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.
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.