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March 10, 2012

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March 10, 2012

The only interesting question on Kony 2012 – why did it get 60 million hits?

March 10, 2012
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Like everyone else, I watched it, albeit skimming, and was fascinated and appalled. Fascinated (and yes, envious) at the skill of the storytelling. Appalled by just about everything else – the use of his son, the cheesy self righteousness of the tone, the depiction of Africa, the profound ignorance and lack of interest in why things are the way they are. I won’t go on. But virtually every Hollywood film about (or at least set in) the developing world leaves me feeling like that (though the feeling is usually less extreme). In the end, the only question that has stuck with me is why has it been so successful as a viral phenomenon (the 60m will doubtless have gone up by several million the time you read this)? Some thoughts, but I would really like to hear those of others.

First it’s a steroidal version of the ‘recipe for campaign success’ a former boss once gave me – all you need for a good Kony twittercampaign is a problem, a solution and a villain. Kony 2012 delivers that in stark relief – problem: this guy turns kids into killers; solution – take him out; villain – enough said. No mess, no nuance. It’s Robin Hood v the Sheriff of Nottingham and we are all Robin Hood.

Second: it adds dollops of Hollywood feelgood schmaltz to that equation – ‘we can do it!’ ‘Hey, they’re just like us!’ ‘Feel the love!’ ‘Kids are cute!’

Third: celebrity twitter massively ramped up the viral spread (see chart).

Fourth: momentum – famous for being famous.

No idea what the legacy of all this is. Millions of mainly young people around the world have just absorbed a particular, highly distorted story about what is going on in Africa. For many, it will be the first time they have taken an interest in a human rights or development issue. What happens next?  I just hope it sows the seeds of a new generation with a real interest in how Africa and its people can progress, in understanding why the world is like it is, not ‘lots of Africans just kidnap and kill each other, but white people can help.’

Oh and if you want to actually know about Northern Uganda and the LRA, Chris Blattman (who tragically, has been on a junk in the South China Sea when one of his big issues went galactic) provides some reading.

For a minute by minute live blog on the phenomenon, check out the Guardian on Friday, including the thoughts of our protection guy in Goma, Stephen Van Damme:

“What we want to highlight is the lack of development in the area that we’re talking about, where people have a lot of concerns – including the lack of access to hospitals, roads and schools – with this impacting massively on these people,” Van Damme said. “And so, any solution has to look at wider development in the area, and that seems to be where there’s a lot less attention and a lot less funding and political support. The LRA problem goes way beyond a purely military solution and has to tackle all of these matters that basically boil down to a very underdeveloped region.”

But then reality is just too messy and complicated sometimes isn’t it? And no, I’m not linking to it (a futile gesture – it went up by two million while I was writing this – but what the heck).

8 comments

  1. I know, it is really bizarre. Especially given what I felt to be almost the complete lack of emotional power of the video, and the almost total absence of any Ugandans themselves.

    Would be happy if we could get millions of UK voters to watch a 30 minute video about the NHS bill and then mobilise to destroy it. Could US troops help to do that maybe, Barack?

  2. i think that the video is wel made ,in a hollywodian way.

    But i prefer the ways “angels of east africa” wants to treat this problem

  3. I think a key element is that it presents not just a solution but a massively oversimplified solution – ignoring not only the context (what would come after Kony’s caputre? What are the deeper causes? etc) but even the difficulties of the proposed solution itself (shooting through child bodyguards etc).

    And then it offers people an easy to way to feel like they’re helping achieve this simplified goal – change your facebook status, buy a wristband, etc

  4. Hi Duncan, I am no expert of Africa. I actually I live and work as a researcher in South East Asia. I watched the video and read your comment as well as the one by Sarah Bailey of ODI on the Kony 2012 video. As a researcher I would also ask myself, how much of this is true. But as a researcher, and similarly to your point at the beginning of your comment, I also thought that there is something to learn here. It is about the story telling skills and the emotion that the message creates. I do not know what you think, but sometimes the objectivity that is required from evidence-based research (vs. opinion-based research) limits the space for emotions in communicating our message or findings. As if emotions or a call to emotions would be negative. Do you think that it is possible to have evidence-based research with emotions?

  5. hmmmm, I am not a fan of the video but if its aim was in-your-face publicity about an issue, then it succeeded. I cannot help wondering if some of the criticism from other aid agendies is churlish jealousy because their own campaigns have never had the same attention. While we are on the subject of somewhat distasteful campaigning, I fail to be impressed by the incessant pictures of starving children peddled in the papers by Save the Children, Smiletrain and others. Invisible Children is not the first organisation to use shock tactics as an attention ploy.

  6. Liliana,

    I don’t think it’s churlish of a charity to provide a critical analysis of another charity’s campaign.

    If the points being made were without explanation or context, it might be okay to dismiss them as jealousy; as it is, Duncan Green made a number of very good points.

    Regards,

    Mat

  7. Hi Duncan,

    Have you seen Kony 2012: Beyond Famous? I would be very interested in your take on it.

    I’m also surprised that you were so harsh about Kony 2012 given Invisible Children are setting out to do what from Poverty to Power is aiming to do – that is engage people to become active citizens and hold states accountable…all-be-it on a global level. Note when IC entered into the complexity of the matter in Beyond Famous the film did not receive anywhere near the same responses. Oxfam states – the first part of advocacy is ‘heightened awareness’ and the second step is ‘contribution to debate’. Beyond Famous is the contribution to debate. Kony2012 heightened awareness.

    I really want to hear what your views are on this film…. I would hate to think you are becoming an ‘arm chair cynic’ rather than being constructive about where to from here on this issue.

    People are still being murdered. There seems to be a ‘policy window’ right now. Oxfam could play a positive role in influencing this.

    Also – it is fine for Ugandans to want to forget about it, and understandable – but what about people in DRC, CAR and Sudan?

    Looking forward to your thoughts.

    Cheers,

    Alison

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