[Marxism] More on Invisible Children viral video
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 9 07:42:31 MST 2012
NY Times March 8, 2012
Online, a Distant Conflict Soars to Topic No. 1
By JOSH KRON and J. DAVID GOODMAN
KAMPALA, Uganda — Jason Russell said he never knew he was driving
into a war zone. At 24, he had just graduated from the University
of Southern California after studying film, he said, and was out
looking for a story to tell.
Suddenly, he said, gunmen shot at the truck in front of him, and
that is how he discovered the horrors wrought by Joseph Kony and
his Lord’s Resistance Army. Mr. Russell would dedicate the next
nine years of his life, often in obscurity, to making them a
This week, in a testament to the explosive power of social media,
he managed to do so in a matter of days, baffling diplomats,
academics and Ugandans who have worked assiduously on the issue
for decades without anything close to the blitz of attention that
Mr. Russell and his tight-knit group of activists have generated.
Since being posted on Monday, their video, “KONY 2012,” has
attracted more than 50 million views on YouTube and Vimeo,
generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations on the
first day alone and rocketing across Twitter and Facebook at a
pace rarely seen for any video, let alone a half-hour film about a
distant conflict in central Africa.
Though Mr. Russell is at a loss to fully explain it, he has
clearly tapped into a vein of youthful idealism that the
authorities the world over have been struggling — and failing — to
comprehend and keep up with. YouTube said the popularity was
driven by viewers in the United States and those younger than 25.
Many parents, including at least one in the State Department,
discovered the video only after their children showed it to them.
“Mark had it brought to his attention by his 13-year-old, I think,
earlier this morning,” Victoria Nuland, a State Department
spokeswoman, said at a news briefing on Thursday, referring to her
colleague, Mark C. Toner.
The surge of awareness is even more remarkable considering that
President Obama, under pressure from Congress, announced in
October that he had authorized the deployment of about 100
American military advisers to help African nations working toward
“the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield,” a major step in
American foreign policy in Africa.
Yet many viewers had never heard of Mr. Kony or his murderous band
of fighters until seeing the video by Mr. Russell’s group,
Invisible Children, pop up in their Facebook feeds. On Tuesday,
views on YouTube, already climbing steadily, exploded at a
vertiginous rate after celebrities began posting messages,
including Oprah Winfrey, with her nearly 10 million Twitter
followers. Soon, other celebrities, like Rihanna and Ryan
Seacrest, who were similarly bombarded with messages from the
campaign’s supporters, began posting about it, too.
Posting to Twitter on Wednesday, Mr. Seacrest wrote, “Was going to
sleep last night and saw ur tweets about #StopKony ... watched in
bed, was blown away.”
Gripping and evocative though it is, the video has alarmed many
veteran observers of the devastation Mr. Kony and his fighters
have left in their wake over the years. Many specifically take
issue with the video and the organization for how they present the
fight against the rebels, as well as how the organization spends
its money behind the scenes.
Not until halfway through the film does Mr. Russell mention that
“the war” he describes is no longer happening in Uganda, where he
sets the documentary. The Lord’s Resistance Army left the country
years ago, migrating to more fragile nations like the Democratic
Republic of Congo.
Another complaint among critics is that the film fails to mention
the human rights abuses by the Ugandan military, and that Mr.
Russell’s narration could imply that there are as many as 30,000
child soldiers in Mr. Kony’s army today. After years on the run,
the group is believed to be down to hundreds of fighters, though
they still prey mercilessly on civilians.
Mr. Russell, a co-founder of Invisible Children, acknowledges that
he has not made the most nuanced or academic of films. The video
charts his personal odyssey to tell the world about Mr. Kony’s
reign of terror and bring it to an end. He may have boiled down
the issues, but that is what it takes to captivate so many people,
“No one wants a boring documentary on Africa,” he said. “Maybe we
have to make it pop, and we have to make it cool.”
“We view ourself as the Pixar of human rights stories,” he added.
Others take issue with the amount of money Invisible Children —
which brings in and spends millions of dollars a year — dedicates
to officer salaries, filmmaking costs and travel, as opposed to
on-the-ground programs to help rebuild the lives of people
traumatized by decades of conflict.
“Along with sharing the movie online, Invisible Children’s call to
action is to do three things: 1) sign its pledge, 2) get the Kony
2012 bracelet and action kit (only $30!), and 3) sign up to
donate,” a deconstruction of the film on the Web site of Foreign
Some have called the video a pitch-perfect appeal to so-called
slacktivism, a pejorative term for armchair activism by a younger
generation, often online. But rather than eschew such digital
action, the video takes it as one of its primary goals. Making Mr.
Kony infamous, after all, is just a click away.
