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Kony 2012: crusade or emotional porn?

By Kevin Hawkins - posted Monday, 12 March 2012

A few days ago virtually nobody knew who Joseph Kony was. As a result of one of the most powerful viral campaigns to ever hit cyberspace, Kony is not only a household name, but is shaping up to be one of the most divisive people on the planet.

American Jason Russell - the filmmaker responsible for this sudden spike in Kony fascination - and his non-profit organisation Invisible Children Inc have already achieved their first objective: make Kony know.  

Like so many others I first heard about the Kony 2012 campaign on Wednesday afternoon when a distant Facebook friend invited me to paint the town Kony. Unsure of what to make of this request I followed the Youtube link,to see what all the fuss was about.


My trip there, however, was only brief; the 29:59 figure in the bottom right-hand corner dissuaded me from pressing ahead further. In this day and age, where time is money, I’m surprised anybody had the patience to watch the video in the first place. But sure enough, somebody did.

Indeed a lot of people did.

By the night’s end I couldn’t avoid Kony. Facebook had decided for me; I was going to watch the video regardless of whether I wanted to or not.

Having watched the young people of the Middle East make their mark on the world stage via the Arab Spring, it’s no surprise that politically enthusiastic Westerners have followed suit. The controversial Occupy movement provided this avenue for some, even if it frustrated just as many young people as it empowered.

Now Russell is here, to help us fight something more tangible than “the 1 per cent”.

In Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, Westerners have found an unequivocal “bad guy”, a face to represent rape, murder, mutilation and child abuse. In Joseph Kony, Russell has given the Western world has a target.


Yet just as fast as Kony 2012 has been gaining momentum, so too has its backlash. Cynics and critics alike have spoken out about the fundamental dangers of Russell’s campaign.

One of my fervently right-wing friends called the Kony doco “emotional porn”. While I don’t agree with his sentiment, there is substance to his claim. Is Kony 2012 groundbreaking, or is it just very sharp film-editing? During those 30 minutes, did we all just get caught up in the moment?

Others have turned Russell’s campaign into a tasteless Internet meme. They accuse people who have shared the video of jumping on the bandwagon.

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About the Author

Kevin Hawkins is a freelance writer and Media student at the University of Melbourne. He blogs at

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