Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kony 2012: Feel-good activism? ג'וזף קוני: פעלתניות ריקנית

Sitting here after having clicked Buy to purchase a Joseph Kony bracelet on, feeling foolish, but I'm not certain how foolish. I've always prided myself on questioning trends and fads. Even at age 12, when a fellow seventh grader was selling POW / MIA bracelets ('member those?), I recall asking her, "So how does this help the POWs?" She was visibly stumped, and replied, "Well, uh…the money goes to, uh, send them packages?" I bucked that trend and never bought one.

So here I sit, 40 years later, my daughter having persuaded me to watch the Invisible Children film, and I admit it: I bought right into it, down to ordering the bracelet, during which the thought did pass through my mind: "What if this is a scam?" I was considering searching for "joseph kony debunk" or "invisible children debunk" when I just clicked Buy. My simultaneous thought as a Jew: "Suppose these voices and this technology had been available against Hitler?"

So, after buying the bracelet, I did search for debunking (better late than never), and read a few articles not actually debunking IC's effort, but critiquing it. One of the critiques was that the three directors of IC / JK 2012 earn salaries of $90,000 a year each. While certainly comfortable, I don't find that sum unconscionable. It sounds to me like a middle-class income, which is certainly reasonable for full-time activists, at least as deserved as the salaries of pro athletes and Hollywood stars.

And the effort does take money: He never said that money would capture Kony or stop the LRA; he said that the goal is to plaster Kony's name and image all over the globe, which will hopefully lead to his capture. Well, all that plastering is undoubtedly fueled by money, and if I can keep the engine going from my comfortable home in the Southern Arava, then yeah, I'll contribute a small sum.

Another critique was of the use of the director's son as a heartstring ploy. Yes, I did notice the use of the cute, Caucasian, blond Gavin, but excused it because Gavin's dad (what's his name, anyway?) is right: If Gavin were abducted for even one night, it would be on the cover of Newsweek. And I don't suppose they can really help Gavin's being cute, Caucasian, and blond, can they? Would it have been better for him to look like some kid out of a Roald Dahl story?

Most of the other critiques were variations on "It's more complicateג than that" and of feel-good, one-click "activism" in general. Regarding the latter, it's pretty obvious that this campaign's appeal lies in the hungering among Americans for something we can all get behind: an evil we can all oppose, regardless of where we sit on today's polarized circus we call American politics: They even created a special logo depicting the elephant and the donkey joining together to fight Kony. In fact, I have to admire these guys: They thought of every trick in the book. They really used the media — and their heads — to their full potential.

Regarding "It's more complicated than that" and "northern Ugandans themselves claim they're enjoying the longest period of quiet since 1986", well, I have some experience with claims of this genre: I live in Israel (which doesn't need a bracelet, thank you), and it disturbs me to hear Jews say in response to critiques of our wrongheaded policies, "Well it's more complex than that." No, it's not: Occupation is wrong. Subjugating 1.5 Palis is wrong. And regardless of how slickly it's sold, so is abducting 30,000 children and forcing them into slavery, no matter the "justice" of the cause. I'd gladly wear a bracelet emblazoned with that on it. So, call me a sucker if you like; my Kony 2012 bracelet will just have to serve as shorthand for all of the above.

This just in: I received my order confirmation today, and the letter says: "100% of the money from your purchase goes to the area of greatest need, including our protection and rehabilitation work in Central Africa...It allows us to be certain that we will be able to help children recover from their experiences with the LRA long after the LRA has been disarmed." This answers another concern I had, that of rehabbing these poor kids after their (hoped-for) liberation.


  1. Do they have Assad bracelets too?

  2. Well said. My school is featuring Kony2012 on its morning announcements, and the students are "violating" the black polo shirt uniform standard by wearing red KONY12 T-shirts. I must say, watching them learn a little about activism is pretty satisfying.

    My own opinion is that we should just "drone" this bad guy out (with extreme prejudice, I would add). The ICC could just issue a verdict of "dronable" and that would be that.

  3. I must say that I find the "debunking" comments to be fairly annoying and petty. The fact that the situation is a bit better should not be a deterent to activism, nor the claim that the campaign is counter to local efforts to stop Kony. What does that mean - a smaller number of children are now being kidnapped? Is that an acceptable situation?I even read the claim that Kony is very close to being caught, and this campaign may force him to escape once again. If he has eluded capture for 30 years, trying a different tactic might be well overdue.
    As far as the video goes - yes, it is savvy and well done. I think this should be admired, rather than blasted. Instead of jealous back-biting, maybe people should reserve their criticism for the real villains....

  4. My 16-year-old and his friends had been buzzing about this on Facebook and e-mail before it ever hit the news media. Say what you will about the plugged-in generation, they have a broader interest in world affairs than we did at their age.

  5. Several of my students brought the Kony video to my attention. At first, I was suspicious. Then it started to quickly go viral, even making the front page of the NYTimes. I decided to show it to a special assembly of all the students in my school. Not to my surprise, the majority had already seen it at least once. My students are talking about it every morning and we will see where they decide to take this.

    I think it is a brilliant use of "new media" to bring attention and hopefully change to this terrible situation.

  6. Well, Ben, a friend sent me this link this a.m.:, linking IC to anti-gay and right-wing groups. Make of it what you will.