The hype around KONY 2012 seems to have died down considerably now, but the stir it caused certainly hasn’t. I’ve included links at the end of this post to several well-made arguments that Kony 2012 is at best ineffective and at worst, harmful. But that’s not my concern here. As unhelpful as KONY 2012 is likely to be for real Ugandans, there’s no denying the campaign’s power to move people. Credit where credit’s due, as a film designed to inspire action, Jason Russell’s video is positively brilliant. It’s a rhetorical masterpiece. Perhaps the most stunning thing about it is its length. Internet-citizens have notoriously short attention spans; to make a 30 minute, non-fiction video go viral is an incredible feat.
Between Vimeo and YouTube, KONY 2012 garnered 80 million views over just four days. Russell’s video obviously struck a terrifyingly powerful chord – and for what it’s worth, I think it has a lot to do with what I’ll call the video’s ‘spiritual vision’. This is vision is communicated almost entirely in the film’s subtext (the hidden assumptions that lie beneath the surface of a text). Every word and every image in the film makes subtle suggestions about who we are and why we matter. Factually dubious and ineffective as it is, KONY 2012 has a remarkably profound perspective on those questions; a perspective which powerfully speaks to the image of God in each of us, whether we know we bear that image or not.
It starts in the very first minute, with Russell’s opening words (0:24):
“Right now, there are more people on Facebook than there were on the planet 200 years ago. Humanity’s greatest desire is to belong and connect, and now we see each other, we hear each other; we share what we love, and it reminds us what we all have in common.”
Those words paint a picture (assisted by the camera work and music), of a sort of ‘Facebook Nation’; a confederacy of mostly young, well-off, upwardly mobile Westerners, all endowed with the incredible, mystical, world-changing powers of the Internet. Russell depicts the communications tools we use everyday (iPads, iPhones, laptops, web browsers) as objects of fantastic, almost supernatural power. He is not talking down to us like a morally superior preacher, trying to guilt us into giving him money. He is revering our might, acknowledging our power, and attempting to invoke our favour. He wants us to use our power to help his cause. Yes, that’s a nuance – this all takes place in the subtext. But it’s an important point: it’s undeniable that for the film to make any sense at all, we Westerners, with the power of our social networks, must hold some sort of creative power. What’s interesting, is that traditional Christianity views the human race as ‘co-creators‘ with God the Creator, and co-redeemers with Christ the Redeemer – we have the powers of the God whose image we bear: powers to create and to redeem. There’s a marked note of something like ‘awe’ or ‘reverence’ for humanity’s creative power in Russel’s words. He isn’t speaking to us as selfish children (like many charity campaigns do), he’s speaking to us as gods.