"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Saturday, March 10, 2012

In Defense of Jason Russell, Invisible Children, and the KONY 2012 Campaign

Over the last few days, the KONY 2012 campaign video has become one of the most watched and shared videos on YouTube. I watched this video and as you can read from my last blog post, I was blown away by the documentary itself, but also by the message and how it was delivered. I knew a little about this conflict and these issues, not much at all, but enough to recognize some of the issues and consequences. I can say without pause that the tiny amount I knew was more than most Americans. By a landslide.

I won’t go into my constant frustration with American media and just how “American” it is. Global news isn’t nearly as in depth or covered as it should be, and it is even hard to find the details if you are looking for them. It isn’t truly the media that is to blame, we are only given what we ask for as a nation. We want quick snippets of the latest news, and we want mostly to know about things that pertain to our little corner of the globe.
So, this young filmmaker and activist, Jason Russell, has the audacity to go out and make an incredibly well crafted 29 minute documentary highlighting an issue that is close to his heart, and that he has fought for, mostly in obscurity, for nine years. Within this film, he also has the audacity to come up with a clever idea, harnessing the power of social media to try and make a small dent in an issue that the masses in the US know little about. I am sure he hoped for the best when all was said and done and his video would be posted. I am also quite sure he never knew what was coming, both the good and the the bad.
The video took off, spreading virally from Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter the way cute animal videos and news blunder footage usually spreads—videos of no real consequence. People were moved to share this video, and at 29 minutes, people were still watching every second of it, taking it in, getting outraged, wanting to learn more, to help.
Jason Russell, how dare you!
I don’t care if every detail isn’t 100% factually backed by all the organizations out there trying to help Uganda. I don’t care if he glossed over some things, or inflamed some moments for theatrical affect. In the end, this isn’t a video about Jason Russell or some hidden personal agenda. It is a man and an organization who thought- let’s make a difference in the world. That is a huge undertaking. Where do you start? Are you careful or brazen? How do you start? Who will hear you?
With an undertaking this huge, are you going to offend some people or make others angry? Evidently, yes. Very angry. I will probably get a nice little stack of hate mail (via my email inbox) for saying this, but I honestly think that some of the organizations doing good work for the same or similar causes are all worked up over this documentary out of a good bit of jealousy. These organizations struggle every day to get the message out, to have their work be seen. And maybe they HAVE done more and done it better than Jason Russell. But here HE is getting all of this attention. Social media is powerful. Right now, I think more than any other moment, social media has become such a powerful tool in so many ways. Jason Russell is a gifted filmmaker and found a way to harness that power better than a lot of other people and organizations.
What angers me more than anything is this. Will this campaign alone solve all the problems? No. But tens of MILLIONS of people are aware of an issue that they knew nothing about last week. The ONLY reason we are talking about these atrocities right now is this campaign. And that is good. The ONLY reason that anyone is listening to the other organizations that are upset about this campaign is because of this campaign. This awareness will cause people to seek answers and find ways to help. Whether it is through Invisible Children (the organization that Jason Russell highlights in his film) or not, people will try and find ways to help now. And honestly, at the base of this campaign is nothing but people wanting to make a difference in the world. Are the people behind it perfect? No. Is there room to criticize? Always, I guess. Yesterday, Jason posted this from his twitter account: Gandhi said, "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."
Jason Russell is a good man fighting a good fight. I believe that. While the internet and social media have power, it can be both good and bad. I have seen evidence of both in so many ways. I guess it is human nature to doubt and criticize, to want your voice to be heard above the fray. But, today, I hope that Jason Russell hears a few voices like mine that say, thank you. Thank you for raising awareness for dark places in the world that need a little light. Thank you for being one of those souls who does not sit back and just wish for peace and good things, but tries and keeps trying even when it all seems futile and hopeless.
I have said many, many times that my favorite quote in all the world is this one: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” This is also a quote from Gandhi. When I think of that quote, I think of all the things I wish I could do. I think of all the things I wish others would do. And now, a little part of me will always think of Jason Russell and what he is DOING to be that change in the world.
Read a recent NY Times article about Jason and the KONY 2012 campaign here.
If you haven't seen the KONY 2012 video yet, I encourage you to watch it here or in my previous blog post.



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