Thursday, June 07, 2012

Kony 12: An optimist, a cynic and a theologian ..

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Here is my most recent.

Kony 12
An optimist, a cynic and a theologian sat down to share a latte and change the world.

The optimist wanted to do something…anything. He left the cafe and flew to Africa. His heart broke, bled in a thousand pieces in a country he didn’t understand, among a culture that was never his.

Being a Westerner, he came armed with a video camera. He used it to shoot footage of crying children, dense bush, and men with guns.

He returned to form an organization, and coined it ‘Invisible Children’. He gathered donations – a third for film, a third for expenses, a third for programmes grounded in Africa.*

He began to recruit, drawing together a staff skilled in film-making and media industries. Carefully they edited the video, manipulated the sound bites, added graphics and sourced the emotional background music. And so was born Kony 12.

The cynic snorted when he saw it. A lifetime exposed to world hunger and media manipulation had left a well-practised sneer. He googled ‘Kony 12’ and pressed ‘like’ on all the criticisms.

What is the budget? Who funded this? Where is the conspiracy? What if it fails? Is the US there simply because of oil? Will this simply inoculate people against the next tragedy?

While he complained, ‘Kony 12’ became a media sensation, watched on the Internet by nearly 90 million views.

The theologian’s teenage child suggested she watch the video on YouTube. Pressing play, she smiled at the gospel echoes in the sound bites – ‘the value of all human life’, ‘a bunch of littles could make a huge difference’, ‘the unseen became visible’.

She pondered the difficulty of fitting story, slogan, sound bite into the words ‘nuance’ and ‘complexity’. She recalled the words of challenge from African youth leader Teddy Ruge: “Did I ask you to sell my story for an action kit to make uninformed college students feel good?”

Time went by and later, the optimist, the cynic and the theologian bumped into each other once again on a crowded city.

Proudly, the optimist noted how Kony was now a household name. ‘We’re making the world a better place,’ he said.

The cynic was unconvinced. ‘Surely there must be more to life than making Facebook a better world.’ He mentioned the ‘S’ word – ‘slacktivism’ – the idea that sharing, liking or re-tweeting across the social web will solve a problem.

The theologian pulled a book from her handbag and read from Teresa of Avila. “I particularly notice in certain persons … that the further they advance … the more attentive they are to the needs of their neighbours.”

Which means, suggested the theologian, that Kony serves a purpose. It is a way to pay attention to the needs of our neighbour. Yet Kony must advance. Eyes that watch a video, and hands that ‘like’ a link, need feet that carry them to meet their needy neighbours face to face. Wouldn’t that be a video worth making!

*Publicly available financial accounts of Invisible Children suggest nearly 25 percent of its $8.8m income last year was spent on travel and film-making and about 30 percent went toward programmes in Africa.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Director of Missiology, Uniting College, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 10:18 PM

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