Sunday, December 16, 2012

my sister went kony

I watched KONY 2012 last year, all 27 minutes or so of it, when I was procrastinating. It became clear around the moment that the sickeningly fresh-faced and fresh-voiced Jason Russell showed his son who the "bad guy" was that this was going to be something easy to hate. It also became clear that it was going to be compelling. I read reports of people booing it at screenings in Uganda, of how Joseph Kony was no longer relevant, this was the white man's burden of some secretly-bigoted Christian, all backwards. It was so easy, to feel the outrage not only at the content of the video but also at the attention, good and bad, that it was garnering. So much of it was good--had I been so warped by a liberal arts bubble to be immediately offended by the film? Was my moral code and sense of propriety so self-involved and politically correct that I'd become blind to the underlying issues? Was a PC reaction, a critique of presentation, a way of eliding the actual problem? Was the actual problem--Joseph Kony--actually, you know, a problem? Then they found Russell naked on the street and I stopped reading about the issue. He'd done himself in, I thought, and I could rinse my hands of it--not that they were ever particularly involved, of course.

So what amazed me was when my sister informed me that she was going to the Invisible Children rally in DC a few weeks ago. My sister is no activist. She spends a lot of time on Tumblr. She is not involved in charity work or particularly cognizant of global issues with dictators and militants. She is sixteen. I was confused. Then I learned about the ways that the rally had been promulgated. Invisible Children had hired the sort of star that appeals to the Myspace and post-Myspace genre of teen--Pete Wentz, some characters from Glee, that sort of thing--to document their "road trip" to the nation's capital to be part of the Invisible Children rally. Their photos were Instagram-filtered and fun. Tongues sticking out, mooning, drawing on people's faces when they fell asleep... Sort of like a music video or high school photo montage, but famous, and disseminated on an equalizing platform, Twitter, so that "regular teens" might try and approximate the sort of fun that their "peers" were having. This is, to me, the most interesting capacity of slactivism... not the fact that it doesn't take much to show up at a rally or sign an online petition but the degree to which aesthetics, a solid understanding of a targeted subculture, and logistical planning are crucial to making your cause appealing to "the young." It's not that I think "the young" aren't activists or are a generation of apathy--what a boring point. I'm just amazed that "charities," even the ones with decent financials and a relatively well-intentioned, if colonial and problematic, outlooks are so quickly and impressively approaching brand status. Invisible Children, the overdesgined triangular logo of KONY, it all has an aesthetic component that something like UNICEF never could. What are the ethics of such a tactical approach--are charities required to disregard cheap tricks like that, or is it just the name of the game? Why does it leave such an awful taste in my mouth?

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