And does seeking out Invisible Children's faults make me a cynical snob?
So you probably woke up this morning to discover that something called Kony 2012 had taken over the internet. In case you haven't worked it out yet, Kony 2012 is a film produced by the charity Invisible Children, raising awareness about the child soldiers of Uganda. Since it was released on YouTube on March 5, it's been viewed several million times. Here it is:
And that's good, right? Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army abduct children and convert them into murderers. They've been doing it for years and it's good that someone's trying to raise Kony's profile so that American politicians might be forced into doing something about this endless tragedy, right?
Well, it's more complex than that. You might have noticed that when ANYTHING happens on the internet, there's always someone waiting to crap all over it. Sure, quite often they're crapping all over teenage girls by calling them sluts, but every now and then they'll take a big shit on something that deserves it, like SOPA. Basically, if there's something humans like, there'll be a bunch of other humans who hate it.
Well, predictably, some are shitting on Kony 2012. I'm sure those behind the film and the charity would just brush criticism off as thoughtless cynicism. After all, once something is so big that Rihanna's tweeting about it, some people are going to be suspicious, jealous, and try to ruin it, no matter what. Some chumps are just contrarians, right?
That said, here are some of the major criticisms of Invisible Children and Kony 2012.
Criticism #1: Invisible Children is a financially questionable organization.
These figures have been circulating.
It's impossible to understand everything about Invisible Children's motives by analyzing these figures alone. Eighty-nine grand does seem like a sweet wage, but does that matter so much? That its expenses are high compared to its revenue isn't too surprising, either. The Kony 2012 manifesto is to raise awareness. People are donating to raise the profile of the Ugandan plight, and, overnight, thanks to a film on YouTube, millions more people were made aware of it. Success, then.
Criticism #2: Invisible Children is not financially accountable.
According to some of the internet, Invisible Children refuses to co-operate with the Better Business Bureau—an organization that investigates the ethical nature of companies.
Also, according to the Charity Navigator (a website I was unaware of until today), Invisible Children is not particularly transparent.
Criticism #3: Invisible Children lies.
According to an article published by the Council on Foreign Affairs:
In their campaigns, such organizations [as Invisible Children] have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA's use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony—a brutal man, to be sure—as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil.
Criticism #4: Invisible Children wants to flood Uganda with weapons.
Oh dear. Bad idea, guys. I mean, don't get me wrong, if VICE ever wants to send me to somewhere like Congo, the first thing I'll do is get a Facebook picture of me with a gun. But then I'm not lobbying for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (who, I'm informed, have been accused of rape and looting) to be armed by America.
I'm not an expert, but isn't the history of arming one group of guys to go and kill another group of guys in some far away country nearly always a really shitty idea? Doesn't it lead to ethnic cleansing, extremism, revenge, tribal conflict, and general misery? Maybe not. As I say, I'm no expert.
Criticism #5: Invisible Children is staffed by douchebags.
Now when I first watched the Kony 2012 video, there was a horrible pang of self-knowledge as I finally grasped quite how shallow I am. I found it impossible to completely overlook the smug indie-ness of it all. It reminded me of a manipulative technology advert, or the Kings of Leon video where they party with black families, or the 30 Seconds to Mars video where all the kids talk about how Jared Leto's music saved their lives. I mean, watch the first few seconds of this again. It's pompous twaddle with no relevance to fucking anything.
However, the central message—stop this cunt Kony killing and raping innocent children in their thousands—is a very powerful one. So I looked beyond my snobbery.
Maybe I shouldn't have. Chris Blattman, who's an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Economics at Yale, wrote this blog about Invisible Children, effectively just calling them twats. He starts by dissing their "hipster tie" and cowboy hats, before moving on to accuse them of being post-colonialists.
So, now I'm in a bit of a quandary. I'm worried that the real reason I went to seek out the downsides of the Kony 2012 phenomenon was simply because I'm a snob who enjoys bursting people's bubbles, and because I find the promotional film they made for it embarrassingly produced. What a horrible reason that would be to ignore a charity.
The film Kony 2012 began because the filmmakers went to Uganda and met a young boy so traumatized by his experiences that he was contemplating suicide. Confronted with the grotesque reality of the atrocities, the Western filmmakers did what I hope I'd do, and resolved to help. No matter what. With that in mind, does it matter if they get paid well? Does it matter if they massage the facts? Does it matter that their charity isn't completely accountable? Does is matter that they're naive prats who think it's the white man's job to save Africa? Or is that all just pompous hypothesizing by Westerners with enough freedom, information, and education to look down on a simple, kind act?
Isn't it better to just stop criticizing and start helping children in need? Or is that the kind of blind interventionist attitude that throws countries like Afghanistan into very, very long wars?
I don't bloody know. Soz.
(Thanks to all the blogs and people on reddit that I ripped off, BTW.)
Follow Alex on Twitter: @terriblesoup
If you're in the mood for more horrible tales about people getting hurt in Central and Eastern Africa this lunchtime, why not check out these: