10 October 2012

Little Movement in Invisible Children's Latest Video

The latest short from Invisible Children (IC) gives supporters an opportunity to see behind the scenes in the preparations for and wake of the explosion of the Kony 2012 campaign. A worn down Jason Russell breaks down in tears as his co-workers and friends tell them that they are concerned and think he should take a break. Russel would suffer from a very public breakdown a few days later.

The film serves as a way to show how IC was unprepared for what would happen when the video that was intended to be seen by 500,000 people ended up reaching 100 million. At least 90% of the film is dedicated to a recap with the last section telling of the next big event where advocates will descend onto Washington DC in November to call on the world's leaders to ensure that Joseph Kony is brought to justice.

Director and IC co-founder Jason Russell made stops on various media outlets in order to tell his story and promote what is next for IC. Invariably, the question that all are asking is, "What happened?" Based on the answers given to Oprah and on the Today show, Russell developed a sort of God complex as the video grew in popularity.

"It was so high, I kept thinking wow and then it was like you're the worst. You're terrible. The thing that got my mind spinning is these powerful people in the world are looking to you for what's next. That made me feel alone. It also made me feel like I had to have the answer to the future. I thought oh my God, the U.N. (United Nations) is contacting us," he told Oprah.

Move, the new film from IC, starts and ends with the phenomenon that a slinky, when fully extended, is released from a high place will contract with the bottom remaining set. The top falls rapidly taking in each coil until it meets the end, causing the slinky to fall to the ground. The point of showing the falling slinky, according to the video, is that it is impossible to avoid movement forward.

The metaphor is appropriate given the fact that IC shows little movement forward in their response to the critical concerns regarding the Kony 2012 campaign. As the video tells it, the IC website was unable to handle the spike in traffic that followed from the spread of Kony 2012. People were then forced to go to the IC Tumblr site which only provided them with a limited amount of information about IC's work.

The examples of criticisms are rants on YouTube by people who call into question the work of IC. The viewer is led to believe the assertion that a lack of information was the core problem. If people were able to access the IC website they would not have had the same questions about what IC does and where the money was going.

Except for a screen shot of an article by the Wronging Rights duo of Kate and Amanda in The Atlantic, the concerns raised by advocates, experienced aid workers and journalists are ignored. Fundamental questions about the way the video was framed get no attention with the exception of the decision to include Russell's son.

It is apparent that IC heard some of the criticism as Jacob Acaye, the young man who appeared briefly in Kony 2012 in the form of clips from IC's first documentary, is provided more screen time. Critics of Kony 2012 said that the voices of Ugandans and people affected by the LRA were not included. This contributed to a narrative that Teju Cole characterized as the White Savior Industrial Complex.

"I disagree with the approach taken by Invisible Children in particular, and by the White Savior Industrial Complex in general, because there is much more to doing good work than "making a difference." There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them," wrote Cole.

The structure of the new video represents little fundamental change in the inherent problems that led to the criticisms of Kony 2012 and previous criticisms of IC. Tobias Denskus explains:
[T]here is very little new information or a willingness for sustained reflection in the video. It could have been inspiring for younger viewers to talk more about lessons learned, personal change and growth or admitting complexity in some way or another. There is also not a hint at the sustainability of the organization or the overall effort. I am definitely not saying that Kony 2012 has achieved nothing, but Jason’s personality, the reliance on technology and the continuous simplifications cast a big shadow on the mission and make it difficult to see the substance in one company’s self-absorbed quest to change the world.
New questions arise from Move and the coinciding public appearances by Jason Russell. Are we to believe that IC chalks up the criticisms to a matter of a crashing website? What lessons did IC really learn over the past seven months? Do Russell's delusions of grandeur confirm the very criticisms made by Cole and others regarding a savior complex within the organization? After requesting and deserving privacy, to what extent is IC now benefiting from the coordination of the new campaign video and Russell's public appearance? Finally, how will the campaign fare in light of recent events?

"You can lead or you can follow, but eventually everyone will have to MOVE," says the campaign. Will people be swept up once again by IC's efforts or have they moved on to something else? Move makes the argument that millennial are filled with potential, despite what people like Glenn Beck says. Along with a potential to do something good, and maybe even change the world, my generation has the ability to think critically and not fall victim to slick campaigns.