March 11, 2012

"The Kony video was made by people whose intentions seem good, even if their ideology and analysis may be a touch simplistic."

It's some great video-making:
First, it has a compelling, simple narrative: Kony is a really bad guy and his capture will end suffering for the people of northern Uganda....

Second, it conveys this message in a seductive way, with film-maker Jason Williams explaining to his five-year-old son that this Kony is a monster and that dad's job is capturing him."
Here's the video with over 70 million views — and 1,265,509 "likes" — in 6 days:



But...
The Kony video and the assumptions behind it have been subjected to searching criticism by scholars like Ethan Zuckerman, who have challenged its simplistic analysis of a complex country and its ideological biases – for example its implicit assumption that Africans are hopeless and that the only solutions to their problems can come from white foreigners. Some have suggested that the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, is no angel either. And there has been a fierce online debate about the ethical dilemmas of viral transmission.

"Kony is like a Rorschach test on to which we inscribe our own simplistically naive ethical calculus," wrote one commentator. Others observe that "sharing" the video gives people the opportunity of salving their consciences without doing anything serious about the problem of northern Uganda....

[And] what if a video with more sinister antecedents were to get this kind of viral boost? It suggests the old saying that "a lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on" is acquiring a chilling new resonance.

45 comments:

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

A very dear friend of ours walked away from a very successful surgery practice and moved to northern Uganda almost ten years ago. She has been running a mobile medical school, serving at clinics, and teaching surgery all across northern Uganda and Southern Sudan.

Yes, she is a Christian missionary.

Much of her work has consisted of repairing the horrific damage caused by Kony and his minions. "Straight from the Devil" she calls them. If anything, the clip vastly under-states the degree of horror perpetrated by this monster and his followers.

As a side note ... let's choose sides. In Uganda you can't even join the army unless you've graduated from high school, which is more rigorous there than here.

In Afghanistan less than 25 percent of the Army and Police we're attempting to train can even read a basic manual.

Which place offers the greater chance of success against some really awful people?

Kirk Parker said...

The critics are certainly right to object to the simplistic presentation of this issue, and that the government officials are very often pieces of work themselves (if not worse.)

However, it really does say something that Kony has survived as long as he has. Can you imagine a comparable group surviving in the Catskills or the Schwarzwald?

(FWIW: I spent half a decade living and working in the area that the LRA now haunts, though quite some time ago--during that time a couple of Ugandan refugee camps where set up in the area, for people fleeing the post-Amin chaos, but as far as anyone could tell there was nothing but hard work coming from those camps as people tried to reestablish themselves.)

edutcher said...

Ordinarily, this would be much higher profile, but we have our own problems these days.

Change you can (hardly) believe.

LarsPorsena said...

How is Kony different than any of the butchers of West Africa(Liberia or Sierra Leone) or the Congo for that matter?

Pogo said...

One day Africa will rise above barbarism. Only then will these stories fade away.

One evil strongman replaces another. Evil trumps evil.

Now that Western civilization and Christianity are no longer civilizing forces, whence will it come?

Nowhere, is my bet.

Sorun said...

I got through 10 minutes and the filmmaker was still taking about himself. That's a third of the 30 minutes. When does he start talking about Kony for real?

Ann Althouse said...

@Sorun That was my reaction too, though I bailed earlier than you. I've read news articles about Kony, and they are completely effective in conveying the facts. This video using the filmmaker's child was not the kind of presentation I wanted for a serious issue. It seems to be designed to speak to people who aren't very smart and who have a low capacity for empathy.

LarsPorsena said...

'I got through 10 minutes and the filmmaker was still taking about himself. That's a third of the 30 minutes. When does he start talking about Kony for real?...'

I thought it was only me. I bailed after the first five minutes.

Iuconnu said...

There have always been those among the US electorate for whom the simple sylogism:

Some people are bad,
We ought to kill bad people,
We ought to kill

is compelling. Maybe it's just me as I grow older, but it seems to me that there are more people every day uncritical enough to echo this simple tune as if they were joining in performing the wave with a stadium crowd.

Two minute hate, anyone?

Maybe the general decline in the background assumption that our problems are our own and that we're fully responsible for our choices and their consequences makes the view that Ugandans can kill one another or not, according to their preferences, repellent or even unfathomable.

Somewhere in our future some foreign power will decide that they know what's best for us and attempt to enforce their vision. We've been asking for it forever.

