KONY 2012 Good or Bad?
Yikes. Yet another commentary about the KONY 2012 film that’s taking the internet by storm (you can watch it at the bottom of this post). Let me first say that the title of this post is A) not going to be answered B) a false dichotomy C) a crappy question. So then why did I choose it? I think (hope) it gets at something important.
I’ve got so many thoughts and feelings about this film – I mean it has been consuming the better part of my brain since I watched it. Pretty sure words will fall short of capturing it all, but I’m gonna throw it all out there anyway. Apologies for the mess. First off, come on: over 50 million views in a 3-day time-frame? It’s how long!? A half hour. What?! And it’s about…Uganda, child soldiers, the LRA, Joseph Kony. WTF? Is this–am I dreaming? How the hell did this happen?
It is truly a staggering achievement. I’m still blown away by it (can you tell?). And from a technical standpoint, the film is superb. It’s beautiful; compelling graphics, powerful soundtrack, great cinematography, excellent structure – but most significantly, an exceptional story. These guys are awesome storytellers. And I think there is so much to learn from what they’ve done – for all nonprofits trying to spread their message in a meaningful and impactful way.
Problem with this story is that it appears to be somewhat made up, or at the very least, misleading. Rather than get into all of that here, I encourage you to read some of the many commentaries on the film. Here are a few I’ve read: //blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/03/07/guest_post_joseph_kony_is_not_in_uganda_and_other_complicated_things
And at the end of this post I have included some really important Ugandan response videos.
I think these critiques have a ton of validity and ultimately it is disappointing. For me, it boils down to one thing: respect. The film doesn’t really respect the audience, nor does it really respect the people it is trying to help. And I hesitate to even put those words down because I think these guys have amazingly good intentions that have led to an unprecedented amount of attention on important issues. So when I say the film doesn’t have respect, that isn’t to say the filmmakers don’t (not something I can or should judge). And, importantly, I have not produced a better film! I’ve got to face the facts here; my most popular video is five years old, has a respectable 36K views and I’m glad I made it. But I look at it now and, yeesh, I can do SO much better. Seriously, who am I to make a video titled “The African Dream”?! That’s where I was at then, just starting to learn about the issues and how I could communicate them. I don’t regret it, because I have learned so much from it.
“Working together to end poverty and injustice.” That is Oxfam America’s tagline. I bring it up, not because I work there, but because I am seriously in love with those words. Check out the first part; working together. I think that’s the part they missed in KONY 2012. It’s what I mean by respect. To me, respecting an audience is holding them as equals so that we can work together. Dumbing such an important issue down and manipulating reality is disrespectful. And respecting the people of Uganda means working together with them as equals, giving them space to tell their story and have agency within it. As a communicator who is passionate about a cause, damn I know that can be hard sometimes. Jason and IC have a powerful story to tell and power to them for telling it. But, with great power, comes great responsibility.
(yup, quoting spider-man)
Something this momentous (50 million and counting!!) must be held to a high standard and stand up to rigorous examination. Unfortunately, I think it falls. It isn’t enough to leave it at that though. Because there is so much more to it. So much more than what I’ve said and will say. If we simply discount this effort, I think we’re missing out on a great opportunity.
Coming back to the title of this blog post… We have a tendency – a need – to judge things on clear terms. It’s got to be good or bad. And as much as I try to break that tendency myself, I still fall into the trap. The trap is dualistic thinking. Either this or that. The alternative is both this and that. A concept I first learned from the great professor Patty Kean at Curry College. Uncomfortable for sure, but it’s all about holding complex, even competing, thoughts and feelings. Just holding them all. This film is an incredible achievement, and at the same time quite disappointing. I think it is a starting point. The challenge is on all of us to take this great momentum and do better; to communicate the injustices of the world in a way that is intelligent, truthful, inclusive, and respectful. We owe it to audiences everywhere, but most importantly we owe it to the people we strive to help.