You know what’s great? Celebrities using their enormous influence to make a difference in the world.
You know what’s not so great? Celebrities jumping on the Kony 2012 bandwagon faster than 100 middle school students can share the video on your Facebook wall.
Throughout the past few days, we’ve all been inundated with Kony 2012 information. First came the now infamous video that made you want to simultaneously cry and adopt every, single Ugandan orphan. Then came the backlash that made you reconsider your decision to donate to the organization.
Including several of the complaints detailed in the comprehensive Gawker rundown on Kony 2012 such as,
Invisible Children is more like a hip social media filmmaking company than a charity — last year just under a third of the money it spent was on “direct services.” The video ismisleading and simple — it glosses over the fact that Kony left Uganda years ago, and that his army has been reduced to a few hundred people. There’s a whiff of the “change your profile picture to a cartoon character to protest child abuse” about the whole campaign (“share this video and you’ve done all you need to do to help Africa”) especially because Uganda faces more pressing issues and problems than Kony. Plus, there’s that nagging sense of weird racial and colonial politics: the fact that Invisible Children’s film centers around a white kid, the way its main objective is to guarantee U.S. involvement (no matter the cost), the picture that’s been circulating (see it above) of the founders posing with the not-exactly-the-good-guys of theSudanese People’s Liberation Army while holding heavy-duty weaponry and putting on their best gangster grills. All of which adds up to the unfortunate message of “well-meaning westerners will save Africa,” when history has generally proven the opposite to be true.
Then came the backlash to the backlash where Jason Russell, the founder of Invisible Children and narrator of the short film, attempted to refudiate all the accusations against him and his non-profit organization. According to a New York Times article,
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, he contends.
“No one wants a boring documentary on Africa,” he said. “Maybe we have to make it pop, and we have to make it cool.”
Somewhere in between the video going viral and the backlash, came the celebrity endorsements specifially requested from the video.
Viewers of the video are urged around the 23-minute mark to contact 20 “culturemakers” and 12 “policymakers” to keep up pressure and raise awareness so that U.S. advisers remain in the region. So who are the celebrities targeted in Kony 2012? The stars and athletes (OK, just one athlete) are Ben Affleck, Justin Bieber, Bono, Stephen Colbert, George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres, Jay-Z, Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga, Rush Limbaugh, Rihanna, Bill O’Reilly, Ryan Seacrest, Taylor Swift, Tim Tebow, Rick Warren and Oprah Winfrey. And then there are the billionaires: Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
Rihanna, Diddy, Justin Bieber. Everyone was retweeting and sharing and claiming their support to Invisible Children. But did they speak too soon? Did they endorse a cause that didn’t actually need that kind of endorsing?
Several actual Ugandans believe the answer is yes, including the Ugandan blogger below who believes the entire issues been way over simplified by the film:
If that didn’t convince you that this cause isn’t exactly what it’s reported to be, just look at what Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama had to say about celebrities, like Diddy, getting involved.
Many African critics are unsurprisingly crying ‘neo-colonialism!’ This is because these campaigns are disempowering of their own voices. After all, the conflict and suffering affects them directly regardless of whether or not if they hit the re-tweet button. The Kony2012 campaign will primarily succeed in making Invisible Children, not Joseph Kony, more famous. It will also make many, including P.Diddy, feel like they have contributed some good to his capture. For many in the conflict prevention community, including those who worry about the further militarization of Central Africa, this campaign is just another bad solution to a more difficult problem.
So maybe, just maybe celebrities should be a little more careful with their influence. They wield an incredible amount of power among their fans and they need to think before they retweet. They need to think before they jump onto the popular bandwagon of the moment and they need to actually research the cause they’re promoting.
They owe it to their followers and they owe it to their fans to know what they’re talking about and what they’re promoting. If they exerted the same energy that they have on Kony 2012 on other issues, they could actually make a difference — and isn’t that what they’re trying to do.