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FP: The Road to Hell Is Paved with Viral Videos

March 14, 2012


For all its goodwill, Invisible Children's "Kony 2012" film is dangerous propaganda, pure and simple, writes David Rieff at Foreign Policy. It's not a call to make a notorious celebrity out of Joseph Kony, he writes--it's a call to war.

When and how so many Americans, young people in particular, were convinced, or convinced themselves, that awareness offers the key to righting wrongs wherever in the world they may be is hard to pinpoint. But whatever else it does and fails to do, Kony 2012, the 30-minute video produced by a previously obscure California- and Uganda-based charity called Invisible Children that seeks to "make Joseph Kony famous in 2012" so that this homicidal bandit leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in central Africa will be hunted down and turned over to the International Criminal Court, illustrates just how deeply engrained in American culture this assumption has now become.

As a film, as history, and as policy analysis, there is little to be said for Kony 2012 except that its star and narrator, Jason Russell, the head of Invisible Children, and his colleagues seem to have their hearts in the right place. But this do-good spirit is suffused with an almost boastful naiveté and, more culpably, an American middle-class provincialism that illustrates beautifully the continuing relevance of the old adage about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. At one point, Russell's commentary over a scene of a center in a northwestern Uganda town where children who have fled their villages for fear of LRA attacks are seeking shelter is "If [this] happened one night in America, it would be on the cover of Newsweek," says Russell. Russell's argument is that the rise of global connectivity means that we are all "living in a new world" of plugged-in citizens who can change the world through the new modes of activism that Kony 2012 exemplifies -- earlier in the film he trumpets the fact that there are more people "on Facebook than were on the planet 200 years ago." But Russell's is a bogus globalism: His film basically ignores the world outside North America, where the people he is trying to mobilize live, and central Africa, where Kony and his victims are.

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