The Kony Method Sucks!
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E xactly a year ago, Jason Russell was a nobody. Not a nobody, precisely, but just ordinary. He was a healthy father of two, living in San Diego, and was happy and fulfilled in his work as a director for Invisible Children , a non-profit organisation he'd helped found.
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And then, on 5 March, he released Kony , a minute film that explained why the world needed to catch and bring to justice Joseph Kony, a central African warlord, who, over the previous 26 years, had abducted 30, children and turned them into soldiers and sex slaves.
Russell directed and starred in the film, and within hours it was on its way to becoming what was then the most viral video of all time. It took a day to hit a million views; six days to reach million. Every news outlet on the planet, it seemed, wanted an interview with him. Every news website in the world carried a story on him. Every blogger had an opinion on him.
An Evaluation Of Invisible Children's KONY2012 Campaign
More than a million people left a comment about it on Youtube. On Facebook, 11 million people clicked on "share". Ten days later, he ripped his clothes off his back, ran out naked into the street near his San Diego home , slammed his hands repeatedly on to the pavement, battered himself against parked cars, and screamed obscenities until he was eventually led away by police.
This, too, became a viral video. His doctors never agreed on a definitive diagnosis but he was sectioned in a psychiatric hospital suffering from what may have been a schizophrenic manic episode brought on by post-traumatic stress. It was nearly two months before he went home to his family. He is still on "mood-stabilising" medication. Kony was both ubiquitous and, for all sorts of reasons, extraordinary: It was about an obscure region far away and the importance of pursuing international justice.
And this was probably one of the more moderate views. Last autumn, he went on Oprah Winfrey's show and NBC's Today show and spoke about what happened to him, but not in this detail, at this length. And in my head, I wanted to reconcile them and I just couldn't. For a week, he did interview after interview and it was only when he was in the office of a crisis management agency in New York, days in, he says, that he first realised the true force of the backlash. We've got to work out what to do about the negative press. Reading this on mobile? Click here to view video. Russell's parents founded a national organisation called Christian Youth Theatre, and he spent his childhood as "the tin man, Mr Toad, Peter Pan".
He loved musical theatre and his best friend was a girl, Danica, whom he met aged seven and went on to marry. And for all these reasons, he found himself bullied at school. You can be taken back there in an instant. In , at the age of 24, after graduating in film school at USC in Los Angeles, he travelled with two friends to Uganda to find a subject to make a film about. In the town of Gulu they discovered thousands of children who spent every night sleeping en masse in the streets because of their fear of being abducted and drafted into Kony's Lord's Resistance Army LRA.
Their response was to form a charity called Invisible Children, for whom he has worked ever since, with the aim of trying to bring Kony to justice. Nothing in Jason Russell's life had prepared him for the sharp end of the internet. They thought it might be bipolar but my wife and my mom were like, 'That's just not you.
He'd never experienced any form of mental illness. Or at least, he hadn't until the world wide web turned its hell dogs upon him. Could anyone have withstood the pressure that Russell was under? When I ask him if he's processed what happened to him, and what effect it's had on his life, he says: I still … there are days when I think, 'That was a total failure.
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That I let everybody down. And there are others when I think we did what we wanted to do. We set out to make Joseph Kony known. And now he is. So I can't… But the problem is that my breakdown put such a blanket of fear and distrust and shame over everything. That's something I deal with every day.
Or as Vice magazine reported it: If Russell had had a heart attack, a coronary brought on by extreme stress, it might well be a different story. Heart-attack victims receive sympathy. People who rip their clothes off in the street don't, though attacking your own body is every bit as much of a symptom as chest pain. It's a measure of the stigma and acute misunderstanding that still afflicts sufferers of mental illness that his breakdown was, for many, some sort of vindication. They thought he was a douchebag. And this seemed to prove it.
It's so obvious that I'm not OK. And I'm so naked. And it's just very, very public.
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The joke we always had, even before this happened, is that the internet is forever. If you put your crotch on there, it's for ever. And now this is out there for ever and my kids are going to have to deal with it at high school. People are like, 'Didn't that film-maker take all the money and then go crazy naked in the street? Russell didn't embezzle any money. Invisible Children has five years' worth of audited accounts and received four out of four stars for its financial health from Charity Navigator , a non-profit watchdog. It notes that some people "mistakenly" concluded from its data that it "did not complete an annual audit.
