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by Bryce J. Renninger
March 7, 2012 5:57 PM
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Five Reasons the Internet is Blowing Up Over the "KONY 2012" Clicktivism Sensation

The Internet is abuzz -- 8.8 million views and counting -- with praise and criticism for a thirty minute film about a war criminal. On the run since being indicted for war crimes by the Hague in 2005, Joseph Kony is the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, a guerilla group that has been accused of murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement and rape.

"Invisible Children" is a film by three filmmakers who set out to make a film about the Sudan and ended up finding the LRA. It has directed enormous attention -- including that of Congress -- to the acts of its leader, Joseph Kony.  The film team has gone back to the subject, with a web video that encourages viewers to implore the U.S. in assisting with the capture and trial of Kony. They have even set a deadline for his capture, written into the film's title, "KONY 2012."

Here are a list of five things the Internet is saying, with Indiewire's take:

1. This is a short film with a million dollar budget.

According to the organization's own accounting (pdf), the filmmakers behind this film have devoted at least $3 million on creating their films.  It seems this $3 million includes the costs behind a longer project, "Invisible Children." The filmmakers took the film's rough cut on a grand tour of US colleges through the mid-to-late aughts to raise awareness of the situation in Uganda.  

Talk to any of the filmmakers that have made similar films about community politics in various regions of Africa (I'm looking at you, directors of "War Don Don," "Fambul Tok," and "The Redemption of General Butt Naked").  Sure their films haven't gotten as many views as this 30 minute video, but their budgets were nowhere close.

Sometimes flashy graphics buys you viewers.

2. There's controversy over what the non-profit is spending its funds on.

Haters are always going to find as many reasons as they can to hate.  The Daily What accuses Invisible Children, the non-profit organization behind this video, of only spending "31% of all the funds they receive go toward helping anyone."  What The Daily What is forgetting is that this non-profit was explicitly set up to make the film, which most documentary films (not really the cash cows that their narrative counterparts) do in order to help gain tax-deductible donations.

3. Are these filmmakers or social activists?

The Internet responds to the fervor around "Kony 2012."

The film spends most of its time telling us about the awesome kits its made so that you can put signs in your lawn, wear bracelets, and become involved with a wider social media campaign around the "KONY 2012" brand.  It's more an informercial for becoming an "activist," i.e., one who wears a bracelet to force the U.S. government to intervene in the international effort to track down Kony.

Little of the film is spent explaining anything (though one could argue, that viewers should go to "Invisible Children" (available on DVD) for that.

4. It has everything middle-class Westerners need to be convinced to support a cause:  a cute little white kid and mentions of Mark Zuckerberg and Rihanna.

The film entices us:  Oprah just may be persuaded to be on our side...could you imagine if Rihanna retweeted this video?  It also pulls at our heart strings:  Look at how sad it is for the white American filmmaker's little kid to be exposed to the idea of these kind of atrocities, and look at how level-headed he can be in his response to what his father is telling him has gone on in Africa.  In fact, the filmmakers treat the viewer as a little kid, resisting any temptation to get too deeply into the larger context of Kony's actions.

This is a fallacious argument, but I'd love to travel to an alternative universe to see how a version of the film without the celebrity and the aww-factor of the little kid would fare.

5. It's a thirty minute video about recent African history that people seem to be watching to the end.

And Western viewers are feeling proud; they've got stamina.  Talk to the filmmakers mentioned above and ask them how difficult it can be to convince audiences to watch a film about Africa.  Not only did they learn where Uganda is, they feel they sacrificed 30 minutes of their day for a history lesson.  

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15 Comments

  • Blobhead | March 9, 2012 10:01 PMReply

    I'm sure whoever wrote the article is getting a serious kick out of reading the idiotic comments of people defending this clever ploy, funny Noellia mentioned 1984, this is 1984 in real life, instead of big brother, we have this thing called "Justice", in the name of justice, we've been going to war everywhere for the past decades, with our new recent villain shot in the face, we need a new villain, and now justice needs to do its work in Africa, not for minerals, not for oil which happens to found in Uganda (the country where Kony isn't in) last November, but justice, and human rights, and justice is always right, we love justice.

