On March 5th, "Kony 2012", a brilliant, touching and shocking, 30min video was posted on youtube, aimed to raise awareness of the abduction and abuse of child soldiers in Africa. The video was designed so well, it hit the soft spots of over 70 million viewers in less than a week. A masterpiece of marketing that gathered the support of millions including celebrities and politicians. An instant success for Invisible Children — the NGO that decided to focus on an issue that, for decades, has been of little interest in mainstream media.
Only a few days after its release something utterly bizarre and interesting happened. Mainstream media and even many alternatives aggressively attacked the film-maker for alleged inaccuracies and inappropriate profit motifs. However, they all agree that Joseph Kony is a "bad" guy and deserves to be eliminated and that child soldiers are a big and long-term problem in some African countries.
Soon after the enormous rapid success followed an "intuitive" hostile reaction of the media. Jason Russel, co-founder of Invisible Children, who also featured in the video along with his five year old son, suffered something I would simply call a public nervous-breakdown. Suddenly the news pages were full of stories about the his mental health breakdown but also stories that dive deeper into the issue of child soldiers in Africa (now that the topic is popular).
The video aimed to pressure the US government to provide more support to capture the uncontroversial ferocious criminal Joseph Kony. I would have preferred to see a collaborative effort of e.g. the UN — but hey, we are talking about a few hundred troops or so to assist local government forces to capture the bad guy. This is hardly an American "invasion" in Africa.
So far the video has been criticised for the following points:
- Uganda is not any more affected by Kony's organisation the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) — although it has been until 2006. Apparently Kony has moved on to other territories. This was also something the Uganda government was quick to point out trying to save the public image of Uganda
- Uganda like other African countries have many other and bigger problems than thousands of abused child soldiers forced to murdering their parents among others
- a too high budget for the making of the movie (they could have used the money in better ways)
- that he omitted that the current Uganda government came to power using child soldiers
- a five year old — like the film makers son featured in the video should not know about these issues
- Invisible Children encourages everyone to raise awareness of the issue on one particular day and provides advertising kits in exchange for money
- Successful marketing by appealing to the feelings of viewers is painted as "propaganda" [Note: the same media call political campaigns, pharmaceutical commercials etc. great and necessary advertising or even public relations. ]
I could now post a list of praised celebrities, politicians, CEOs, Hollywood blockbusters, daily news, commercials that would make the above listed shortcomings (in terms of ethics or accuracy of information) fade in comparison. But I won't as I think the point I am trying to make is obvious.
Making money with a good cause apparently is unethical and so is good advertising or simplification. The growth dependent and profit eating "beast" — our chosen economic system — is telling us that we must not let good things benefit from the system. At least there is much more benefit (profit) in badmouthing anything progressive.
I praise the Kony 2012 video for the following points:
- effectively bringing the topic of child soldiers and other African issues into the mainstream discussion
- raising awareness of media desperate to ride every possible wave by turning positive developments into better selling bad news
- permitting people to realise how making money with a good cause is considered unethical by our economic system with the media acting as gatekeepers. The same media participate and promote throwing millions at so-called celebrities who do nothing else than acting as if they were someone else or bonuses of bankers and politicians who miserably fail doing their jobs.
This phenomenal awareness boosting video, almost as a sideline, effectively revealed the dangerous lack of objective and citizen friendly, meaningful reporting in the media. It is not information but sensationalism that matters in terms of profit. Unfortunately a good cause will never sell as well as a bad one in our current economic environment.
I wish Jason Russell, the brilliant film maker and co-founder of Invisible Children, a fast recovery and the support he deserves for his fantastic job.