Gotham Chopra: Is Kony 2012 trivializing genocide?

I know I’m supposed to be entirely focused on the premiere of my movie this Sunday at SXSW (obligatory trailer plug here), but I’m being distracted by a slightly more viral video that was shared here on Intentblog and around the world yesterday.

The ‘Kony 2012’ video that popped yesterday to the tune of 27+ million views by latest count now has been counter attacked by a great many critics. On the one hand, admirers of the video — and its stated mission to raise awareness about the brutal Ugandan killer Joseph Kony — would argue that enhanced awareness of the history of Kony and the Lords Resistance Army will help end them and their bloody regional presence. Critics point out that glossing over the nuances of the Ugandan conflict, and more generally others that have raged across the African continent over the last several decades, with idealistic YouTube videos and social media call-outs does more harm than good.

Buzz Kill.

My take: I get it. And I appreciate it.  I understand the instinctive backlash (really it’s irritation) against the thought of genocide becoming a trending topic on social media outlets the same way Kim Kardashian’s latest outfit or Lindsey Lohan’s latest boyfriend does. Of course it’s revolting and arrogant to canvas the nuances of tribal conflict, colonial legacy, and human atrocity with remote idealism, emotional myopia, and trendy hashtags.

But to me, there’s even greater danger in overly intellectualizing much of this. There are plenty of smart and committed people — as the Atlanic article points out — that spend days and nights figuring out how to wade through the messiness of what’s going on in the world. They should be applauded and admired. But the ignited wrath of the masses — however fleeting it may be — shouldn’t be underrated either. There is enormous value in the fact that millions of people are talking today about genocide in Africa that were mostly unaware of it yesterday.

Just the fact that these debates (like the inevitable one in response to this blog) are raging, propels forward some of the inherent inertia in global conflicts that have been flickering for years. Creative solutions come out of swirling chaos, which is exactly what the internet embodies. Critical masses of people demanding social transformation — as substantively superficial it may be — may in fact trigger it. If not Joseph Kony, who is long rumored to have left Uganda years ago, perhaps the next budding rogue dictator that bills himself a prophet but is really just another butcher. The continued unrest of the Arab spring, largely kept in the global zeitgeist by the relentless storm of social media, is certainly a good touchstone of just how powerful the masses attention can be.

Personally, I’ve been aware of Joseph Kony and his barbaric ways for more than a decade. About that long ago, I actually wrote a feature film script about it along with a friend that we never sold, on account if it not being very good, but also because we were told that no one really cared about African “tribal warfare.” Over time, it drifted from my memory until I was reminded of it again about a year ago when I read a graphic novel called Unknown Soldier (which is 100 times better than my script) by the wildly talented Josh Dysart.

Like many issues I often read about in the newspaper or see in news hits on TV or online, I’ve struggled to reconcile the barbarism of what’s happened — and happening — in Africa (and elsewhere) with the privileged and existential life I seem to often live out here at home. In light of the global spotlight on it all today, perhaps tomorrow, but inevitably not much beyond that when Justin Bieber, Ryan Seacrest and their pop culture gang find their next pet project to pimp, I’m not sure what more there is to say, except that maybe out of the millions of people that have been turned onto this human catastrophe, one person may rise up with a meaningful and actionable solution no one else has thought of yet.


And I think all of it then would have been worth it.

Read Lex Steppling’s response to this blog here.


  1. I think the video is put together in a way as to not turn the viewer off with horrific photos of what goes on–I found it to be very well documented and portrayed in such a way that it really holds ones attention–There is nothing trivial about genocide–It is a fact that goes on and is ignored by most of the world especially when it involves Africa–We, as compassionate human beings, need to stop people like Kony in their tracks once they begin on this vile war against humanity–And not give in to his tantics out of fear–We need to take a stand and help those in need and not those with greed–

  2. I really like your take on this. It appears non-biased, and informative, without being maudlin, overly emotional, or judgemental. The saddest thing I think I ever have learned, is that outside governments, and/or the 1% with enough money to push through issues, will not act unless they have something tangible to gain. Altruism, and the greater good have nothing to do with it. Granted, if enough people would take a stand, MAYBE those in power could be swayed. But even then, it's highly unlikely. I still cling to the belief that one person CAN make a difference. Personally though, it's not been a part of my individual experience…having railed against the powers that be over injustices since I was a teenager. Still, there may be someone out there who has an approach that would work. After Hitlers mass genocide, the world chimed in that it would never be forgotten, nor allowed to happen again. And we've all seen how that has been ignored world wide. As long as business, money and power rule the world, we will see more and more atrocities swept under the carpet; ignored like the homeless that are"unseen" by all those who pass them on the streets daily.
    The tech boom has created a platform by which we get smarter faster, and solutions come to the surface faster. Many believe that we are on the brink of a massive global "awakening", wherein the tide may indeed turn. I sincerely hope this is true. And I do believe that as more of us strive to think and act positively, that the combined energy of our thoughts and actions can, when that mass is great enough, change anything. My job, for this moment then, is to embrace and embody positivity, and love…and to share it as much as I can.
    Thank you for this information, and for the way you have presented it. I'll be passing this one on!
    Linda C., Seattle, WA

  3. Some times when we know so much about something from an academic point of view, when we see it simplified we get offened, but to the millions that don't know anything the first step to knowledge has to be a simplified one to open our minds to the harder thing we are yet to learn from our newly found interest. I think we should now pick up the cause with the next chapter that these millions of interested people need to know about the truth.

  4. I believe that the video is helping. It is personal for him and he promised Jacob that the world will see that they are not invisible. Well they are no longer invisible. I never knew about Joseph Kony until I watched this video and it has compelled me to want to join the war. Love Is My Intention.

  5. This video reflects one of the many facets of atrocities that have plagued Africa. Critics who are quick to judge fail to see the bigger picture, do they expect the worlds problems to be tackled with one viral video? Clearly, there are many issues that are propagating global unrest. I find it moving that someone has dedicated his work towards a greater good. Yes, there may be other greater conflicts in Africa, but this video may ignite a spark in someone else to make a greater change. I would invite critics to give of themselves for some greater cause, rather than sit back on their laurels and criticize someone's genuine efforts.

  6. Not knowing a great deal about the conflict, but having watched the video, I have to agree with you Gotham that the exposure given to the situation by this clearly sincere and passionate youtube video outweighs any accusations of neo-colonialist latte liberal pretension.

    People who claim to know better and have a more nuanced take on the situation are now being given airtime on global media as a result of the video going viral.

    I fail to see the downside.

    New media makes it possible for this kind of shifting of attention to infect millions of people in a 48 hour period and has been part of the Arab spring and other recent social uprisings against oppression. I say viva YouTube, viva Internet 2.0 and viva the igniting of conversation and debate where before there was silent horror.

    All the best,
    ~Julian Walker