#Kony2012: Rhetoric of Retribution & Refusing to Address Incisive Criticism [Updated]

[Update] Via @KirtWilson on twitter USA Today is reporting on the first screening of the Kony 2012 in Uganda has lead to a disastrous response from Ugandans. Criticism was immediate and harsh. They report:

If people in those countries care about us, they will not wear T-shirts with Joseph Kony for any reason… That would celebrate our suffering.

You can see Al-Jazeera’s report on the screening below that ended in the crowed throwing rocks at the screen and scattering into the night. One viewer explains, “These are all white men, these are villains different from northern Uganda.” Clearly not the reception Invisible Children desired.


Kony Founders and Maturity Via my twitter account @AcaGuy I have been following the huge viral spread of the Kony 2012 video and the controversy that has surrounded the Invisible Children organization since the film’s release.

The 30 minute film, to its credit offers a compelling narrative that seems geared to a social media generation and aimed at getting audiences in high schools and colleges who screen Invisible Children’s films on the topic to passionately engage with, and care deeply about, stopping Kony.

After the video was released Invisible Children faced a firestorm of criticism and even felt the need to release a second video defending their organization:

The video ends on the right note, perhaps, “There is one thing that everyone agrees on and that is that Joseph Kony Should be stopped.”

As you may notice the video does take on some of the substantive criticisms of the group while simultaneously adding more fodder for some of the core critiques of Invisible Children.

Ben Keesey talks directly about the companies finances and attempts to take on the critique that roughly only a third of donations go to direct action. He emphasizes that about 87% of donations go to their mission and emphasizes their three fold mission:
1) They are a media company that makes people care about Kony
2) They ask for advocacy so that people contact their government
3) The organization is taking direct action on the ground in Uganda

The central issue here is that they are calculating their percent of donations on mission to include their media production budget and roadshows which dominate their finances and those efforts do very little to actually answer the question of how this stops Kony. They say they make “compelling movies and films” to create a narrative to get investment from people so they get involved and contact their government. However, with few answers on what more international action looks like (for them military intervention) there is little to suggest that these efforts achieve much success or make use of local resources. In fact, the only part of the response video that makes much of an impact is when they actually give a chance for local voices to be heard (despite their constant use of subtitles even when these voices speak in clear english). We can diagram the problem with Invisible Children’s model rather succinctly (borrowing from South Park):
1) Launch Massive Expensive Media Campaigns Making Movies and Films
2) ???????????
3) Stop Kony

A second more troubling critique of Kony 2012 has been its mobilization of the white man’s burden. One Ugandan blogger provided a fairly direct critique of Invisible Children’s outdated information and desire to go to Uganda and fix their problems:

Her argument is well articulated and ignored in the response by Invisible children. All of this comes to the main substantive critique of Invisible Children and their desire for (military) intervention in Uganda and in the search for Kony in neighboring African countries:
1) Why is it their job to solve this issue?
2) Who are they to dictate how Ugandan’s deal with their internal politics?
3) What drives their need to go elsewhere, ignoring the needs of the invisible children in their neighborhoods and communities that need help as well?
4) What was so bankrupt in Keller’s life that he had to travel the globe to find meaning for his life.

Some of the answer may lie in the colonizing and paternalistic discourse dripping from their campaign rhetoric and personal narratives of discovering Kony as the uncivilized other that must be stopped by the white knight. As Jezebel describes Keesey’s moment of conversion, he:

turned down a cushy job at a big accounting firm after he graduated from UCLA because he was so “deeply moved” by the low-production value of an earlier Invisible Children video that he just had to join in the fight to defeat Joseph Kony’s fading Lord’s Resistance Army”

Keesy needs to solve this problem because it is easier to deal with problems there than here and as has been pointed out by a mass array of critics, notably Visible Children, Invisible Children does this through a systematic oversimplification of the situation in Uganda. Be sure to check out the video, read up on Invisible Children, and ask questions. Keensey even says he is answering questions via twitter so shoot questions @Invisible #askICanything and maybe he will answer you. Anything can happen.


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Filed under Cultural Studies, Rhetoric

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