Zeitgeist

SWiPL Porn

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Kony 2012 is the title of the latest video to have gone viral on the Internet. It is almost 30 minutes long, and it describes an ongoing situation in the central African nation of Uganda. The popular exposé is narrated by Jason Russell, who, in the opening minutes of his film, reminds us all that “humanity’s greatest desire is to belong and connect,” a factoid that Mister Russell sees exemplified by the huge numbers of people using the social media site Facebook.

Aside for coming across as a ham-handed endorsement of Facebook, Russell’s opening assertions seem to dehumanize the legions of earthlings whose lives are defined firstly by familial or esoteric concerns. From Russell’s view, if you don’t want to become a throbbing impulse in some global hive-mind, if you don’t strive to belong and connect, then you aren’t part of humanity.

What is Jason Russell’s case anyway? What is Kony 2012 all about?

Well, the objective of Kony 2012 is pretty clear. Namely, eliminate an African warlord named Joseph Kony in order to save African children. The case presented in support for this objective is, however, a little sketchy. It is an emotional narrative, full of assumptions and wholly devoid of context.

Kony 2012 begins with the provocative phrase “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” The words appear; stylishly grubby and center lit, and then flitter and morph to tell us that “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time is now.” Twits and beeps accompany a rapid fusillade of meaningless visual stimuli and then the chaos is replaced by serenity, a spaceman’s homeward view of a quiet earth.

The quiet earth soon changes to reveal a glowing power grid. Facebook is advertised as a phenomenon that captivates humanity. And then the power grid comes nearer. We see time lapse footage of headlights streaming though a nocturnal cityscape. A woman kisses a child, and we are admonished that our “greatest desire” must be “to belong and connect.”

I’m sorry to give over so much verbiage to making a description of the opening sequences of Kony 2012. I do it in hopes of making the reader aware of the fact that filmmaking is an art form. For artists and self-aware individuals, the film’s initial shots are an obvious contrivance designed to elicit an emotional response. The opening sequence of Kony 2012 contains little fact. What it does contain is product placement, the promise of a great and dawning truth, and an implicit template for appropriate thoughts and feelings.

We know what the film promises, but what does it deliver?

Well, it delivers Jason Russell, in several incarnations over a period of years. The viewer meets a thin, idealistic youth with bottle blonde hair and a foppish doo, as well as a young, smooth faced man with a gentle, urgent voice. Russell, as a type, is an irreproachably harmless SWiPL who can moralize fiercely without ever invoking the primal challenge that stronger men make when they opine with passion. In this way, Russell is an ideal postmodern White man. He is a model player in the current culture war, nonthreatening but as extroverted and insuppressible as a suffragette. And, frankly, I was a little surprised when the film showcased Jason Russell’s son, Gavin.

For his part, Gavin Russell was a handsome kid, whose enthusiasm while making snow angels in a sandbox was touching. I’m not sure what Gavin had to do with the issues presented in Kony 2012. Perhaps he was included for nepotistic promotion as a future child actor. Perhaps he was just a necessary step in the narrative that was leading us from joy and wonder, to horror.

And to that end we meet Jacob.

Jacob is an African boy who lives in Uganda. He is featured in several interviews and he comes across as shy, wide-eyed, and surprisingly intact for someone who has witnessed war and the machete murder of his own brother. Jacob, who doesn’t appear to have a last name, is a likable kid with a penchant to play the coquet. And as we get to hear his story, we are subjected to a hi-speed slide show of grotesque mutilations that people have purportedly suffered at the hands of a warlord named James Kony and his private army, which is referred to as “the rebels”.

Jason Russell first met Jacob in 2003 while Russell was traveling in Uganda. What Russell was doing there is unclear, but the date is contextually important to the story because 2003 was the year that the largest war in modern African history ended.

Jason Russell became aware of Jacob at the tentative end of the Second Congo War.

Often called The Great War of Africa, The Second Congo War involved eight African nations and 25 armed groups. Uganda was a major player in the Second Congo War. Uganda borders The Congo, and during the struggle, Ugandans invaded and occupied large areas of the neighboring territory. Some 5.4 million people were said to have been killed in that conflict, and it is in the aftermath of the fighting that we find the various factions counterpoised in the Central Africa today.

By not mentioning the historical context of the Joseph Kony situation, Jason Russell is being deceptive, or perhaps (willfully) ignorant. The truth is that displaced, mutilated, and raped people are ubiquitous in the regions that were affected by the war. A slide show of pitiable victims should rightly condemn many more persons than Joseph Kony.

More importantly, Jason Russell’s narrowed view of the Ugandan situation fails to disclose the character of Central and West African warfare. It is said that 25 armed factions were involved in the fighting that involved Joseph Kony and his ilk. That many of these factions are lead by witch doctors-cum-generals who impress kids into service and eat human flesh, is a fact that is glaringly missing from Kony 2012.

But autobiographical tales and video evidence of such conduct are not missing from the public forums on the Internet.

Why Russell doesn’t think to include generations of witchery and cannibalism in his exposé is unclear. Perhaps he worries that Jacob won’t be quite as sympathetic if viewers see him as a constituent member of a people whose warrior class eats human hearts and penises? Maybe Jacob, grown more formidable with age and given the right environs, might find his own witch power in a fever dream and don the mantle of a Ugandan warlord?

Or maybe not, who knows? 

History suggests one future for Uganda. James Russell sees one bad man as the bogey that stands between Uganda and Hope. What Russell doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know, is that panaceas come and go. And panaceas are inevitably dependent on simplifications. When we control the parameters of a question we can answer it on paper. But eventually, reality will always remind us what truths we have omitted from our formula. From this vantage and in view of Central African realities, Russell’s outrage seems childlike and his objectives seem personal and impractical.

The objective of Kony 2012 is to inspire political activism, which will, in turn, inspire the American government to make yet another military foray into the underdeveloped world. This proposed adventure would see elements of the American armed forces destroy Joseph Kony and his smallish army, which is called the LRA or Lord’s Resistance Army.

As I consider the prospect of an American invasion of Uganda, I can’t help but think of the humanity that Russell harkens to in the opening sequences of his film. You remember the humanity, don’t you? The great masses of people who’s “greatest desire is to belong and connect.” I remember Gavin, too, the handsome boy who made snow angels in the sandbox. And I can’t help but realize that every American soldier who would be sent to Uganda is somebody’s Gavin. And all these Gavin’s will have to creep though the Ugandan bush. They will sweat and swat flies. They will have to endure the strain of mortal combat and carry the legacy of the violence that they do and that is done to them. And some will die, perhaps obscenely, but certainly to be remembered by the fathers who tussled with them on carpets or snapped pics of them at the sandbox.

I’ve got a suggestion for the idealistic young fans of Jason Russell. Donate your cash to the cause of Kony 2012. Establish a fund and track its progress on the net. When there is money enough, use it to train and outfit yourselves for war. Then go to Uganda, root out Joseph Kony, and kill him. I’m sure Jason Russell, sporting his latest die job, will be eager to lead you into battle. Or would he? Maybe the prospect of killing would inspire the gentle Mister Russell to reassess his priorities, stay home, and hold on to his nuts.