Paddy O said...

Sometimes academics can be a touch too complex.

This is also where academic liberation thinking (white foreigners and independent capability) differs from actual needs of people. The academics are safe where they can discuss complexities and nuances and philosophical issues related to centuries old European colonialism.

It's like if a house was on fire and a professor made the point that simply throwing water on the fire is a simplistic response to the complex forms of fire causing agents.

Meanwhile, there's someone trapped in a bedroom and about to die.

There's a time to debate historic attitudes and there's a time to call the fire department.

Now is the time to say stop to these sorts of people, people like this and like Mugabe take advantage of all the academic hand-wringing over colonialism to commit atrocities.

Meanwhile, the whole suggestions of racial superiority is a little silly. Europe needed its own salvation from such evil about 60 or so years ago.

Pogo said...

Our mass killings came from civilized socialism, theirs arises from uncivilized barbarism.

Both lack a transcendent moral view, one which Western civilization once held. Absent that core, the descent into evil is nigh inevitable.

Africa's house is always on fire. Like Afghanistan, if the US goes, it'll have to stay for the long haul, because it too lacks any moral core.

And the UN loves thugs, so they're not going to help.

Ann Althouse said...

@Paddy Are you talking about the video? Did you watch it? I don't understand the connection between what you are saying and the video.

Some of us here could not watch the video because it is about the filmmaker's child. We can read news articles on the subject, and we do. We are not ignoring it. We're saying that we are not the people this form of presentation is designed for, and I am trying to understand who those people are and to contemplate what propaganda is.

There can be propaganda for a good cause, but good causes should be analyzed rationally, and we can't operate very well very long through propaganda, which can just as early be for a bad cause.

"Triumph of the Will" was a compelling movie.

Steve Koch said...

I heard about this video a few days ago from my oldest daughter. My theory was that this film was probably financed by a lefty and that the lefties are experimenting with social media to figure out how to most effectively market Obama to young, ignorant, naive voters.

Whenever you see a presentation of some type that is favorable to either the left or right (in this case the film was favorable to Obama), look at the background of the film maker and who financed the film for him. Lefties really crank out the propaganda in election years.

The most interesting thing about Kony is that when he first started fighting pitched battles, he would organize his troops in a formation that was the shape of a cross.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Maybe the general decline in the background assumption that our problems are our own and that we're fully responsible for our choices and their consequences makes the view that Ugandans can kill one another or not, according to their preferences, repellent or even unfathomable.

The fact that that view is, in fact, repellent may have a little something to do with it as well.

Michael said...

"Africans are hopeless and that the only solutions to their problems can come from white foreigners"

Yes.

Paddy O said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EDH said...

Narcissistic presentation in furtherance of exploitive self promotion.

As noted before, starts with self absorption of the film maker and his profile more than anything.

And, did you see his ultimate answer to what we must do?

"Here it is:"

Starting @21:26, network with 20 celebrity "culture makers" and 12 "policy makers".

Save the children, or fatten his media following and Roledex?

Reminds me of that Sam Kinison world hunger routine where he tells the people asking for money on TV to just give their sandwich to the starving kid in Africa that they're filming.

For starters, give the people guns to defend themselves.

Rusty said...

Pogo said...
One day Africa will rise above barbarism. Only then will these stories fade away.

One evil strongman replaces another. Evil trumps evil.

Now that Western civilization and Christianity are no longer civilizing forces, whence will it come?

Nowhere, is my bet



Executive Outcomes

jacksonjay said...

I was appalled at the exploitation of the son!

Paddy O said...

The whole issue epitomizes the irrationality of evil. And it sounds to me like the target is people who tend to be swayed by sentimentality or emotions... the wide swath of the voting public. It's basically a raising awareness campaign for a guy who gets a pass because he only is evil among his own people.

Because those people affected don't have any kind of voice that can be heard.

However, and this is where I think his use of his son comes in, those kids in Uganda aren't just objects to be ignored. They are real children of as much value as his own son. He's personalizing them, even as the whole of public media, and Kony himself, depersonalizes them, the media by ignoring them and Kony by remolding them.

This isn't naive ethical calculus. Kony is evil, and if he's not evil than evil doesn't exist. In the midst of complicated situations there can still be clear moral judgments, and when most people are indeed powerless to respond, then millions might be able to raise their voice to compel political action.

