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On Kony 2012 and the Aftermath

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

On Kony 2012 and the Aftermath

Andrew Ryan

I watched the Kony 2012 video the day it was released, and I immediately went to the website and bought the brown t-shirt in support. I was gutted by what I saw, impressed by how fucking well the film makers knew their target audience, and I believed I understood exactly what was going on. Here were some American guys who came across a Ugandan boy who was considering suicide so he didn’t have to deal with the daily threat of being kidnapped and forced to join an army, so they decided to dedicate their lives to helping him and every other person in his situation. After 9 years of working in and out of Uganda on things to help the situation, the time had come to spread this issue to a much wider audience, to appeal to everybody in the western world in terms they could understand to start giving an actual shit about the grim reality so many people face on the other side of the world. Generate the interest, encourage the research, enable the action, and maybe Joseph Kony will be found and arrested sooner than if this stuff hadn’t become viral.

And for a few hours, I felt full of hope. I felt as if this campaign to have Kony arrested by the end of this year was the next step in our exploration of what the internet is capable of, the logical progression of social media activism after the Occupy Movement. I was happy to be alive at that moment in time. It felt like this campaign was an important point in the history of the Internet.

But in the week following my viewing of the video, I’ve come to realise that it’s a different kind of important to the uplifting, positive important I originally perceived it to be. At this point, I feel that the huge amount of backlash, cynicism and circular arguments in response to both the video and positive reactions to the video is telling me that well, actually, the internet can’t possibly be used as a huge force for good in this world, everything is way too complicated to ever understand completely, and trusting anyone or anything is hard. Really, really hard.

Honestly, I have spent a large portion of this week in a depressed, confused and vaguely anxious state, as a direct result of having my mind ripped to shreds by trying to figure this bullshit out.

I’ve been trying to figure out how true the accusations against the Invisible Children organization in relation to the way they spend their money are, how relevant the figures are, and if anyone being cynical about this organization for that reason looked at the figures properly and actually understand what they’re talking about. Are they just copying what other people have said? Have they read Invisible Children’s response to this accusation?

I’ve also been trying to figure out how true the challenges of the validity of the work they do are, and whether or not this group is actually undermining the work of other groups who are based in Uganda. Are the people on the internet who are taking this view actually aware of which organisations are working towards the same goals, and if so do they know exactly how I.C. are fucking things up for them? Or are they assuming that American “hipsters” don’t know how to work with locals?

And what about the question of oil in Uganda? Is this some ploy by the American government to legitimize getting in there and securing the well? An interesting question, but I won’t be delving into conspiracy theories today.

There have also been calls made by many bloggers and commenters that this campaign is full of misguided “white guilt”. Whenever I read that, I imagine the speaker spitting the word in disgust, eyes narrowed, full of hate. That says more about how I feel about my own sense of guilt about the injustices in the world than the writers intention, but I’m going to go with it for now. It is seen as shameful right? As a self-indulgent way of feigning innocence when it comes to racism? “As a white person I feel so guilty about the advantages I have over non-white people.”

Part of the challenge I faced this week was being confronted by the fact that I do indeed allow myself to become absorbed in the guilt I feel about this exact thing. It has taken a long time to admit it to myself and now that I have, I think my sanity might improve.

As a child born and raised in Perth, Western Australia, a student of two suburban primary schools, I was taught from an early age that Australia was the lucky country. It was the best country in the world, Australian life was the best, cricket and fishing and VB and washing the car and playing with my red heeler and climbing trees, Australia is so good, there are other countries where people DIE FROM HUNGER, there are WARS in other places Tahlia, you’re so lucky to be living here, so special because you’re Australian.

During school we were never taught about Ancient Greece, or the Romans. I never learnt about Asia outside of Indonesia, I never learnt about South America, I never learnt about India… my whole world was my school and my home, any knowledge I gained about the world outside this one was through television and movies. I saw wars on the news all the time, people starving, people freezing. I watched children’s TV and I watched Monty Python’s flying circus too, but these taught me nothing about what actually happens on the rest of the planet. The news showed me brutality, and American films showed me versions of things that were happening- for example, Curly Sue showed me poverty and class differences, and Drop Dead Fred showed me psychological issues brought on by shitty parenting. All in all, I knew that life in the world outside of Australia was hard. The world was scary. It certainly didn’t help that my parents had never left the country, and had no plans to. I saw many bad things about the rest of the world, and knew of very, very few positive things. I knew I was “lucky”, I knew the rest of the world wasn’t “lucky”, and as a sensitive and emotional child is bound to, I felt like that wasn’t fair.

