10 Ways Kony 2012 Suckered You

Observe, the art of tear-jerk fund-raising.

Thank you, Kony 2012. Actually, strike that. Thank you, Jezebel. And Foreign Affairs. And my best friend from kindergarten who’s currently living in Uganda and has posted a bevy of informative articles on Facebook over the past five days. You are the folks I really have to thank for restoring my conviction that the Internet is a utopic wonderland, brimming with near-instantaneous-knowledge-aggregation potential. You are the reason I’ve learned as much about Uganda in the past two hours as I did in the first two weeks of a seminar on modern Africa … which is to say, not much. Or anyway, not nearly enough to comprehend the complex socio-political realities of an entire nation. Just enough to know that Kony 2012 is pretty much full of shit.

But I knew that already.

And yes, that’s me congratulating myself on my ability to detect emotional manipulation when I see it. But I figure pats on the back are really just in keeping with the spirit of this thing. Because Kony 2012 is nothing if not insta-grow self-satisfaction at its slickest and most vital; a well-packaged media phenomenon designed exclusively to target the hearts and wallets of privileged America; emotionally charged do-gooder-heroin administered to first world denizens jonesing for a quick fix of guilt assuagement.

It’s not a bad movie; in fact, it’s brilliant at what it does. It uses well-crafted cinematic technique to drive home a message. And I am all for well-crafted cinematic technique; I am all for movies that look good; I’m all for art with a social message. I guess I just don’t like it when dudes wearing v-necks and black-rimmed glasses throw their blond babies in my face while making grandiose proclamations about how simple it is to do the right thing and take out the “bad guys” in this world. I guess I just don’t like having my healthy senses of empathy and guilt used to get at my wallet by a guy with a fancy video camera and a great editor. I guess I just don’t like getting jerked around so … directly.

And so, in a shamelessly retaliatory aside, I’ve assembled this checklist of tropes and images from Kony 2012—a compendium I’m choosing to provocatively title “10 Ways to Tell You’re Being Audiovisually Jerked Around by ‘Slacktivist’ Trash.”

1. Adorable blond white children are shown learning and smiling and/or gazing wide-eyed and/or making sand angels. These are not the children your money will be helping. These are just the children you like to see the most.
2. Adorable blond white children are asked simplified questions about immeasurably complicated world affairs in order to elicit adorably innocent responses. And tears. From them, but also from you.
3. White, blond men teach black African children … anything, really. Probably something they would NEVER ever learn otherwise, like the difference between sharks and dolphins. Or the existence of the ocean.
4. The Earth appears, rotating majestically, just in case you didn’t realize you were watching something REALLY, GLOBALLY IMPORTANT.
5. This Earth is either a) illumined with the twinkling lights of human interconnectedness or b) covered in furry creatures holding hands across space and time.
6. Mind-blowing statistics are shelled out like rapid-fire candy.
7. You are assured that if this cause succeeds, you will have changed “the course of human history.” Better still, you are told “exactly how we’re going to do it.” In steps, handily displayed, with pretty fonts and lots of important shadow and texture. One of those steps involves, invariably, cash.
8. Hitler is used as a point of comparison. Also, the dead bodies of Holocaust victims. Fun with free association!
9. White people tell black African people, “It’s okay … We’re going to stop them.” Oh goodie.
10. At least 12 inexplicable images of people hugging and kissing in airport arrival terminals are used early and effectively. Because if Love, Actually taught us anything, it’s that a few good shots of friends and family joyously embracing in the airport make ANY movie heartwarming and awesome.

Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check and check.

Yet still I say: Thank you, Kony 2012.


Because for every Facebook friend I had reposting this paean to the infinite potential of white guilt, there were two new postings of well-informed criticism, or well-researched expert opinion, or well-considered (and funny) cynicism. All of which has reminded me that the worldwide web can be an inquirer’s wonderland if navigated with healthy skepticism and insatiable curiosity. There is a wealth of knowledge out there, and a wealth of educated and over-educated people ready to transmit that knowledge unto you. And here’s the best part: You don’t even have to stop scrolling your News Feed to get it. (This is of course assuming that you have smart and inquisitive friends. If you don’t, you should really get on that.)

You, in your office swivel-chair, and you, on your parent’s couch, and you, pretending to write in a coffee shop somewhere: You have the power to learn! To research the bullshit you are handed on a daily basis by political candidates, by news outlets and yes, by NGOs with somewhat questionable financial practices. Be fruitful and aggregate! Because as Kony 2012 so expertly reminded us, “Right now, there are more people on Facebook than there were on the planet 200 years ago.” Cool, huh?