Wrong ish?

Abducting and raping young children – Wrong

Trampling Ugandan agency – Wrong… unless it works…ish?  Maybe?

These lines are not clear and we won’t know the harm and hurt caused by Kony 2012 for a long time to come.

For now I know a few things.

The approach of Kony 2012 is not perfect.  The information is unclear, outdated and highly oversimplified.  Their moving video can be called manipulative and tells young white americans with 30 bucks to spare that they can solve major world problems without leaving their computer screens and also that this is the most pressing social issue on the planet right now.

On the other hand because Kony 2012 simplifies their message enough to reach the lowest common denominator, they reach… everybody.

Sometimes I plan a post about female characters in movies and get upset because I want to say that women shouldn’t be portrayed as wanting only money, but also that they should be portrayed as people with flaws and desires, and then I want to cap it all off with a complete history of the transformation of female characters in film from the complex Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca to the complete caricature of Katherine Heigl in The Ugly Truth while stopping along the way to pay heed to Feminist Frequency’s Tropes V. Women in other forms of media like graphic novels. But if I did all that I wouldn’t really make any points at all and you, dear reader, would probably be left more confused than enlightened.  It’s because of this that I understand why Kony 2012 would choose to oversimplify the situation in the hopes of reaching a wider audience.

And if their goal is to spark a conversation then spark a conversation they did.  Perhaps the best thing to come out of Kony 2012 will not be the capture of a man hiding in the woods with a dwindling army, perhaps it will be the the dialogue we’re starting right now, a dialogue that results in creative young minds who yesterday didn’t know such horrors existed in this world getting interested and involved and coming up with new and innovative ways to solve the world’s problems.

I guess my biggest problem with the people who criticize Invisible Children is that they don’t have any better suggestions.  Yes, Invisible Children has failed to bring Kony home today.  Yes, they can be called misleading, uninformed, manipulative and oversimplified.  But today you know who Joseph Kony is and yesterday you didn’t so the one thing they can’t be called is ineffective.

3 Responses to “Kony 2012 Part 2 – Criticism”

  1. Kaptions March 8, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    On offering alternate suggestions: one of the things I liked about the Jezebel talkback was that they did offer a link to a list of other charities that do good work in the area.

    I guess the big problem with any kind of activism is the question of yeah, we can be helping in these ways… but we’ve got limited time and resources. Is this the -best- way to help? Are our dollars/hours potentially either doing as much harm as good, doing some kind of alternate, abstract harm along with the good, or are we really getting the right bang for our bucks?
    I’ve never argued–and I know you don’t think I did–that this Kony guy is an upstanding fellow, or that the world wouldn’t be better off if he was stopped. But by sending dollars to Invisible Children, are those dollars actually going to something more indirect–equipping and training the Ugandan army without also training them not to rape/pillage–in hopes that roundabout it’ll stop Kony? I haven’t done the research, so I don’t directly know, but Jezebel seemed to think they are. If you want to help children in Uganda, wouldn’t it be better to send money to fund research or medicine on Nodding Disease, which is apparently a thing?
    Yes, raising awareness is pretty incontrovertibly supportable. I’m glad about the Invisible Children video in that it actually did get the word out there that there is this dude, and he is doing some terrible, terrible things. The hope, then, is that the talents that went into creating this beautiful piece of viral marketing for a cause could pair up with an organization that has a less-shaky track record; that would be a best-case scenario. What we have is a less-satisfying bifurcated system; some people that are excellent at getting the word out there and not as awesome at effecting the actual change, and some groups that are doing really spectacular work but can’t get funds because they kind of suck at visibility and mass-appeal.

    What’s frustrating about thinking about activism like this is that I’ve actually found myself arguing on the opposite side of the argument. A friend posted on her wall that Rape Analogy–you’ve seen it too, the man being victim-blamed for getting mugged (you know, this one: http://feministphilosophers.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/tumblr_lrecnkv6kg1qd5p7ho1_500.jpg) Another person started to post that this Analogy was actually -harmful- to the cause of rape education; the fact that the dude was threatened with a weapon, for him, overemphasized the prevalence of stranger assault, and he felt that by depicting rape as an analogy to getting mugged, it weakened people’s understanding that most rape is actually committed by acquaintances, often even without direct violence. I argued that no; this was getting out a message that blaming someone for being raped is as absurd as blaming someone for being mugged, and that the analogy doesn’t deny the prevalence of acquaintance rape, that the target message (which I believe is successful) was just to get the ball rolling on awareness. Maybe some benefit was being passed up, but no active harm was done and something good was getting spoken about.
    The difference, though, is that it takes all of three minutes (if you go slow) to read through the Rape Analogy. Someone’s understanding is increased a lot for very little effort–big returns. Nothing is getting done per se, but little is ventured and enough is gained that it’s not a very complicated calculation. With the Invisible Children, $30 is a sizeable chunk of money, that then isn’t going somewhere else*. When/where I send my stuff, or spend my time getting educated about crises in Uganda and the surrounding countries, is a little more precious–and I want a little more assurance that not only is everything over the table, but that my money is really going where I think it’s going and want it to go. When things like misrepresentation crop up in these activist circles, or it seems like some proper research or procedure hasn’t been done somewhere, yeah the motive is good, but it makes me feel pretty suspicious. And I think it actually does some harm to the idea of activism in general, because it makes it harder to trust the next group that has an important cause that they want you to pay attention and money to. We hold activists to a higher moral standard than everyone else because that’s how we live our lives without crippling guilt, the confidence that Somewhere, Someone Is Taking Care Of Things, that activists are making all of those moral choices that we just aren’t strong enough to make… and when they don’t hold up their end of the “bargain,” we feel terrible. Because if they’re not being all of the moral… then jeez, that just makes me an asshole, doesn’t it.

    *In the scheme of things, it’s not that huge of a sum. But, you know, Are We Donating Enough Money is such a huge lifestyle moral quandary thing that it’s insane to even bring it up, and already I’ve made anyone that reads this feel guilty about not giving more. Choices, choices.

  2. Kaptions March 9, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    Oh, and a followup: this site (http://lifehacker.com/5891726/how-to-determine-if-a-charity-like-kony-2012-is-worth-your-money) give a pretty decent lowdown not just on the Invisible Children nonprofit but on how to tell, in general, if a nonprofit you are thinking about donating to is going to be worth the money. Knowledge!

  3. Anonymous April 5, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    This comment, while there might be some truth to it, fails to see the bigger picture of the problem. Fails to see the humanity of people and the sense of Justice that is being creating.
    It might worth our time to see how we can help and see the positive in situations, as oppose to following the patterns of history and criticizing everything…

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