With over 84 million hits on YouTube, you know it’s at least worth a peek. Invisible Children’s 30-minute video advertising their Kony 2012 campaign became viral virtually overnight as viewers of all ages got a taste of social activism and understanding about the horrific situation involving the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. However, you shouldn’t always believe what you see on YouTube, whether it is a dancing cat or an informative campaign on the mistreatment of children in Africa.
I commend Invisible Children for their creative and straightforward advertising strategy: creating a brilliant, but deceptively simple, visual take on their cause and broadcasting it on a global scale. They impressively utilize a tried and true method to spread their propaganda to those who will make the most of the information and spread it like wildfire throughout the virtual world: young adults.
The younger generation is the market to target as we are more malleable to popular beliefs and, as the children of the digital age, we have more authority than we realize to initiate political change with just the raw power of the Internet alone. We care about the bad man hurting the helpless children, picturing our younger siblings, neighbors, etc. at the mercy of such a tyrant. The problem is that the video in question is treating its viewers as children—teaching us as a man would talk to his five-year-old son.
The point is that Invisible Children not only treats the viewer like a child, they present us with information that may as well have been researched by a youth. Invisible Children urges direct military involvement, but doesn’t tell the viewer that the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has attempted to stop Kony for several years. The Invisible Children organization also supports the military in Uganda, which is corrupted through acts of rape and looting in the country. Though their need is great, if the U.S. doesn’t have a solid reason to intervene relating to the safety of an American citizen, we don’t have the right to take action. Just because we are a world power doesn’t mean we’re the world police, judge and jury. The video is, at some points, naïve about the U.S. liberating the children of Africa, giving the viewers a taste of advocacy with a (not-so) subtle hint, as political scientist Chris Blattman stated, “of the White Man’s Burden.”
Upon finishing the video, the Kony 2012 campaign urges you to help in any way that you can, preferably by purchasing an action kit. Recently, Invisible Children filmmaker Jason Russell said that over 500,000 kits have been purchased, creating over $15 million in revenue for the campaign. This sounds like a good thing, but Jedidiah Jenkins, Invisible Children’s director of ideology, stated that, “37 percent of our budget goes directly to African-related programs, about 20 percent goes to salaries and overhead, and the remaining 43 percent goes to our awareness programs… the truth about Invisible Children is that we are not an aid organization.”
This means that the majority of the money raised pays for the awareness campaign itself rather than directly helping those in Africa. The Guardian detailed that, in 2011, of Invisible Children’s $9 million income, “nearly 25 percent was spent on travel and film-making… most of the money raised has been spent in the U.S.… Another 1.7 million dollars went to U.S. employee salaries, $850,000 in film production costs… and $1.07 million in travel expenses.” With the boom in awareness of the Invisible Children organization and the Kony 2012 campaign, who knows how much they’ll receive in 2012, but we can be pretty sure how they’ll spend it if they continue with the same statistics above.
Awareness is a good thing, especially when it brings health and safety to others who are struggling. However, when it literally comes at such a great expense, is it worth it? Someone wanting to directly help another in need is better off logging onto a site like Kiva.org and loaning the money to someone who needs it now as opposed to an organization who is likely to spend it on a new camera lens or a plane ticket.
Everyone has the power to be an activist with the right tools. It’s up to you to either directly support those who need aid now, or put your money behind an organization with a simple message and a filmmaker who was recently arrested for public masturbation, drunkenness and vandalism. Your choice.