The message here is that people are people, they are real kids, like our own children, and they deserve a voice and real help. How do I do that? I can't. How can a pinterest loving Facebook woman help? She can't do too much either. But, get enough momentum and people who can help start to listen.

And the reality of our world is that while intellectuals love nuance and highly intellectualized discussions, that's not how to reach a popular audience. And Williams knows that change isn't made by convincing academics, it's by reaching people--people who, shockingly, go to schmaltzy and sentimental movies.

As far as it being propaganda, Triumph of the Will was compelling only if you bought into the message. Those in the Confessing Church (like Barth and Bonhoeffer and so many others), refused to be compelled. Propaganda does serve as a litmus test, but it's not about theoretical naivety. It is about our actual stance on present human issues.

This movie is popular because a mediocre filmmaker tried a mediocre creative approach to raise awareness about a very clearly obviously immoral situation.

People then can act in a very small way to help raise awareness of what has been hidden in darkness. Shining light on what occurs in the shadows is a very longstanding prophetic ation.

traditionalguy said...

A well known instruction manual for Christians says,

Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it, and

So then pursue the things that make for peace and the building up of one another.

This guy took that scripture seriously. My hat goes off to him.

And peace will not break out until after the attackers and the dividers have been driven out by brave men with guns.

Kirk Parker said...

LarsPorsena,

Kony differs from the other folks you mention by being more the originator of a Jim-Jones-style death cult, not representing any clearly definable coherent ethnic or geographic sub-group.

Thus his case is not simply, as Pogo alleges, "one evil strongman replaces another".

Kirk Parker said...

EDH,

"For starters, give the people guns to defend themselves."

I highly doubt that is the correct starting place. If you know anything about my contributions around here, you know I'm as strong an advocate of self-defense (including with firearms) as any Althouse commenter ever was.

But it's just about the implements used: the culture and mindset matter even more (see, as just one example, the "unorganized militia" swinging into action on 9/11, and within an hour of the first airliner strike self-organizing--and rejecting decades of official how-to-respond-to-hijacking doctrine--in order to defeat the 4th enemy attack in progress on that day.

bagoh20 said...

I accept all the criticism about the video here, it's all true, BUT I think it will be successful, because it's selling the activism and making you see that it's possible for you too, and you would be joining a large group.

In the final analysis, because of the video millions will now know about Kony and know that many people are trying to stop him. That will likely make a difference. I can definitely see how making Kony extremely famous for his evil could lead to stopping him one way or another.

Whatever works.

I wonder what would be the outcome if you could secretly overnight place a rifle and ammo in every hut in a place like that - a kind of self defense Santa Clause.

Everyone (bad or good) would wake up armed. How would that settle out? Of course the bad would do some bad things, but would the innocent(who I assume would be the majority) save themselves? What would they create with their new power?

Damn, I just gave away the idea for my next novel. Crap!

Revenant said...

"Some have suggested that the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, is no angel either"?

What an obnoxiously passive way of putting it.

Kirk Parker said...

bagoh20,

The rifles themselves wouldn't help that much: Africa was plagued by much of the same kind of issue as was experienced in Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda* before modern firearms came on the scene. So along with arms, your Santa needs to also leave a mindset gift.

------------------------
*Pre-Kony, I mean: I've already argued that he specifically is sui generis.

Rusty said...

The rifles themselves wouldn't help that much:



Yeah. They will. If the people have the will to use them. The criminal thing is to not give them the option to defend themselves.

Penny said...

Oiling up the kids?

Penny said...

And BEFORE they know about Greek olive oyl?

John Lynch said...

Uh... could it be that someone found a terrorist group that wasn't Muslim or Communist?

Kirk Parker said...

Rusty,

"If the people have the will to use them."

Yeah, why don't you read what you just wrote? :-)

Kirk Parker said...

Rusty, would it help if I rephrased things, and said that I think arms are a necessary but not sufficient condition?

bagoh20 said...

"Africa was plagued by much of the same kind of issue as was experienced in Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda* before modern firearms came on the scene."

Granted, but there is something different about modern firearms. They can roughly equalize every individual in terms of personal power, and this experiment has never completely happened anywhere.

Imagine every woman is suddenly equal to a man, a teenager to an adult.

The experiment would give a situation where every family is capable of defending itself against small bands of violent men, which is the basic unit of evil predation and atrocity in these countries. A village 100% armed would be a formidable unit against the low tech armies employed by the likes of Kony.

