Kony 2012 is the film of the year in the same way that Nancy Gibbs, writing in Time magazine in 1999, argued that Hitler was the person of the century. It is by no means the best film released in 2012, but more than any other film this year it provided a brutally accurate gauge of our current ideologico-aesthetic climate.
Purportedly a social experiment to encourage young social media-literate people to ‘do something’ about the plight of child soldiers in Uganda, Kony 2012 was endlessly re-blogged and shared when it first appeared online in March but is now considered an embarrassing event we’d probably like to forget.
We now have a better idea of the utter corruptness of the forces behind Kony 2012 – the shady financial record of Invisible Children, the charity that produced the film; their support for the Ugandan government, itself guilty of serious human rights abuses; their advocacy for US military intervention in Uganda; the employment by US private security forces of former Ugandan child soldiers to fight as mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan; US concern over China’s growing economic influence in Uganda. But it shouldn’t be forgotten just how effective the film was in seducing us with its canny manipulation of youth culture, the drive for a global community, child-like whimsy and Apple Inc. utopianism.
This is basically the story of 2012 – the exploitation of liberal sentiment by forces of capital. The queer punk filmmaker Bruce LaBruce wrote an amusing article recently for VICE entitled ‘Beware the Bieber’ in which he argued that Justin Bieber functions as a deceptive and fuzzy icon, perpetuating the myth of Canada as a liberal utopia when in actual fact it is an imperialist force with one of the worst environmental records of developed countries, and with a demonstrated hostility towards immigrants. (Though really, Bieber, as far as the role he plays in LaBruce’s argument, is easily interchangeable with Arcade Fire, Seth Rogen, Broken Social Scene or anything else that gives us the impression of Canada as a country of laid-back peaceniks.)
This same kind of story played out in Australian politics when a video of Julia Gillard berating Tony Abbott went viral, making Gillard a kind of feminist hero when on the same day she cut welfare payments for low-income single mothers.
The Gillard story played out after the US elections when Twitter collectively cooed over a photo posted from Barack Obama’s account of the President hugging his wife. The Administration of this guy—Nobel Prize-winning President no less—would nevertheless stand firm behind Israel as it brutally bombed the people of Gaza.
The story played out with Melbourne Music Week, a 3-year-old initiative designed to demonstrate the State government’s support for Melbourne’s music scene, when in fact nothing substantial has been done to address the damaging liquor licensing laws that prompted the monumental SLAM rally in 2010 and funding to the contemporary music sector has been severely slashed. The government has conceded nothing in the way of structural support for our music culture, hoping that the city would content itself with an ephemeral carnival.
Some may accuse this argument of being too cynical. Isn’t raising awareness about child soldiers in Uganda a good thing? Isn’t celebrating a woman standing up to an unashamed sexist man a good thing? Isn’t Barack Obama a better choice than Romney? Isn’t Melbourne Music Week a chance to highlight genuinely talented and passionate people? The answer is yes to all this, but when all this is given with the left hand by players who take much, much more with the right, we should not lose our critical faculties.
The problem is not of whether to be cynical or not but that we are all too cynical in the wrong places. We’re cynical about the Occupy movement. We’re cynical about Palestine. We say things like, ‘Both parties are partly to blame so I can’t take sides.’ It seems the only time we feel comfortable taking sides is when the party in question has enough money to hire a graphic designer to hand-craft a whimsical font for its website and a musical supervisor to curate some cool, indie (and hopefully Canadian) bands to accompany the uplifting message in their awareness videos. Today we find ourselves living in a slow food, TED Talks, Steadicam, lo-fi, faux-fi, prosumer, hand-knitted, gluten-free world. Today, we find ourselves living in the year of Kony 2012.