That is not true. When I visited Invisible Children's San Diego office last week, there were 60 staff members and 35 fresh-faced interns answering phones and plugged into computers in a cool, calm space. A year ago, says Chris Carver, the chief operations officer, it was another story. She estimated there were never less than 4, emails in her inbox.
In any one second, our website had 37, unique users. And we were taking hundreds of thousands of dollars of orders in our shop for the Kony kits. These were the "action kits" that viewers of the video were urged to buy to raise awareness of Kony. We had two people in our fulfilment department, and they could ramp up to maybe orders a day.
And we literally had hundreds of thousands of them. The kit included a red T-shirt with the words Kony on it, but incredibly, "we maxed out," says Carver. What do you mean, I ask. He had suffered a psychotic breakdown. A year after the incident, in an interview with The Guardian , Mr Russell blamed the immense pressure he felt after transforming from a total unknown to a global celebrity in days.
Mr Russell was quoted saying: Mr Russell is still involved with Invisible Children. In recent months, the organisation has flier-bombed areas occupied by the LRA providing recruits with instructions on how to peacefully surrender. Log in No account? Sign up Log out news. Increased efforts to arrest Kony 1: And then you moved on. As a nonprofit, Invisible Children has been engaged in efforts on the ground in northern Uganda and in bordering nations to build radio networks, monitoring movements of the LRA combattants, and providing services to displaced children and families. In , President Obama committed military advisors to the Ugandan military, focused on capturing Kony — Invisible Children was likely influential in persuading the President to make this pledge.
The Kony campaign, launched with the widely viewed video, focuses on the idea that the key to bringing Joseph Kony to justice is to raise awareness of his crimes. If they did, he would have been stopped years ago. More concretely, Russell wants to ensure that the military advisors the Obama government has provided remain working with the Ugandan military to help capture and arrest Kony. That site has attracted over a million views, tens of thousands of notes, and evidently buried Oyston in a wave of email responses.
The majority of their funding is focused on advocacy, filmmaking and fundraising. It also questions whether the strategy Invisible Children proposes — supporting the Ugandan military to seek Kony — is viable and points out that the Ugandan military has a poor human rights record in northern Uganda. Invisible Children reacts to some of these criticism in this blog post.
Unpacking Kony 2012
As a set of Kony-related hashtags trended on Twitter yesterday, some prominent African and Afrophile commentators pointed out that the Invisible Children campaign gives little or no agency to the Ugandans the organization wants to help. There are no Africans on the Invisible Children board of directors and few in the senior staff.
And the Invisible Children approach focuses on American awareness and American intervention, not on local solutions to the conflicts in northern Uganda. Other criticisms have focused on more basic issues: Kony is no longer in Uganda , and it is no longer clear that the LRA represents a major threat to stability in the region. Rather than occupying villages, as the LRA did when they were stronger, they now primarily conduct person raids on villages to steal food.
Kony and his followers have fled northern Uganda and sought shelter in parts of the world where this is little or no state control over territory: The governments that nominally control these territories have little or no ability to protect their borders, and have proven themselves helpless when international agencies like the ICC have demanded their help in arresting Kony. The areas in which he and his forces operate are dense jungle with little infrastructure.
Russell argues that the only entity that can find and arrest Kony is the Ugandan army. Given that the Ugandan army has been trying, off and on, since to find Kony, that seems like a troublesome strategy. Journalist Michael Wilkerson, who has reported on the LRA for many years, notes that the Ugandan army is poorly equipped, underfed, incompetent and deeply corrupt.
Complicating matters, Kony continues to rely on child soliders. That means that a military assault — targeted to a satellite phone signal or some other method used to locate Kony — would likely result in the death of abducted children.
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It is possible — perhaps likely — that this campaign will increase pressure on President Obama to maintain military advisors in Uganda. The campaign Invisible Children is running is so compelling because it offers an extremely simple narrative: Kony is a uniquely bad actor, a horrific human being, whose capture will end suffering for the people of Northern Uganda.
Russell implicitly acknowledges the simplicity of the narrative with his filmmaking. We are asked to join the campaign against Kony literally by being spoken to as a five year old.