Kony: Some Thoughts from a Local Expert (and General Crankiness from Us)
If you're a sentient creature, chances are you've seen, or heard tell of, Invisible Children's Kony 2012 campaign, and chances are you have an opinion about it. There's also a good chance that, regardless of which camp you're in, you're an insufferable, sanctimonious dillweed. (Sorry; we've just had more than our allotted share of Kony punditry for the week and are a little irritated.)
Kony on the mind.
For those of you who have mercifully escaped Invisible Children's tentacles, they're a not-for-profit group who produced a 30-minute video viewed by 38 million people and counting about a horrible Central African militia leader named Joseph Kony, who for years has terrorized the region. His thugs kidnap kids, turn them into soldiers and sex slaves, and generally butcher everyone else they encounter. But, to our knowledge, their crimes against humanity have stopped short of producing a video so utterly douche-drenched as that of the Invisible Children one narrated by, and dominated by, IC's Jason Russell.
For one thing, Russell seems to spend as much time displaying his flaxen-haired progeny, Gavin, as he does Kony, to the point where we're now confused as to which one is the brutal Ugandan warlord, and which is the one who likes jumping on the trampoline. In the same way Kony uses defenseless children to perpetrate unspeakable atrocities, Russell uses Gavin to show just how awesome Russell is. At one point, Russell plunks the little moppet down for an interview; "So, Gav" (yeah, of course he would call him "Gav"), Russell begins, "What do I do for a job?" To which Gavin replies, "You stop the bad guys from being mean."
We're not exactly sure how Gavin arrived at this conclusion, and we question the veracity of his fact-finding, but Russell does nothing to correct the lad, so it appears that at least Russell thinks the answer is sound.
As vomitous as we found that naked display of self-aggrandizement, it's actually not the point in the film where Russell reaches the apex of Mount Douchemanjaro. No, that otherworldly feat comes when he's speaking to a class of what looks like college kids. Russell says they might ask themselves "Who are you to stop a war?" When Russell provides the punch line, "I'm here to say, 'Who are you not to?'" we've never before wanted to punch someone in the mouth so badly. (Kate Cronin-Furman and Amanda Taub probably summed it up best in their piece for The Atlantic: "Invisible Children has turned the myopic worldview of the adolescent -- 'if I didn't know about it, then it doesn't exist, but if I care about, then it is the most important thing in the world' -- into a foreign policy prescription.")
Now, we say all that to say this: We actually have no problem with the film's intent -- spreading awareness about a serious issue can't be a bad thing. We just wish Errol Morris, or simply someone who isn't a narcissistic wanker, had made it. And that's why it's important to be reminded that this film is, overall, a good thing, by people who know more about this situation than us. (Yes, even though we watched all 30 minutes, we still don't quite feel like we're experts. Weird.)
So that's why we enjoyed our talk with South Texas College of Law Professor Dru Stevenson, who, through his church, got involved in humanitarian efforts in Africa some years back. (Stevenson is involved with so many nonprofits that he once got an e-mail from someone purporting to be Kony, saying he and his troops were hiding out and in need of food. Stevenson didn't reply, which is a shame, because we'd love to have Kony's e-mail, if only so we could flood his inbox with Viagra offers and pleas from that one Nigerian prince.)
Stevenson has a problem with critics who say Invisible Children spends too much on travel and video as opposed to direct aid, as well as those who say that IC is late to the game because Kony has been out of Uganda for years, and he's not as powerful as he once was.
"There's really a need to get this on the radar of the American public during an election year," Stevenson says. He points out that there are already plenty of charities that provide direct relief to Africans in need -- and Invisible Children is helping on a different front. "A whole generation of young people...all of a sudden are aware that there's one of the worst brutes in history -- you know, a Hitler-type figure -- is still on the loose in central Africa," he says. "....The problem hasn't gone away."
"Another...cheap shot that people have been making is that Kony and his group are not in Uganda right now," Stevenson says. "....But they've basically been making their way through south Sudan, the Central African Republic and the DRC, marauding as they go. So...two or three years ago, there were reports that all of a sudden in the Central African Republic, people were finding villages where everyone in the village [had] their hands amputated, and they knew, 'Uh-oh, Joseph Kony is in the area.'" (Others had their tongues cut out, Stevenson adds.)
"When policy-makers in an election year realize that voters care about this, there's definitely things they can do. They can authorize rewards and bounties...send in special forces units, like we did to get bin Laden, and so on, to do this. If we can get bin Laden, we can get Joseph Kony. And Joseph Kony is hurting a lot more people right now than bin Laden was when we got him."
See, these are the kinds of things Hair Balls needs to keep in mind when we think about Jason Russell's film, with his noxious narration and exploitation of his offspring. For all its faults, at least the world is now aware of a horrible monster. And it's also aware of Joseph Kony.
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