My thoughts on Kony 2012

Magic is asking the question “what if this was real?” The audience subconsciously knows that they’re seeing an illusion, but the spectacle of the performance outweighs their doubt. The true art of the magician is capturing the imagination of the audience, and pushing plausibility past the threshold where the simple, obvious solution is diluted by the sensationalism of the unreal possibility. Random audience members have almost always met the magician beforehand. We know this, but we ignore the falseness of the endeavor for the sake of the spectacle.

Similar behavior is witnessed in the forwarding of viral video campaigns. The forwarder, in awe of the sensation being presented by having everyone in their social circle preoccupied with a certain video, entertains the possibility of the campaign reaching a critical mass and effecting real-world change. Sometimes awareness translates into action. However, the motivation for forwarding a viral video campaign is often not related to the actual aims of the campaign itself. Too often, sharing an appealing video is motivated by keeping the dream of positive change alive, rather than creating positive change itself.

It’s a subtle distinction. What’s the difference? It’s managing a problem instead of ending it. It’s feel-good versus do-good. It’s “someone else’s problem, but I’ll do my small part.” Sometimes, posting a video on your wall is a way of ticking a box in your mind, claiming that you’re contributing in your own way, and can very easily be an excuse for actual inaction.

I don’t mean to condemn Kony 2012 (which I haven’t even watched, so profound is my confidence that no real action will come of it). And obviously, sometimes the positive change does occur as a result of the critical mass being achieved. My point is that we have to be careful of our own motivation behind the forwarding of flash-in-the-pan fads. If it seems like the thing to do simply because that’s how people are behaving, and “what if it works?”, then ask yourself if you’ll really care who Kony is a month from now. If it resonates with you in a way that lasts longer than the time it takes to forward it, go ahead.

Bottom line?
1. Educate yourself about the trend before you pay it forward.
2. Ask yourself if you’ll honestly be thinking about it a month from now.
3. Look past the spectacle and consider what it’s really worth to you.

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2 thoughts on “My thoughts on Kony 2012

  1. Jack Sprat says:

    the question to you my friend is, how much of this aversenss to this is a washing your hands clean of an issue the world has. Yes not everyone can be frontline activists, the world would stop, but there is something all can do.

    There is some surefire hype at play here, but i say, if it achieves it purpose whats the problem.

    Is it a fad? Does it matter if it is? 90 million people know who he is now. Sounds like an improvement already. The man is embedded in the phyche. it may fade though, i cant tell if it will or wont, but i suppose it up to those at the top of this cause to keep it burning.

    I suppose this is not truelly heartfelt by all who post and yes it may fall out of attention in time. But i think its better to have at least tried, pushed a lil forward, made a lil effort than sidestep the whole thing. what good does that do to the situation.

    But you know my stance on this already 😉 jus bantering around for strength of understanding.

    • Johnny B says:

      If the question is, “what’s the problem with just creating this kind of awareness?” then here’s why discretion should be used before choosing to forward, for example, the Kony video.

      By forwarding the video, you contribute to the “common sense” that Kony is an evil man, and the world needs to stop him. THIS terrifically polarized view of the world is destructive. It’s comfortable to think black or white, it puts your mind at ease when you hear facts like “he murdered 10,000 children” or whatever. You feel you can safely say he’s a bad person. But the problem is that the more people who believe that an American film-maker’s subjective view of the crisis of the Ugandan people carries any water whatsoever actually ERODES the credibility that media such as the Internet have granted us. You should do 9/10ths research before doing 1/10th action. I don’t expect people to behave like this, but I believe in it.

      Take chain letters. The “what’s the harm?” mentality fails to acknowledge that the more people who believe in chain letter promises at face value, the less educated the average person involved actually becomes.

      By believing that doing no fact-checking, taking everything at face value and forwarding a video can create the kind of change hoped for in the world, the average self-deception of an individual involved rises.

      Now as to the criticism of this view which says that “Things Have Changed As A Result Of Campaigns”. Yes, that’s true. I agree. Change starts with awareness. And anyone who says “forwarding Kony is bad” is wrong. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Videos like this do contribute to awareness which, when resonating with the right individuals, can create positive change. However, seldom are the activists those individuals who lead themselves to think that the VIDEO itself can change anything.

      Those people who are actively helping the Ugandan people afflicted by Kony right now knew about Kony long before the video, and I’ll wager that they have reacted negatively. What does that tell you?

      This is a good argument, because it has an outcome which forces us to either forward the video or not. And of course, the video is just one symbol for the “firsties” culture around Internet phenomena (people gain status by being the first person to forward a video). The reason that I choose not to is because I do believe that without doing the proper research into the situation, finding out as much as I can, FORWARDING THE VIDEO BECOMES DESTRUCTIVE. It cheapens the message. The awareness of it peaks and dies (or is quickly transferred to an equally irrelevant follow-up story: a random man has a mental breakdown), and in doing so, creates an ongoing system where the line between passive entertainment and actual call-to-action are blurred. This is a destructive system for anyone with a genuine cause. Because you and I are creatures who evolved by learning the quickest and laziest (and smartest) way to do something, the temptation to succumb to the quick fix motivation strangles the moral obligation to actually do something.

      In my opinion, a better situation would be if NOBODY forwarded this video except the individuals who actively decided to put effort into it, and that they only forwarded it to others who they knew might feel morally obligated to do more than create awareness. In their own words, not Jason Russel’s. It’s awareness with a point, not for the sake of distraction and social interaction. The building of a working tribe, rather than the invitation of semi-interested strangers. First think, then act, and only when people ask has the time come to speak.

      I am deliberately defending an unlikely view of the world, one where integrity motivates people to act. I don’t ever think it’s going to happen, and I certainly don’t expect people to agree with me or understand, but for what it’s worth, I believe in what I’m saying and will support anyone who shows the same conviction and strength of opinion, even if it contradicts mine. Our task is to wrestle with these issues long before we publish our decreasingly relevant preferences to an increasingly saturated media (and therefore thought) landscape.

      Thank you for taking the time to think of your stance and reply dude.

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