The Kony 2012 video franchise, or: Invisible Children’s latest ‘Move’

It was interesting to watch Oprah’s Next Chapter on Sunday with Jason Russell. As the format suggests, this was all about Jason with a particular focus on his breakdown after the Kony 2012 video went viral and his recovery since. Oprah, always looking for ‘Aha moments’, found it when Jason described how the breakdown may not only have been caused by PTSD, but as a reaction of feeling to self-important, stopping to listen to friends who told him to slow down and wanting to take full advantage of the buzz that the Kony 2012 video had caused within an extremely short amount of time. In short, as always with Oprah’s approach, it was a minimum of critical context and a maximum of emotionalisation – an approach that makes every development enthusiast beam with joy and excitement.

The timing of the interview is important as Invisible Children has just launched a new video where they are telling people that making and watching YouTube is not enough to change the world...but let’s not be cynical right away... Starting with the full title ‘Move – Invisible Children’s new film from the creators of Kony 2012’, it is difficult not be critical right away. While many NGOs have ‘projects’ or ‘programs’, Invisible Children continues with another well-made video (I didn’t know that some celebrities suggested changing the Oscar rules so Kony 2012 could be nominated).
Now, November 17 will see the peak of the ‘Kony 2012 experiment’ after the first round of real-life action pretty much failed. The new video can probably be accused of using a similar simplified narrative than the original Kony 2012 video which is re-lived in the first 10 minutes of the 30 minute video.

‘We are a company people can’t put their head around’
I found that a remarkable quote by Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey and I am not sure whether this is the best line to promote a non-profit organization. I also found it interesting that the video dealt with the critique, reduced to many angry YouTube video responses and a glimpse of second screenshot of an Atlantic piece, primarily from a technological viewpoint: The critique started when the Invisible Children's website broke down and people started questioning the legitimacy of the endeavor. Maybe that was a part, but given the fantastic range of critical writing that emerged, it was not just about a few angry YouTube users. The criticism of ‘Millennials’ (including a very short excerpt of a Glen Beck rant (always a bad idea...) and ‘Clicktivism’ is briefly touched, but by and large there is a lot of shouting going on in this video by way of presenting legitimate arguments and criticism.

‘I cover a lot of conflicts. And the LRA is not a complicated one’
NYT’s Jeffrey Gettleman as well as Nick Kristof are among the few outsiders that appear in the video. Nick Kristof may have found a platform for dissing critical academics, because ‘If academics had done a presentation on the conflict 13 people would have watched it’. Maybe. It is complicated...

All in all, there is very little new information or a willingness for sustained reflection in the video. It could have been inspiring for younger viewers to talk more about lessons learned, personal change and growth or admitting complexity in some way or another. There is also not a hint at the sustainability of the organization or the overall effort. I am definitely not saying that Kony 2012 has achieved nothing, but Jason’s personality, the reliance on technology and the continuous simplifications cast a big shadow on the mission and make it difficult to see the substance in one company’s self-absorbed quest to change the world


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