  • Noellia | March 8, 2012 5:51 PMReply

    Oh and i forgot to mention - action needs to be taken by exactly that audience: MIDDLE CLASS WESTENERS. The ones that HAVE the tools to speak out, that have the money to provide, that have the social awareness needed and the circle of friendships. It's not the "white boy" and "Rihanna" that attract you to fighting for a cause, its the tears Jacob cries when he speaks of his brother when he says "there is no reason to live". NO ONE should ever have no reason to live.

    Also, for us "activists" the success of this campaign will not only help the African people, but will show the entire world that average, middle-class westeners can cause governments to change their minds and stop things from happening. Our voices are louder than we think and this will prove that.

    Let the plebs take over for once.

    I love George Orwell's '1984' but it is the most depressing ending. Do we want our world to end up like that? It's definitely heading in that direction.

    For those of us that like to be classfied as the "plebs that dont matter" well then, I guess George Orwell's prediction is just what you're after for our future.

    I, for one, do not.

  • Noellia | March 8, 2012 5:45 PMReply

    It didn't take a 29 minute video to convince 'us middle-class westerners' that these child soldiers exist, hollywood showed us that a few years back with 'Blood Diamond'.

  • Heavygreene | March 8, 2012 3:32 PMReply

    GREAT IDEA...the power of an idea...reeks of some cliche Western White guy to save Africa... That aside, true it is a reminder that we all can do something. After watching, I wondered who the real targeted audience is? I mean-where are the members of the African-American community at large sans Jay-Z and AbusemeChrisBrown-Rhianna in this discussion? Or do Black folks have enough to deal with already in this country that Kony ain't their problem? Is Jason's little son going to be able to distinguish between "good" and "bad" black people who might look like Kony or Jacob here in America? Killing Kony is a short term solution to a long term legacy problem that has begat Africa. So Kony is captured(killed is my preference) then what about the Ugandan government-enablers? Kony has money to buy weapons -so why can't we find a way to follow the money trail? Let's contract Anonymous or crowdsource fund some hackers... Why can't we have this type of mobilization to end our involvement in Afghanistan? Maybe the money from that wasted war could go toward the Kony roundup? And lastly, why are most of the world's criminals from Africa or some Middle Eastern country on that Interpol list? Just a bunch a questions that this documentary left me with. It is an effective marketing piece from a somewhat naive idealist but -hey we need folks like that around. Respect.

  • Sara Terry | March 8, 2012 2:11 PMReply

    As one of the directors you acknowledge in point one (I'm the director of Fambul Tok), I just wanted to add a comment. I think the viral success of Kony 2012 is one of those amazing moments in social networking -- but it's also, unfortunately, one of the worst moments. Invisible Children have done some very good work, but this film perpetuates misconceptions (the West needs to "save" Africa), and it also misrepresents what the majority of the people in northern Uganda actually want (local justice and forgiveness traditions for the LRA -- NOT prosecution). This is very much the white man's crusade.... and what Fambul Tok has taught me is that we need to do a much better job of listening to Africa, and of letting Africans lead us in the search for answers in their own culture. It's great that more people know who Joseph Kony is -- but if we're learning about him through a lens that reinforces western stereotypes, then the learning brings with it a huge negative. We have to question the storytellers -- and the ways we tell stories -- as much as we question everything else. ... Here is one post I found useful, and put on my Facebook page today:
    On Wednesday, the blog, Umuted, wrote, "if you have watched the Invisible Children video and followed the organization’s work in the past, you will note a certain messianic/savior undertone to it all. “I will do anything I can to stop him,” declares the founder in the video. It’s quite individualistic and reeks of the dated colonial views of Africa and Africans as helpless beings who need to be saved and civilized.:


    And here's a link worth reading:


    http://justiceinconflict.org/2012/03/07/taking-kony-2012-down-a-notch/


    Yes, flashy graphics and astronomical budgets can buy you viewers, but sadly, simplistic messages that don't engage viewers in more complex arguments, do more damage than harm, to my way of thinking.
    Thanks for your post -- this whole thing certainly has everyone talking, and I think that's a good thing.

  • Joel W. | March 8, 2012 3:21 PM

    First, I completely agree with your analysis. But it seems like the real issue you're skirting is whether or not the US should intervene in this conflict, and if so, how to go about it. But you're right to nervously point out the fervent call to action in this film, as well as the video's perpetuation of wider colonial attitudes towards Africa in America.



