Like everyone else, I watched it, albeit skimming, and was fascinated and appalled. Fascinated (and yes, envious) at the skill of the storytelling. Appalled by just about everything else – the use of his son, the cheesy self righteousness of the tone, the depiction of Africa, the profound ignorance and lack of interest in why things are the way they are. I won’t go on. But virtually every Hollywood film about (or at least set in) the developing world leaves me feeling like that (though the feeling is usually less extreme). In the end, the only question that has stuck with me is why has it been so successful as a viral phenomenon (the 60m will doubtless have gone up by several million the time you read this)? Some thoughts, but I would really like to hear those of others.
First it’s a steroidal version of the ‘recipe for campaign success’ a former boss once gave me – all you need for a good campaign is a problem, a solution and a villain. Kony 2012 delivers that in stark relief – problem: this guy turns kids into killers; solution – take him out; villain – enough said. No mess, no nuance. It’s Robin Hood v the Sheriff of Nottingham and we are all Robin Hood.
Second: it adds dollops of Hollywood feelgood schmaltz to that equation – ‘we can do it!’ ‘Hey, they’re just like us!’ ‘Feel the love!’ ‘Kids are cute!’
Third: celebrity twitter massively ramped up the viral spread (see chart).
Fourth: momentum – famous for being famous.
No idea what the legacy of all this is. Millions of mainly young people around the world have just absorbed a particular, highly distorted story about what is going on in Africa. For many, it will be the first time they have taken an interest in a human rights or development issue. What happens next? I just hope it sows the seeds of a new generation with a real interest in how Africa and its people can progress, in understanding why the world is like it is, not ‘lots of Africans just kidnap and kill each other, but white people can help.’
Oh and if you want to actually know about Northern Uganda and the LRA, Chris Blattman (who tragically, has been on a junk in the South China Sea when one of his big issues went galactic) provides some reading.
For a minute by minute live blog on the phenomenon, check out the Guardian on Friday, including the thoughts of our protection guy in Goma, Stephen Van Damme:
“What we want to highlight is the lack of development in the area that we’re talking about, where people have a lot of concerns – including the lack of access to hospitals, roads and schools – with this impacting massively on these people,” Van Damme said. “And so, any solution has to look at wider development in the area, and that seems to be where there’s a lot less attention and a lot less funding and political support. The LRA problem goes way beyond a purely military solution and has to tackle all of these matters that basically boil down to a very underdeveloped region.”
But then reality is just too messy and complicated sometimes isn’t it? And no, I’m not linking to it (a futile gesture – it went up by two million while I was writing this – but what the heck).