Remember when I posted that Kony 2012 video the other day? And I’m sure you all know how it just exploded since then, both in viral hits and in discussion, rhetoric, and vitriol. The thing is, I did do a bit of homework before I posted—and I knew there was some controversy about the facts, history, and worthiness of the charitable organization behind the video (Invisible Children). If you read our comments section, you might’ve read the part where Brianna and I discussed some points and issues. The reason I went ahead and posted the story to the blog was because I was so excited that a “cause” had ignited the hearts and minds of millions of people—and at that time, mostly young people. This was for me a sign that it was possible to have care and concern generate a contagious momentum. The fact that the video hits have now topped a 100 million people absolutely astounds me—that’s right up there with such deep and world-changing Youtube fare as “Charlie bit my finger” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby”.
And, maybe because I’m a glutton for punishment, and maybe because I really really do love debate and turning issues over and looking at them from other sides than my own, I ended up mostly reading articles about this phenomenon (is that the right word?) that basically lambasted this effort and vilified anybody who made or supported the video. And I could totally understand their points: yes, we should do our homework before blindly committing to something, and yes, there might have been mistakes on the part of the filmmakers, and certainly there might be hundreds of important issues not addressed in the film. But I did—in my own homework—trust that these young people really wanted to make a difference. And I didn’t wholly trust all the facts of the naysayers either.
What I really didn’t get, what I struggle now to understand, what confuses and annoys me is the anger and insults hurled toward people who are trying to make a difference (even a possibly misguided one). In one article I read, they actually called the video supporters “sheeple”. Cute play on words, I’ll grant them that, but so very insulting. And I started to worry—maybe needlessly—that all these millions of people who decided to take up a cause and stand up for something fundamentally wrong ... would now feel like idiots. I know that I certainly vacillated between righteous anger and self-conscious embarrassment. Within minutes of posting the Kony link to her Facebook, a beloved was castigated by foaming critics of the film until she felt compelled to take it off her page. Because I had already decided to trust the good intentions of the filmmakers (for right or wrong) I worried that they would now feel like dolts who should crawl into a hole and lick their wounds, instead of feeling proud that, after spending 9 years in and out of the jungle, getting to know the story and its victims, aligning with those victims, dreaming of and then following through on their plans to help them, they managed to document a film (which is either a good or bad one) and tell it to the world. I highly highly doubt they had visions of personal wealth dancing in their heads. I can’t imagine they dreamed in their wildest dreams that “viral” would mean anything more than a few million hits, if that.
Is this what we want to do? Is this how we want to feel? Please, yes, let’s debate and discuss how to take care of the good of our planet—we’re bound to disagree!—but please, let’s support our often maligned and underworked sense of compassion. Do we want to be those people in our homes who hear the woman screaming outside but don’t call the police because we’re afraid of being judged stupid, deemed wrong, or making a mistake? Not me, baby, not me.
It’s not our fault or the filmmakers’ fault that this happens to be the medium that brought awareness to such a huge amount of people. If only it had been for a less controversial issue; if only it had been made in a less controversial way. But it wasn’t. This is the piece that broke through on a scale which journalists and humanitarians the world over, sadly, could not achieve. And the beauty is, if we do learn to raise our voices, even in misguided ways, we get used to raising our voices. Then we get used to doing a bit more and a bit more. Today it might be clicking on a video, tomorrow it might be doing more and better research, the day after it might be going to our governments. And if there are issues around the issues that need to be brought to light, the conversation can—and will—shift and change accordingly. But we’re talking, people, we’re talking! We are not sheeple. We are all in this together.
Maybe that old axiom “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” should be “good intentions paved the road away from hell”.
PS I talked to Deb and Charlotte about this before I posted and it led to some lively discussion. Charlotte emailed me this link (after I’d written my piece, just fyi!) and it seems fitting to add it here. This is by Nicholas D. Kristof and it appeared in the op-ed section of the online New York Times; he actually addresses several of the negative articles that I read and shares a similar dismay over the denouncement of the filmmakers: “The bottom line is: A young man devotes nine years of his life to fight murder, rape and mutilation, he produces a video that goes viral and galvanizes mostly young Americans to show concern for needy villagers abroad — and he’s vilified?”
Also, it seems fitting to end on a high and related note: yesterday the judges of the International Criminal Court released a unanimous decision to convict Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a Congolese warlord, for turning thousands of children into soldiers.
Deb: Barb has already very nicely represented my point of view so I will not take too much time in my comment. I feel very much as she does: “but they are doing SOMETHING!” And I agree that I do not think that the motivation behind the film was a get-rich-quick scheme. If that were the case they could have picked a much easier, safer, more comfortable subject. Growing up in the 60’s and seeing protests and being a part of them (smaller ones) it is great to see people rally behind an unjust cause. People can certainly decide what to do with their hard-earned dollars regards charity, but it is tough to look away when the truth is being raised. Awareness is worth gold.