    While the video engages in the tropes of storytelling and narration, though, it's more akin to propaganda. It has a simple cause for promotion. It plays beautifully to the audience it seeks to persuade. We can wish that its point were a little duller -- that it did not push so stridently for American intervention. But I can't take issue with its methods, which have been so effective.



    Then there are two questions: can you divorce the troops-on-the-ground message from its means, without losing the impact/virality? If so, is there a lesson here in HOW filmmakers, storytellers, and activists can do a better job -- asking Americans to "[listen] to Africa, and [to let] Africans lead us in the search for answers"?

  • John | March 8, 2012 10:32 AMReply

    You are really naive! Your piece is proof anyone can produce anything no matter how inane.
    Please do your homework!

  • Anna | March 8, 2012 8:53 AMReply

    Well said Paul. You are absolutely right that spreading the word and creating awareness is only the first step, but what a grand first step this is. I'm a proud supporter of this movement and with every good cause there are people trying to shut things down. I pray for those individuals and urge them to truly educate themselves on this issue and the many other unthinkables that happen every day on the continent of Africa. Rape, malnutrition, Poverty, HiV/Aids... These are all issues that need international attention. We gave got to two up and decide that it's not okay with us that our brothers and sisters in Christ are living in these conditions.

  • Ashley | March 7, 2012 11:54 PMReply

    I Feel The Same Way You Do & I Wanna Help ;) ....#STOP KONY

  • Tim | March 7, 2012 10:07 PMReply

    I understand that some people are getting annoyed by how Kony is growing amongst the facebook community. I can also understand that it is annoying when people that know little about the brevity of this issue are mindlessly re-posting the video. But that is no reason to create conspiracy theories in order to shut Kony down.
    The point of this campaign is to spread the word and to CREATE awareness. I think the importance of this is to make people aware of how these rebel leaders exist and how people are constantly being slaughtered by these bastards.
    If the government doesn't stand up, then so be it. But let the people know that the world isn't full of rainbows and unicorns. People all around the world need to be aware of what is REALLY going on.

  • Joel W. | March 7, 2012 8:29 PMReply

    It's hard to knock them too hard for being really savvy and playing directly to white folk. In a sense, they're just beating Nick Kristof at his own game.

  • jenny | March 7, 2012 8:13 PMReply

    regardless of how it's made... it's working and needs to be shared. #StopKONY

  • Ashley | March 7, 2012 11:56 PM

    I Agree...

  • Paul Flavell | March 7, 2012 6:49 PMReply

    This is a problem that is endemic across the African Continent and not just in Uganda...so called 'rebel leaders' that are using abducted children as their child soldier rebel armies to create havoc in countries that already have enough struggle amongst their populace just surviving to the next day. The issues are enormous and complex; extreme poverty, tribal tensions, nepotism, despotism, corruption, illiteracy to name but a few. These violent and often psychotic characters continue to peddle hate and violence for their own personal reasons/ gain whether it is wealth accumulation as was the case in Sierra Leone, with Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh, or just self aggrandizement as appears to be the case with Kondy. This video, and others like it, publicize the fate of people affected which is a positive and we should not belittle the importance of this vital aspect of awareness, but it is not a means to an end....what is also required is real action. Oprah and Rihanna are for sure not the answer but if they can be used to expand awareness then again this is a positive but remembering, awareness without action has little worth, 30 minutes of one’s day is NOT going to solve this issue. What form of action is the difficult part....the ICC has no dedicated 'Police Force' or 'Army' to enforce it's indictments, and unless the wider International Community acts in a proactive fashion to bring these violent criminals (because that's what they are) to justice, publicity just 'tells the story' but has no real effect - it is just step 1 on a long road to justice and peace in these chaotic and troubled countries. Government’s should consider some ‘social responsibility’ in their Foreign Policy’s to deal with these sorts of issues. From my experiences in Sierra Leone , a small amount often goes a very long way, if targeted correctly, and these characters are relatively easily brought to justice if faced with a determined and ‘mature’ response. So don’t just watch and share this video, get involved, lobby Politicians, try and make a difference through real action – do what you can, don’t just talk about it, because you never know it might really make a difference.

  • Juls | March 7, 2012 8:58 PM

    Wow..Paul....well, well said. I don't care who it is or why...if it makes a difference in the caring of humanity, I not only applaud it but want to be a part of it. We ALL need to care about the well-being of humanity.