Thursday, March 8, 2012
So, it's my birthday. (No, I will not tell you that I am 41 today, thank you) That is not, however, why I am sitting down to write this....although, the idea of getting into an argument with someone on my birthday feels perfectly appropriate.
No, the reason for this blog post is, it is also about 24 hours after the point where the StopCony TwitterWave/unstoppable meme machine/Facebook frenzy was approaching the apex that it would sit at for the better part of a day. For that 24 hour period, unless you were hiding under a rock, it was impossible to look anywhere online and *not* see something about it; even once the natural pessimism of the internet rolled in and started uncovering the facts behind the organization Invisible Children, it was still being talked about, although with a heaping spoonful of skepticism.
I won't lie: I watched the video, and I was moved to tears by it, and believed in the idea enough to post it on twitter and facebook. I also won't lie when I say that I am troubled by the allegations against Invisible Children and the fact that, digging a little bit deeper into them finds all kinds of information that induces in me the same kind of reaction I had to hearing my mom talk about her sex life. In that vein, I can't help but wonder whether the organization themselves were prepared for the attention they would receive on this; did their marketing campaign become Frankenstein's monster, slipping from their control and leading to an unwelcome look deeper into their organization than they would have liked? I would hope that they would have a better grasp on their public image than the result. **
The most infuriating thing about this is the fact that, aside from the big questions regarding their involvement with the Ugandan Military, the management of their donations, the questionable status of Joseph Kony, and a myriad of other topics (which, for the best explanation that I have found so far, just go here) the part that makes me really, really angry is this:
It totally fucking worked.
For a moment of time that was NOT brief - not minutes, or an hour or so, but ALL DAY LONG - this topic and this story was at the top of everybody's social networking awareness. Whether you believed in it, whether you hated it, whether you were just sick of reading about it everywhere, it *was* everywhere. And unlike other major trends that are based upon reaction: Osama's death, the earthquake in Japan, Lady Gaga's new song, the royal wedding, etc., this was one based on ACTION. On someone telling someone, and them telling someone else, and slowly, it grew, and grew, and grew, and then went around the world. Has that happened before? Have we, as members of the global community, ever united behind a single idea like that in such massive numbers? Despite the fact that Invisible Children has acquired a few black marks in the recent past to blemish this accomplishment, what remains is still a pretty amazing and savvy use of the internet.
Now, here's the reason I wanted to write this in the first place; I (idealistically, to be sure) hope that what I just pointed out was pretty obvious, this precedental (is that a word? If not, it is now) idea of action vs. reaction. The part that bugs me, that motivates me to put these words down, is all about, well, a group of you out there. I won't name names or point fingers, but you guys know who you are: you're the ones who said, "Oh my God, I am so sick of reading this #stopKony stuff. Not only is it that the facts are actually wrong, but I hate these armchair activists, who think that just by reposting something, they're making a difference!"
Okay, let me skim here. "...sick of reading..." okay, fair enough. "....facts are wrong..." Not going to disagree. "....armchair activists..." Uhmmm, yeah, I guess...? "...by reposting, they're making a difference." ...................Uhhhhh, what?
I mean, I am sorry (not really), but the fact that this thing went worldwide - I cannot say that enough, but WORLDWIDE - because people took time to care enough to get the word out, that's your fucking complaint? That for fifteen fucking seconds, they stopped posting about buying new shoes, or shooting a picture of their lunch, or talking about smoking weed to actually put something up that was genuine? That they believed in long enough to display through their electronic persona? That, THAT is your complaint? Would you rather they keep sending you requests in farmville and posting pictures of their privates? (not that there is anything wrong with either of those...more the latter than the former)
Well, no, of course not. The complaint that you have is that those people aren't involved all the time, every day, and are only jumping on some kind of social justice bandwagon. "How dare they!" you think to yourselves. "Actually devoting less than thirty minutes from their day to think about all the ways our world is shit! Not giving a fuck about Joseph Kony till right now, way after he was doing those horrific things! Rabble, rabble rabble, Blargh!" Now, maybe it's just me, but this sounds really familiar, somehow. Hmm, if only I could remember....wait, I think it went something like this: "Oh, man, I hate all these people who are suddenly into Arcade Fire, now that they suck and are all commercial and stuff, man! I was into them years ago, when they were still raw and not giant fucking sellouts! Uhhh, I'm such a fucking hipster, yeah!"***
Now, I am not trying to debate the merits or failings of not being devoted enough to a cause. For my own self-measurement, I reposted and passed along those videos; I did not donate money, and I didn't go post it on other people's pages or blogs or twitter feeds. Are there things that I WOULD do that for? Yes. Would I march on the capitol, sign my name to a petition, potentially get arrested for something I believed in? Maybe, yes, and, uh....I've already been to jail once (long story) and I didn't like it there, so, perhaps, perhaps not. Depends on the moment, I guess. Regardless of those things, does that mean that I fight, in my own little way, to raise awareness about the issues I believe in, and openly debate those who do not? It does. Whether it is more or less than anyone else, it is still doing something, it is putting the word out for something that I believe in. If that belief lasts for five minutes or fifty years, if it is for the kind of positive change people want to see in the world, then who are we - no, wait, sorry, who are YOU - to get upset that those same people, who don't normally give a fuck about anything of relevance, actually DID? Are you truly not going to be happy unless the whole world slides into the sea of Apathy that you already perceive them to be living under?
For the record, I'm not exactly championing armchair activism, either; I do get beleaguered by ill-informed people re-posting something that they have no real understanding of. All jokes aside, the causes that I do support very strongly, it is with my full understanding and investigation into them. Right now, though, I would take "armchair" over "nonexistent" (which, let's face it, is the default setting for almost everyone everywhere). Who knows? Maybe (warning: idealistic woolgathering ahead) some of those armchair activists will be motivated to do something a little bit more next time. To find that cause, that injustice, that they believe in, and get informed. Again, I have to state the obvious: That can only be a good thing.****
It seems like we can focus on those negatives, on the bashing and the scorn and the hipstery douchecanoeness(sp?) of the whole "Blah blah blah, I've known about Kony's punk-ass for years" argument, or on the fact that something changed, yesterday, on the internet. For a period of time longer than many would have believed, the voices of the world - the true Global Community that we've been told about for years and years, an idea that has been crammed down our throats, practically - all were saying the same thing, singing the same song. "Find this man, and stop this man." In trying to find value and meaning for that global community, isn't that what being a Citizen Of The World is supposed to be about?
**To be clear, THIS IS NOT AN APOLOGY LETTER FOR THE ORGANIZATION CALLED "INVISIBLE CHILDREN".
***My deepest and sincerest apologies to Arcade Fire for inadvertently comparing them to Joseph Kony.
****Unless you are advocating bringing back National Socialism, shooting up abortion clinics, or the Macarena. Especially the Macarena.