And then I discovered that Asian kids were made fun of for the shape of their eyes, and that Lebanese kids were made fun of for their accents, and that Aboriginal kids were made fun of for being “savages”, or for being poor… and I quickly realised that it’s not all Australians who are lucky, it’s only really the white Australians who are truly lucky- and that was even LESS fair. Of course I fucking felt guilty. So, not knowing how to express it, not knowing if it was it was the “right” way to feel, having no input from anyone or anything to let me know that feeling guilty about something I had no control over wasn’t going to help anyone, especially not myself… I just kept feeling it. And feeling it and feeling it and feeling it and feeling it and half analyzing it sometimes but being scared of what would happen if I confronted this negative emotion that has remained within me for so long and coloured so much of my understanding of the world… until now.

Acceptance: verified.

As soon as I worked through that aspect of my psychological background, I felt as if I could look at this whole Kony thing properly for the first time. I started to think about the way facts about Invisible Children are getting uncovered, distorted and hidden, and how facts about Kony are getting the same treatment, not to mention the facts about Uganda’s government, and the oil that was found in the country, and how eager America would be to get their hands on said oil, and I can’t trust anything, and the internet is all ablaze with a terrible mix of distorted facts and distorted opinions, and no one actually knows where their monetary donations are going to anymore or if it’s a good idea to show support for more American troops to enter Uganda…

So I decided that I have to cut politics out of my life completely for a while. Seriously!

I’ve been interested in the work of Neil Postman recently, and a friend of mine was describing to me one of Postman’s ideas about the role of “news” in society. When news was first distributed, it was extremely localized, and concerned only the people within each community. Back then, one could read the newspaper, be furious about something affecting you, gather up your neighbours straight away and actually go and take direct democratic action to change it. As technology and populations increased, the more information we could spread to more people, and newspapers got bigger and bigger as people started to care more about what was happening in places outside of their own community. By the time the 90’s came around (when Postman was writing these theories), news saturation was at such a level that it was impossible for every human being to physically go and do something about every issue they read in the newspaper because there were too many things, and we are often so far away from it. There is also the idea that news has become entertainment, which ties in with this, but that concept is really another article in itself.

The internet has obviously increased this previously described saturation even further, which is why “couch activists” exist, explains why there are so many of them. It’s not necessarily a bad thing- in fact, it’s perfectly understandable- but it’s not exactly helpful either. People can get caught up caring about exotic, far away causes, because it’s easier than helping out the causes closer to home.

And this is why I’m going to stop reading about world politics. No more political information from other countries. No more about wars, no more about the economic crisis. I’m just going to shut it all out for a while, and let my tired, confused brain sort itself out. I have done too much unrefined caring, have felt overwhelmed for way too long. Lamenting my inability to create positive change in the world was easier than actually working towards it, and the resulting frustrations would have a really, really shitty impact on my moods and productivity. So no more! I shall take a break. Let my mind be buffeted by the salty, refreshing winds of Art Studies for a while, escaping the harsh smog of Politics. Once my intellectual convalescence is over, I will rekindle my desire to make a mark on the world and leave it in a better way than that on which I was born, but only in ways that are absolutely adherent to my true nature and my skills and passions. And I must start locally before I can embark on international concerns.

I wonder how many other people have experienced this sort of information/internet come down. I’m really interested to find out. I want to read heaps of Neil Postman and Aldous Huxley, and I would love for Joseph Kony to be arrested. Please let me know your thoughts. I don’t want to debate about the Kony 2012 film, I don’t want to defend or criticize the film makers or the American Government, I just want to know how it has affected you and what you’ve done since, because that is what is important to me right now.

tahliaisabel@gmail.com