Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Perspective on #StopKony Campaign


I’m one of the few people who didn’t find out about the Kony video through social media. My girlfriend nearly attacked me as I walked in the house one night last week.  “You have to watch this video on Youtube right now!”

I could tell from the tone of her voice that this was something important, and not “David After the Dentist,” the sequel.

So I succumbed and watched the video.   Here’s the conversation that ensued between me, my girlfriend, and my internal monologue:

Me: 30 minutes? Are you kidding me? I don’t have time for this.
Girlfriend: Argh. Just watch it. You’ll like it.
Monologue: If I do this now, I may not have to do dishes later.
Visuals: Outerspace shots of earth with melodramatic music and bold type font stating, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
Monologue: You mean like Mark Zuckerberg’s idea to rate girls from his college dorm room?
Narrator: We share what we love and it reminds us what we all have in common.
Me:  Am I insane or are these are the exact same visuals used in those soppy Google commercials?
Narrator: The next 27 minutes are an experiment but in order for it to work you have to pay attention.
Monologue: (Bemused, I proceed to close my other 10 windows, turn off the TV, IPAD, Iphone, and stop fantasizing about the IPAD3) Wow. Incredible. They just have to ask for my attention, and they get it.  Am I that easy?
Video: Shots of a child being born.
Me: Oh, this is that Ricki Lake documentary you’ve been begging me to see.
Girlfriend: No, that’s our Friday night plan.
Monologue: Darn
Video: Shots of what we presume are dead Africans with Schindler’s List style music in the background
Monologue: How did we go from Ricki Lake to dead Africans?  Wait, I just saw one move. They’re not dead.  Why am I starting to get emotional over sleeping Africans? It’s the music, silly. It gets you every time.

What proceeds is a propaganda film so great that Leni Reifenstahl just saluted Russel from her grave. It tells not a story about Africa, or Uganda, or even Joseph Kony, but of filmmaker Jason Russel and his highly marketable and downright adorable kid.  I won’t bore you with the details because chances are if you’re reading this online, you’ve seen the video.  Kony 2012 has precious little to do with what’s happening in Uganda today.  That would be way too boring.

Russel constructs a narrative so simple that his toddler could even understand.  Good American (White) Man tries to save Poor African (Black) Kids from Evil African (Black) Man because Good American Man had the realization that his Privileged American (White) Kid could have also been a victim of the Evil African Man if he was born in Africa.  So Good American Man makes a video which he puts on the Internet and hopes Good Internet People of the World will share it.

The real success, however, came by taking a page right out of Steve Jobs marketing playbook.  If you want to reach millions of slacktivists, tweeps, and meme spreaders (yes, baby boomers, these are real words now), you better make something that is not only user friendly, but looks really cool.  It doesn’t matter if the idea’s time has come, the idea won’t be so powerful if it’s not in the right packaging. The fonts, cutting edge CGI’s, and the hot, new Kony logo all contribute to the success.  The video ends with a best practice well known to internet marketers, a call to action.  Once you’ve engaged someone, you must get them to buy something, click on something, or do something.  Otherwise you’ve lost an opportunity.

Share this and you too can save Poor Black Kids.  Along with countless others, I responded to the call:  I bought the product that should be named “Guilt Alleviator (Intended for White People but Suitable for All).”  And why not? I don’t have to donate a penny or pull a trigger.  With just a click of my mouse, I can do something important today.  I can instantly and virtually help stop an evil man.  Isn’t social media grand?

It would be interesting to know who really wants to stop Kony and who is doing it just to trend on Twitter, so I have devised a test. I will launch a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a vigilante group that will go after Kony and bring him to justice and/or kill him.  We can call the group the Kony Cyber Commandoes (KCC). Sounds intimidating, right?

Now here’ the kicker.

The prize for donating 100 USD to the campaign, Official #Kony2012 handcuffs.

Ok, here’s the real kicker.  The prize for donating more than 1,000 USD to Kony Cyber Commandoes:  If we catch Kony and he gets the death penalty, you will be eligible to participate in the first ever crowdfunded execution!

Just imagine Brian Williams on the nightly news: “Tonight at midnight 100million people around the world simultaneously clicked “Dislike” and injected .00001 milliliters of poison per click into Joseph Kony’s veins, ending his life.”

To be honest, I’m not sure I’d participate in that campaign.  Death penalty qualms aside, as critics and Ugandans have stated, what Uganda desperately needs right now is post war economic recovery, not vigilante squads tracking down a washed up warlord who’s not even in the country. Sorry KCC members. You can extinguish your Twitter torches now.

While I doubt this video will affect foreign policy in Africa in the short term, and I really do wonder what will happen with this Kony campaign when Kim Kardashian gets married again, the truth is that after watching the video, I became a fan of Invisible Children.  Not just on facebook, a real fan.  Yes, I willfully drank the Kool Aid. While I disagree with the timing, tactics, and action plan, I believe in the message. African kids matter, and we should all be more conscious of atrocities abroad, whether they happened in Uganda five years ago or are happening in Syria right now.  #StopAssad2012, perhaps?  Anyone know a good logo designer?

Russel must feel giddy that he got millions of people to  watch a video on Central Africa that isn’t the Lion King.  What’s even more remarkable is that he successfully tapped into the heart of internet culture, and found that it was not so dark after all.  So what if he used his cute blond toddler to do so?  I guess this is the magic that Russel alludes to when describing his company as the “Pixar of Human Rights videos.” If that’s what it takes to get millions of people to pay attention to human rights violations, then the end justifies the means.

My greatest hope for the Kony video is that it will lead to a larger media appetite from the darkest corners of the world, before the killing has been done.  We have the technology now to transmit reliable, local knowledge and share it with the world instantly.  We clearly have a network of social media activists who can serve as a mouthpiece for getting out the information.  We need Kony-like campaigns to occur in real time, supplemented with more truthful video journalism and viable, locally sanctioned action plans for people worldwide.  Yes, I was serious about #StopAssad2012.  There are invisible children being killed there right now.


Good White Man

Evil African Man

Poor African Kids

                               Privileged American Kid