Assuming the evil bastards are a very small minority among the population, they would be quickly in fear for THEIR lives.

I understand that politics, hatreds, alliances and human weakness would likely soon lead to standard warfare between factions, but perhaps not if women and men were both 100% armed. I'm of course, giving women a great deal of credit here that they may not deserve, but we just don't know.

Can someone create a quick computer model to test this? And please don't massage the data.

Writ Small said...

Terrific film artistry. I left the web page open and a family member watched from beginning to end while I was out. It is effective in part by imitating inspirational You Tube videos. Remember the one where the guys go to Africa to meet the lion they set free. The director sets up an expectation of an exhilarating conclusion, which seems a bold approach as Kony is still at large.

The linked story provides a lot of cause for skepticism: These days Kony, far from the 30,000 kidnap victims, has less than 200 fighters who raid villages for food, not more soldiers. The advocacy organization behind the film, Invisible Children, sends only about a third of the donations to Africa. There are no Africans in senior positions. There is, in fact, no real risk of the US pulling it’s advisors in 2012 as the US has a strategic interest in nearby Somalia. Whether or not Kony is captured , the Invisible Children can declare victory. The problems in Africa are far more intractable than this file would suggest, etc., etc. etc.

Still.

The left is really mastering social media. Organized boycotts have brought low Susan G. Komen and Rush Limbaugh and the Right is reeling. That video is an indication of the power - Army of Davids style - the left is harnessing.

Kirk Parker said...

"Can someone create a quick computer model to test this? And please don't massage the data."

No.

Kirk Parker said...

writ small,

"There is, in fact, no real risk of the US pulling it’s advisors in 2012 as the US has a strategic interest in nearby Somalia."

You may be right as to the risk, but not as to the reason: the nearest corner of Somalia is 700 air miles from the area Kony is operating in, with absolutely no infrastructure at either and: desert, more desert, mountains, forest... i.e. it's not "nearby" in any meaningful sense.

The whole reason Kony has been able to operate in this area is precisely because it is a completely undeveloped, essentially roadless forest.

Writ Small said...

Kirk - I was paraphrasing the piece Ann linked. I have no knowledge beyond what I read today. Here is the quote I build my paraphrase from:

As Wilkerson points out in a recent post, there’s no evidence the President had threatened to pull those advisors. And as Mark Kersten observes, it’s likely that those advisors are likely in Uganda as a quid pro quo for Ugandan support for US military aims in Somalia. In other words, the action Invisible Children is asking for has been taken… and, unfortunately, hasn’t resulted in the capture of Kony.

My paraphrasing should not have included the word "nearby." Thanks for the correction.

megthered said...

The video is being used to assuage "white guilt". They saw the video and were outraged for about 10 minutes. Then they went on to the next thing. But at least they tweeted their outrage.

Proud2BeAProstituteSlut said...

I suppose that it's possible to be more callous and "morally" and intellectually arrogant about this vid, but I hope I don't have to see it.

Paddy O, you are right on target.

Pogo said... "Our mass killings came from civilized socialism, theirs arises from uncivilized barbarism. Both lack a transcendent moral view, one which Western civilization once held. Absent that core, the descent into evil is nigh inevitable. Africa's house is always on fire. Like Afghanistan, if the US goes, it'll have to stay for the long haul, because it too lacks any moral core."

I've never heard such crap in my life. Why don't you come right out with it and say that white people are superior, and Africans' highest moral and intellectual capacity is saying "Yassuho."

Proud2BeAProstituteSlut said...

...That should be "Yassuh."

Medical Book said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Medical Book said...

This video has at top some time and it gives message to the society as well

by

Hindi Sahitya

Kirk Parker said...

Proud2Be,

I guess it's theoretically possible for someone to more completely misunderstand someone's point that you did Pogo's, but in the real world I don't see that actually happening.

Chris said...

So, suppose the campaign manages to lead to the capture of Kone. Does the kidnapping and killing stop? I doubt it. The LRA numbers are probably underestimated by the Ugandan goverment (several hundred) vs several thousand estimated by other sources. It was a similar simplistic notion that capturing or killing Bin Ladin would destroy alQaeda.

Kirk Parker said...

Chris, surely it will have some effect: bin Laden is a poor analogy, Kony is an onsite, active commander.