The criticism notwithstanding, there was an excited commotion at
the charity’s office in downtown San Diego, where dozens of
volunteers and staff members were handling a flood of incoming
phone calls. With hundreds of boxes of promotional material piled
all around, the office had the hubbub of a campaign in the final
days before the election. Staff members said that additional
volunteers were flying in from out of state to join the cause and
that donation pledges were coming in at an unprecedented rate.
“It was unstoppable,” Noelle Jouglet, 29, a spokeswoman for the
group, said of the video’s rapid spread. “It went internationally
very quick. This is a game-changing event for our company.”
She said she had barely slept in recent days as she dealt with the
interest in the group’s cause and the criticism of the group’s
methods, from time zones around the world. Some calls, she said,
were from people who had previously pledged donations but now,
after reading the online criticism of Invisible Children, wanted
their money back.
Activism in conflict zones has long brought both benefits and
unforeseen consequences. It clearly helped make the crisis in
Sudan’s Darfur region an international issue. But many analysts
also argue that the one-sided way activists painted the conflict —
highlighting the Sudanese government’s crimes against villagers
while largely ignoring the atrocities committed by rebels —
ultimately made it harder to negotiate an end to the crisis.
In this case, some experts said Invisible Children’s campaign,
while oversimplified, could help add to the international resolve
to stop the killing.
“It’s ultimately a good thing,” said Pernille Ironside, a senior
adviser for child protection at Unicef who is an expert on the
Lord’s Resistance Army. “It’s not just one organization in the
United States who has discovered this issue,” she said. Still,
Invisible Children “is essentially distilling a very complicated
26-year war into something that’s consumable and understandable by
Mr. Russell said he was far from finished with his campaign, which
he said was an example of just how much young political novices
could accomplish. “We are ready to make this bigger,” he said. “We
are waiting for Jay-Z” to trumpet the cause.
And as a filmmaker, he said he had already received plaudits from
producers in Hollywood. “They are getting in touch with the
Academy Awards. They want this to be up for an Oscar.”
Josh Kron reported from Kampala, and J. David Goodman from New
York. Rob Davis contributed reporting from San Diego.
Invisible Children "Kony 2012" Leader Suggests It's About Jesus
By Bruce Wilson, Talk To Action
Posted on March 8, 2012, Printed on March 9, 2012
"A lot of people fear Christians, they fear Liberty
University, they fear Invisible Children - because they feel like
we have an agenda. They see us and they go, "You want me to sign
up for something, you want my money. You want, you want me to
believe in your God." And it freaks them out."
--- Jason Russell, speaking at Liberty University, November
Is Invisible Children a nonprofit devoted to human needs, or is it
a ministry devoted to bringing souls to Jesus ? Judging by a talk
co-founder Jason Russell gave last November at Liberty University,
it would seem to be a bit of both.
A few days ago, Russell's Invisible Children nonprofit began to
blitz the Internet with posts on social media promoting the
nonprofit's new KONY 2012 video, which by now has received over 36
million hits. The media campaign has already provoked a backlash
of well informed criticism, from academics and other with
expertise concerning Joseph Kony and the LRA, and the conflict in
Northern Uganda and the surrounding region (see links and
material, below transcript).
Foreign Affairs charges Invisible Children with misrepresenting
the facts, and Foreign Affairs guest contributor Michael Wilkerson
notes the deceptive nature of the KONY 2012 video, narrated by
Jason Russell, which mentions only in passing that Joseph Kony is
no longer in Northern Uganda (his LRA hasn't operated there for
Another common objection of critics has been that Invisible
Children's approach is simplistic and neglects the fact that the
Ugandan government (whose armed forces now hunting for Joseph Kony
are accused of rape and looting) has itself been accused of crimes
against humanity that at least rival but may exceed those of
Joseph Kony and his LRA (see appended story resource links).
Some, such as Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and
Despair author Michael Deibert, warn that Invisible Children's
effort, which endorses increased US military involvement in the
region, may actually make things worse.
The evangelical magazine Christianity Today has covered the
growing controversy over the Invisible Children publicity
campaign, and Invisible Children has issued a response to the
So far few have noticed the decidedly evangelical ties of
Invisible Children. But that's not surprising: Judging from the
organization's website and promotional material, Invisible
Children would seem to be non-religious, purely devoted to the
health and well-being of children in Northern Uganda and the
surrounding region, to "ending genocide", and to capturing Joseph
On its face, the effort appears secular, and evangelizing is not
mentioned as an objective.
But in a November 7, 2011 appearance at Liberty University, as
part of Liberty's Fall Convocation speaker series, Invisible
Children co-founder Jason Russell hinted that Invisible Children
was also an evangelizing effort, and during his talk Russell
coached Liberty University students on what could be characterized
as extremely low-key, or stealth, evangelism.
Joining Russell onstage during his November 7 Liberty University
appearance was Alex Harris, credited with playing a key role in
driving Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential bid. At 20:20 into the
39 minute discussion, Harris received a question from the Liberty
University student audience - "What is the greatest challenge to
the millennial generation, in impacting the world for Christ ?"
