Humanitarian Violence 1: Making Kony Famous

April 19, 2012

‘The banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality. The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm.’ – Teju Cole

I’m currently trying to compose a text arguing that the US militarization of aid following the earthquake in Haiti was an act of religious violence. Whether or not it will ever be finished remains to be seen. In the meantime, and on a related thread, a very interesting case of viral humanitarian violence is currently gaining a lot of media attention, not least since its director Jason Russell had a very public brush with insanity recently. I must admit, on seeing the author of Kony 2012 loose the plot in such a spectacular fashion, I suspected he had probably been ‘pwened’ by the man he has made it his mission to bring to justice: Joseph Kony, leader of the Lords Resistance Army. Russell is certainly messing with some serious dark spiritual matter here.

I won’t labour a critique of the film itself and the viral social media methods used to spread the mission. Teju Cole’s article The White Saviour Industrial Complex does an excellent job of that.

But I will quote a little from the film, to help frame the general thesis linking the ‘White Saviour Industrial Complex’ with the militarization of post-disaster, humanitarian aid. Here’s the voice of Jason Russell, telling us what we need to do to bring the mass murderer to justice:

“It’s hard to look back on some parts of human history [cue picture of Hitler and death camp] because when we heard about human injustice we cared, but we didn’t know what to do. Too often we did nothing. But if we’re going to change that, we have to start somewhere. So we’re starting here, with Joseph Kony. Because now we know what to do. Here it is. Ready? In order for Kony to be arrested this year the Ugandan military has to find him. In order to find him they need the technology and training to track him in the vast jungle. That’s where the American advisers come in. But in order for the American advisers to be there the US government has to deploy them. They’ve done that. But if the government doesn’t believe the people care about arresting Kony the mission will be cancelled. In order for the people to care, they have to know. And they will only know if Kony’s name is everywhere.”

So, in order to ‘Make Kony Famous’ 20 ‘culture makers’ – ‘celebrities, athletes and billionaires’ – will ‘use their power for good’ to make Kony ‘a household name’, and 12 policy makers will use their authority ‘to see Kony captured’. In other words the plan is to mobilize millions of young, optimistic, netizens, and a select group celebrities and politicians, to lobby the US government to continue and intensify the US military presence in Uganda.

‘So we’re making Kony world news by redefining the propaganda we see all day, everyday that dictates who and what we pay attention to’.

In with your Kony 2012 guerrilla marketing ‘action kit’ are two bracelets (“one for you, and one to give away”) with a unique ID which, when inputted to the net, plugs you into the ‘Make Kony Famous’ mission program and enables you to ‘geo-track your posters and track your impact in real time’. 

I should have known by the bangles that there were covert metaphysical powers at work here. Those of you who attended the conference of the second ghetto biennale may recall Gail, the woman from North Carolina, who infiltrated the biennale under the pretext of accompanying her daughter to event, while she was in fact on a mission from the Iron Men’s MENistry to save the innocent souls of poor black folk by distributing bangles to the children of the Grand Rue. What is it with Evangelical Christians and bangles?

It seems to have taken none other than the brilliant Charlie Brooker to expose the secret evangelical conceit behind Jason Russell’s fame-blitz on Kony. At a recent lecture at the Christian Liberty University in the USA Russell explains how ‘the trick is not to go out into the world and say “I’m going to baptize you, I’m going to commit you, I’m going to win you over”. Your agenda is to look into the eyes, as Jesus did, and say “Who are you?And will you be my friend?”‘

The son of founders of the Christian Youth Theatre, Russell was inspired by the story of British photojournalist Dan Edlon, stoned to death by an angry mob in Somalia in 1993, to travel to Sudan with the dream of documenting a genocide in the style of Moulin Rouge, Chicago or Hairspray.

In an recent program on Democracy Now Victor Ochen, a survivor of the LRA and director of African Youth Initiative Network, explains how he showed the Kony 2012 video in Uganda to 35,000 people who had no way of seeing the film over the internet and questions both the wisdom and likely effects of the Kony fame blitz.

Today (April 20th) is ‘Cover the Night’ day, when Jason Russell’s army of fame-makers plan to blanket ‘every street in every city’ with the specially designed Shepard Fairey posters of Joseph Kony. There is still hope. Tell everyone you know.

This is contemporary global people power!

“Lets have fun while we end genocide!”

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