Tuesday, March 13, 2012

#StopPhony

Courtesy of Santi Slade
I guess I’ll have to start off this column by stating the obvious: Yes, Joseph Kony is an awful, awful human being. His crimes against mankind deserve the highest punishment within law. All the children he has brainwashed deserve to be free and enjoy their childhood in peace and innocence. I find these truths to be self-evident. Nonetheless, I am morally and ideologically opposed to Invisible Children (IC), the group bringing Kony’s crimes to the public light through their viral video triumph Kony 2012, and, more crucially, those blindly backing them.

Countless criticisms have already surfaced. Infamous posts like Tumblr’s “Visible Children” all hone in on the facts. I take little stock in them. Let us look past IC asking you to buy their $30 box of posters and bracelets when less than 40 percent of that money goes to charity. Or their unequivocal championing of the Ugandan Army, accused themselves of human rights abuses not unlike that of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Or the fact that said LRA has long left Uganda with little proof of Kony’s mere existence for six years. Or the realization that, to get to Kony, you may have to kill the child soldiers we seek to save.

No, I am going to focus on you. First, thanks for killing the English language. I witnessed literally hundreds of statuses and tweets linking to the video, proclaiming, “This will change your life.” Really, it will change my life? I had absolutely no foreknowledge that the world, and especially Africa, was filled with genocide and suffering, and to this day, no less! To paraphrase Louis C.K.: “What’s going to happen on your wedding day, or when your first child is born?” Because you already wasted ‘change your life’ on The Help 2.

Annoying Facebook Girl is surely still poring over the life-changing exposure of that video, a night or six after the fact, I am sure. And don’t forget the “you’re heartless if you don’t watch this” mold. Thanks for letting me know a little more about myself. The ending of City Lights and the death of my grandfather never convinced me there was anything in there!

Such hyperbole can breed potential violence. These posters throw Kony’s face next to bin Laden and Hitler. In my last column, I discussed how we demonize the enemy and, in turn, desecrate our own humanity. There are no moral absolutes. There is good and bad in everything, yin and yang. If Kony is nothing but the Spawn of Satan, it teaches us nothing about how to build a future free of terror, not just in a poor Ugandan village but here at home, as well.

This simplification of complex issues apparently makes it easier for the masses to swallow. There is that grotesque scene where the filmmaker, Jason Russell, presents a picture of Kony to his photogenic son, Gavin. In the span of but 60 seconds, a deadly 25-year conflict is reduced to the comprehension of a little child. “We should stop him,” Gavin declares with authority. A child should not understand these tensions. Not to preserve any youthful innocence, but because their mind cannot emotionally comprehend the magnitude and scope — spanning more than just one sole belligerent — of such political violence. You’ve likely heard about the Holocaust from a young age. But when did you really get it?

Russell and his team manufactured this well-edited film with a strictly American audience in mind. The donkey-elephant political imagery and Mumford & Sons atop a privileged family finding cruelty beyond their backyard … with a side of light African suffering. Our social media users eat it up. But what do they do? Change their profile picture for a day, “like” the IC page and donate their parents’ money to where Russell told them. It is first-grade slacktivism for an idealist age where people are unwilling to walk outside without their iPhones.

IC has limited its range away from those who can actually find a way, some way, to take action. This gooey sob story would not appeal to the Middle East, to the revolutionaries who wielded social media to its first significant application during the Arab Spring. Besides, they have their own problems to deal with. All this boils down to a phrase everyone has been tossing around: It’s to raise awareness! Okay, you have “raised awareness.” Everyone knows about it. What now? “Cover the night” on April 20? (Am I the only who noticed that date?) I can tell you our cities’ sanitation workers won’t care for it.

No revolution is fought by the majority. That gut reaction of parading the streets upon the death of a tyrant (ditto bin Laden) is how we act. Do not mess with the masses. We lose sight of what is true and go all scorched earth on your ass. Or, more likely, we just do nothing. The passionate minority brings change through integrity and sacrifice — at least they try to. You can say this video has inspired some to join such a cause for all the right reasons, but I question why it took a slick YouTube sensation to find the generosity in their hearts to finally take action.

Now, these last words are mine only, and I do not expect any decent person to agree with me on this point. Okay, let’s say Joseph Kony is caught, through the methods outlined by IC, and decades of tyranny come to an end through the will of the masses. Say all that good stuff happens and college idealism has its day. What will be of Facebook, Twitter and reddit, the websites that championed this cause? What social media did — in the users’ minds, at least — worked. Will causes for aid to every exploited people flood the News Feeds? Will petitions to “pledge my support" by subscribing to a Listserv fill every tweet? What will happen to my havens that once housed cat pictures and in-jokes? Will I seriously have to sift through updates composed by an army of brainwashed children to find ... uh ... wait a minute. WE ARE TOO LA—

Zachary Zahos '15 died last night in a freak attack by a blue songbird that crashed through his dorm window. Reportedly, his last words were, "Go get 'em, Gavin." Words of condolence and goodwill can be sent to arts-and-entertainment-editor@cornellsun.com.


This post was written for The Cornell Daily Sun and can be viewed its original location via this link.

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