Kony 2012 reminds me of Loose Change

by on Mar.09, 2012, under general

So the Kony 2012 campaign – and the backlash against it – has been eating up the Internet for the last 48 hours. If you somehow missed it, read Ethan Zuckerman’s primer here.

I’m one of those who is decidedly not a fan of the Kony 2012 movement. There’s the shady finances, the evangelical ties, the exclusion of African agency and, oh right, the seemingly important fact that Kony isn’t even in Uganda.

So why is Kony 2012 so popular? Probably for the reasons identified by the Nigerian author Teju Cole, as quoted here:

Seven thoughts on the banality of sentimentality.

1- From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED, the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex.

2- The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.

3- The banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality. The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm.

4- This world exists simply to satisfy the needs—including, importantly, the sentimental needs—of white people and Oprah.

5- The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.

6- Feverish worry over that awful African warlord. But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice. Worry about that.

7- I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an eye on it, for you know it is deadly.

Another question to ask is how is Kony 2012 so powerful? How has their message propagated?

Invisible Children released a very powerful 30 minute documentary which received over 30 million views in 24 hours. It’s got lots of moving music, poignant shots, and terrible, misleading facts.

In many ways it reminds me of Loose Change 9/11. In 2005, when Loose Change broke out on Google Video and the early days of YouTube, it seemed like half the Internet watched it and began to think 9/11 was an inside job based on a lot of “facts” presented in a compelling narrative. The only problem was almost none of it were true. Specific claims which were made were false. But it was wrapped in a compelling narrative, and it was on video.

I have a feeling that the dynamics which drove Loose Change to success might be driving Kony 2012 too. Not just in terms of slacktivism but also in terms of a viral video which can be passed around and facts just presented to people to inject into their brains.

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