Sunday, March 18, 2012

Naked for Kony

The interest in, and controversy over, the Kony 2012 campaign by Invisible Children has kept social media busy over the past couple of weeks. Intended to increase international pressure to arrest the Ugandan warlord for crimes against humanity by creating a faux camaign"for" Kony, it racked up tens of millions of views in a short time.

It also drew attention to criticisms of the charity, such as claims it distorts the facts, misuses funds, and is homophobic. Plus, Ugandans themselves hated it. And then there was the bizarre arrest of the movement's intoxicated, masturbating, founder.

I've been avoiding blogging about Kony 2012 because I had nothing to add. But then my Facebook friend Kate h. posted this ridiculous pro-Kony video by Bree Olson:

Ms. Olson is an adult performer best known for her association with Charlie Sheen during his "Goddesses" phase.

In case you were unable to sit through more than a few seconds of the video, it features Ms. Olson writhing in various states of undress, interspersed with pictures of sad African child soldiers and title cards (with voiceover) that make the claim the her porno posturing to get attention for the cause is the same thing that Invisible Children did.

That's the old Machiavellian social marketing idea that anything that gets attention is a good thing. But I don't even buy this on that level. It's really a self-serving attempt by a quasi-celebrity to get some borrowed intertest from a phenomenally successful viral campaign.

So she's right: It's nice packaging (borrowed interest) on something (Bree Olson) that wouldn't be an inherently fascinating topic to many people otherwise.


  1. I call BS on the "anything that draws attention to it helps" defense. Here's the problem:

    Very minor pro: it reminds people, for a few hours, that paramilitaries remain a serious problem in East Africa.

    Very serious con: it reinforces our (mostly unconscious, and therefore dangerous) prejudice that people in developing countries are like helpless children, and that we in rich countries have to take over the role of their parents, protecting them and making decisions for them.

    And thus, colonialism lives, under the guise of charity and noble causes -- whether it involves invading Afghanistan to save the poor, helpless Afghanis from the Taliban, or boycotting smartphones, to protect the poor, helpless Chinese factory workers from Apple.

    Positive change will come not from this kind of white-saviour arrogance, but from our learning humility, patience, and cooperation. Here's a good start:

    1. Don't tell people in developing countries what to do; ask them what they want.

    2. If most of them tell us to f**k off and leave them alone, respect that.

    3. If not, ask if/how we can help, with them (not us) in the leadership role.

    Any cause (vs. simply a money-issuing foundation like Gates or Hewlett) meant to help people in the developing world, but led primary by people in the rich world, should make you very, very, very nervous. Some, like Amnesty, are legit, but those are much rarer than the harmful, pseudo-colonial ones like Invisible Children or the Central Asia Institute.

  2. Well said, David. And I also dislike the attention for attention's sake rationalization.