I’ve watched the Kony 2012 film with morbid fascination.
The film is very slick with a strategic use of graphics, augmented reality, aftereffects and CGI, changes in pace and a clever narrative to keep the viewer engaged. The narration invites you to participate, shares some facts and presses all your emotional buttons with images of small children, while exhorting you to act against injustice and assuring you that we are not just studying human history we are shaping it.
The narrative takes us into the film-maker’s life and on his journey, so that his sense of discovery of the Ugandan child soldiers and his sense of outrage, becomes ours. He’s cleverly captured some priceless media moments for us – the moment when a deaf person first hears, his son is born and Jacob (the escaped Ugandan child) talks about his brother – Jason’s commitment to the Invisible children – We’re going to stop them -is played repeatedly as we listen to the boy cry.
Like the best infomercials – once we see the problem we’re invited to act and told how we can contribute because of course we all want to be part of an idea whose time is now. There’s the flip side of course – don’t call now and you’ll get even fatter – or in this case the helpful US advisers will be withdrawn from Uganda.
We also seem to be a step away from celebrity – who could resist tweeting George Clooney if they have the opportunity – and feeling that he’s actually reading your tweet.
While one can appreciate the level of ground work that’s been done, as well as the passion, there’s an incredible naivete that underlines the film. Who still believes the myth of the United States as the bastions of truth and justice with anything but self-interest at heart? And these soldiers are going to make the difference between catching Kony or not. If he was that easy to catch, they’d probably have him by now.
Jason also seems somewhat insensitive or unaware of pitching to anything other than a media savvy audience – does he seriously think it’s funny to have his son in a film where he uses an augmented reality firebomb to trash his play house and to torch a woman’s back? He doesn’t seem to realise that many viewers may not understand that this is a visual effect.
Then of course there’s the Jason in the film and his sharing of his life and his son’s realisations about the world, images he shares and controls, as well as things he doesn’t control. These include things like shots of him naked on a San Diego street corner, an interview with his wife saying he’ll need a while to recover from reactive psychosis (no doubt renamed Jason’s disease by the end of this) generated by his film going viral. Do we measure a person’s credibility by the stories they tell or what we see and know of them?
Notwithstanding all of that – he seems to tap into the concerns that many of us have – how does one bring down criminals who are above and beyond the law and who have committed unimaginable atrocities against a civilian population?
And does the end justify the means? If he is supported by right wing organisations, as some purport, and if he is a raging Christian, does that in some way make his case less compelling?
His shots of Ugandan children sleeping like sardines in fear of being abducted is very powerful and tragic. Jacob’s misery at living far from home and his description of watching his brother killed, as well as his comment that he’d rather die than live on under those conditions in Uganda is heart-rending.
Kony is hardly the only leader who should be brought to trial on human rights abuses. Nonetheless, he’s been victimising, torturing and killing people, mostly children, since the 1980s and there has never been a concerted global humanitarian response to oust him. One would expect, however, that any solution might involve more reference to NGOs working in Uganda, and how they see the protection of children from violence on every side.
Perhaps we can take the value of the video in directing people’s attention to the problem – although again Kony’s location on influence seems somewhat elusive.
Now that people have been all fired up maybe we should ride the tide of awareness and suggest that any money people want to donate is directed to legitimate organisations with a solid infrastructure – such as Doctors Without Borders or Oxfam. Organisations which have the capacity to manage and account for money that is sent their way, and who have credibility and integrity in the work they do.
It will be interesting to see where Kony posters appear on April the 20th…..