Social justice art faces controversy: Kony 2012

By Josh Rose

On March 5, the NGO Invisible Children posted a video entitled Kony 2012 on YouTube, spurring a movement against Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony almost overnight. In two days, this video garnered almost 20 million views, several spin-off clips with views in the thousands to millions, and a flooding of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

In his 30-minute documentary, filmmaker Jason Russell calls for people around the world to raise awareness about Kony’s atrocities by sharing their video. Ultimately, they hope that making Kony “famous” in this way will lead to his arrest by April.

Within hours of the video’s posting, city-specific events cropped up all over Facebook. The event pages, like the video, ask anyone reading or listening to make Kony a household name. Posters simply bearing the name “Kony” appeared on campus Wednesday morning, evidence of the budding movement’s rapid and far reach.

Kony 2012 shows us the reality of life in Uganda in several ways — a partial account of a Ugandan boy who suffered from Kony’s crimes and the reaction of a child to hearing the G-rated version of the truth about what is happening to other children his age living in Central Africa comprise two scenes.

What’s interesting is how much ground-level support has been offered to the movement in a span of two days. The answer may lie in how the makers of this video make an emotional and moral appeal to viewers by encouraging a collective, justice-seeking mindset in the Millennial generation — “Right now, there are more people on Facebook than there were on the planet 200 years ago” is the video’s opening line. After seeing footage of hundreds of people suffering — along with a cute, American child admonishing viewers to stop “the bad guy,” it’s hard to just forget about the film.

There are people who do think that the Kony 2012 movement’s intention is pure but lacks the vision and plan to bring Kony’s arrest to fruition. On March 7, Acadia University political science and sociology student Grant Oyston created a Tumblr site entitled “Visible Children.” He used it to publish a lengthy critique of Invisible Children’s practices, which received almost 35,000 reblogs in a day.

Oyston most notably criticizes the NGO’s practices involving the allocation of donor funds and support of the Ugandan army, which faces the same accusations of rape and pillaging as the Kony-led Lord’s Resistance Army.

Invisible Children, however, has still managed to incite waves transcending geographical borders all in a matter of 48 hours using a documentary and social media. Despite criticisms, Kony 2012 is “social justice art” and its rapid dissemination through the internet is a powerful statement in itself.


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