Jason Russell fielded the following question from the audience
which was, as characterized by Johnnie Moore, Liberty University
Vice President of Teaching Projects,"How do you motivate
hypocritical, apathetic Christians to, kind of, `get in the fight'? "
What was "the fight"? The message was ambiguous. Earlier in the
discussion, Jason Russell had stated his goal of "ending genocide"
and capturing Joseph Kony, but that goal seemed framed within the
larger project of evangelizing the nations. During the discussion,
as a backdrop, hung a blue curtain that proclaimed, "Liberty
University: 40 Years of Training Champions For Christ".
The lineup of notables on Liberty's Fall Convocation speaker
roster also included Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Christian
history revisionist David Barton, and pastor Jim Garlow, who
spearheaded the project of organizing evangelical pastors in
California, in the 2008 campaign to pass the anti-same sex
marriage Proposition Eight (both Barton and Garlow also have ties
to the Gingrich presidential campaign effort).
[video, below: Jason Russell, with Alex Harris, at Liberty
University, November 7, 2011]
"Liberty University Convocation Discussion, November 7, 2011
Jason Russell, co-founder of "Invisible Children"
Question: How do you motivate hypocritical, apathetic
Christians to, kind of, `get in the fight'?
Russell: People are scared. Of Liberty University.
[Addresses graduating students] You guys know this. They're scared
because they see the power and potential in this room, the
conviction you have, the connectivity you have. And they look at
this arena and they go, "that's scary - if they realized what they
could do, it would revolutionize the world." That's why you're here.
And so I think that it is that insecurity or that realizing,
"I don't have what it takes" - but you DO. We DO. And, the trick
is to not go out into the world and say, "I'm going to baptize
you, I'm going to convict you, I have an agenda to win you over."
You agenda is to look into the eyes, as Jesus did, and say,
"who are you? And will you be my friend?" - Like he did to the
prostitutes, the tax collectors, the fisherman. The biggest
mistake that we make is to saying, we make a line and we say,
"black, white, are you in or are you out?"
I just, I have a hard time digesting that mentality. And I
think that's why a lot of people fear Christians, they fear
Liberty University, they fear Invisible Children because they feel
like we have an agenda. They see us and they go, "You want me to
sign up for something, you want my money. You want, you want me to
believe in your God.
And it freaks them out.
So figure out a way, you know - I have totally been there. I
have been there so many times. I'm like, "I wonder if they know?"
I wonder if they're in the group." And it's like, "No! That is
judgment itself." "
( the best summary I've yet seen of conflict in Northern Uganda,
1986 - 2007 )
Critiques of Invisible Children
( "How Invisible Children Falsely Marketed The LRA Disarmament and
Northern Uganda Recovery Act" )
( Invisible Children confirms pro-interventionist stance )
Alleged crimes and human rights abuses by Uganda and the Ugandan
People's Defense Forces
( UPDF, hunting for Kony in DRC, accused of rape, looting )
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upITVcXw_Gk ( Yoweri Museveni,
president of Uganda, shot his way into power using child soldiers )
http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/116/10521.pdf ( Uganda was
indicted, in 2005, by the International Criminal Court for War
Crimes in DRC Congo )
Reports, from UN, on Uganda & Rwanda war crimes in DRC Congo
Wikipedia cover of DRC conflict
Accusations of an Acholi Genocide
[ Yoweri Museveni has been accused of engineering a planned, slow
genocide against the Acholi people of Northern Uganda (note:
Blackstar News links to web-cached versions of stories - site
under heavy traffic load)]
http://www.musevenimemo.org/ ( David Todd Whitmore, of University
of Notre Dame, studies traditional Acholi culture, says 1980s
memo, allegedly from Yoweri Museveni, indicates plan to depopulate
Acholi areas of Northern Uganda, to open up access for fertile
ABC report suggests Ugandan government coverup )
- ( " Genocide in Uganda: The African Nightmare Christopher
Hitchens Missed " )
( Uganda Independent covers accusations of an Acholi genocide )
( "Structure and Agency in Acholi Genocide" )
( "Genocide in Comparative Perspective; the Jewish and Acholi
( "The Acholi Final Solution", 2007, by Milton Allimadi, editor of
NYC-based Blackstar News )
"Ending Uganda's "Brilliant" Genocide", Allimadi )
http://www.ugandagenocide.info/ ( general source for writings on
Acholi conflict & Ugandan gov. )
( report from Dr. Adam Branch, whose research is based in Northern
( Canadian parliament member, on Acholi camps )
http://www.blackcommentator.com/93/93_otika_uganda.html ( Ugandan
student, studying in US, weighs in )
Researcher Bruce Wilson is the co-founder, with journalist
Frederick Clarkson, of the website Talk2Action, which covers the
intersection of religion and politics.
© 2012 Talk To Action All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/154477/
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