Those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA ads are supposed to make you feel like shit. And they certainly do, which is why most of us now have the near-reflexive reaction of switching the channel or station with a groan upon hearing the first measures of “Angel.” Same goes for those Save The Children ads, which feature a well-fed, white-haired white man bouncing an interchangeable carousel of skinny, multi-colored kids on his unblemished knees as he makes us feel bad for watching television when we could feed and provide water to a child for just five cents a day.
By all angles, we are convinced to consume and to strive for what we don’t have, and convinced to conditional charity to make up for what we do have. Money really can make the pain go away, if you know where to spend it, and both corporations and charitable organizations know it well. To be rid of the American guilt attached to living the standard American life is worth the money people spend on what they think are legitimate proponents for a noble cause that, by donating, makes them a noble person by extension.
Or at least feel like they are saving the world in some capacity, no research or actual advocacy required. “KONY 2012,” aka the “Stop KONY” campaign, is no different. At first prevalence early last week, people were voluntarily posting the film, which in the first few minutes reminded me of another internet call to action riding on a video, Zeitgeist I & II, on all of their social sites and network platforms. Facebook friends were canvassed for wall space. #Kony2012, #stopKony, and #endAwar trended on Twitter more tenaciously than Snooki’s pregnancy.
With every “share,” “like,” and “retweet,” more and more people were able to breathe a sigh of relief at having done their part to make the world a better place, handing their burden of the guilt to the next poor sucker to press play on Vimeo. And more and more people donated to the organization stewarding awareness of the atrocities committed by the now infamous Joseph Kony, the Ugandan guerilla leader and war criminal, the most horrendous of which (according to the fact that it’s the one thing people can cite with any confidence) is his practice of abducting children to be front line pawns for his militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). It is estimated that 66,000 children have been abducted by Kony over the course of two decades.
Except for the few geniuses who tweeted things like “After watching that video, the only thing I’ve learned is that Kony is a thug recognize [sic] by the whole world…Gangsta” and “So joseph kony sounds like the #1 pimp in the world #Swagg,” evidence of the idiocy courtesy of Gawker, how could we in America, with our Instagram and real-time political blogs, turn our heads away with conscience? I mean, we do it every day about everything else going on, but this is some real shit.
It’s about children! In Africa! African children! We need to feed the African children!…Oh wait, that’s not the focus…They do need to be fed, but they also need to be protected from exploitation at the hands of Joseph Kony! Joseph Kony! The one man who should be brought to justice for the crimes against humanity that tons of other people have participated in but are too scary or too hard to find! Stopping Kony in 2012 will end this horrible practice in Uganda, and around the world!
What is more tragic than that is that since last week, Invisible Children, the online campaign running that show, has lost credibility as a nonprofit charitable organization and will undoubtedly lose even more credibility as the curiosities, mainly the allegations that they have been misusing funds, continue to unfold.
This means a few things: 1) Everyone is going to be pissed at Invisible Children, 2) Everyone is going to forget that they were pissed at Joseph Kony, and 3) No one is going to realize that this transfer of attention occurs as a defense mechanism against the awareness that we as a nation tend to choose half-ass advocacy through a screen over research and true sacrifice. Oh yeah, and kids will continue to starve in Africa whilst being abducted for guerilla warfare.
Yes, I too felt that tinge of annoyance that yet another charitable organization is selling morality in exchange for guilt money. Yes, I was very much willing to rip on their inability to capitalize Uganda in their boiler plate announcing that Invisible Children “is a movement seeking to end the conflict in Uganda and stop the abduction of children for use as child soldiers.” And yes, that photo of IC’s three founders wielding very large guns, one of which is totally a bazooka, is really quite strange to look at, as are their responses to the criticism of their campaign.
With or without a proper vehicle that the everyday person can use to try or feel like they are trying to help rectify an injustice in the world, the injustice continues to exist. Whether or not you can see it and touch it, the problem remains.
We’ll see if we hunt Joseph Kony after Invisible Children totally blows up and we are forced to shame.