What is it about Joseph Kony that makes him impervious to public opinion in the Western World?

Last weekend’s “Cover the Night” campaign fizzled.  An attempt to show how social media could mobilize support for a cause only demonstrated the apathy that seems to be epidemic in our society.  Was it the fact that the leader of the Invisible Children was arrested for indecent exposure?  Or perhaps the questionable nature of the organization’s finances?

I don’t think it was either.  During the week that the story broke I often encountered people talking about the Kony 2012 campaign, while standing in line at movie theaters or sitting in a restaurant.   I have to say that I overheard at least half a dozen conversations.  In most of them there was always somebody arguing against the Kony campaign.  Listening to them I always got the same impression.   They wanted to feel superior to any kind of charlatanism on the part of the Invisible Children organization.   They wanted to show that they were too skeptical to be taken in by what they claimed was a bogus cause.  They were often smug in their righteousness in judging and dismissing a social media campaign.  Never, however, did I ever hear them come up with alternatives to address the actual issue.  They were too busy playing the role of dilettante and demonstrating their savvy about world affairs.

As a result, while 25 000 Tweeted their support in Vancouver, less than 25 are estimated to have actually shown up.  The same story played out in every city.  I was downtown in Toronto and saw virtually nothing in the way of posters.  In Newmarket, a few hand drawn posters were taped to telephone poles.  Personally I did not hear one reference to the Kony campaign in the media on the day before or the day after the night campaign.

At TIFF last Fall, I had a chance to see Machine Gun Preacher.  I didn’t remember it being about the Kony situation until I saw it again last night.  It’s a pretty decent movie in my opinion.  It may or may not reflect actual events.  Based on the interviews I’ve read it seems to be fairly accurate.  Popular opinion was reasonably good, but it was ruthlessly panned by Rotten Tomatoes, which is just a reflection of the most well known reviewers.  It certainly didn’t deserve a 23% rating.  It’s an entertaining movie with a lot of emotional depth and some interesting moral dilemmas.

What is it about Kony that we don’t want to face?  Why do attempts to bring the issue into the light meet such resistance and criticism?  Why has there been no movement to address the issue in more favorable terms if these other attempts are so unsatisfactory?   Could it be that , like the situation in Syria, we don’t want to admit our helplessness?  Could it be, as the movie suggests, that the fact that we know that children are being treated in this horrific way, and that we don’t do anything, is indicative of some kind of social pathology, like the person who knows that the child next door is being abused and doesn’t do anything about it.  In our guilt we look for ways to trivialize the situation, …to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

And when someone puts it in our face we come up with fancy reasoning to dismiss it.

  1. Tim WW says:

    I think the problem was that the story became the Invisible Children campaign, rather than Kony. The whole thing was a victim of its own success, instant flash in the pan followed by predictable pessimism then the rather unfortunate events that followed. Attention spans online are measured in minutes and hours, not days and weeks. It perfectly illustrated both the power and shallowness of this type of campaign, and really calls into question how suitable they are at addressing serious issues. Canned lightning is hard to control.

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