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"Invisible Children" 30-min clicktivism film takes web by storm, is this the future of activism?

By now you, your mom, and even your chia pet has seen the film Invisible Children unleashed in the world on tuesday. This film with 5.35 million Facebook shares and 3,277 blog posts out-viraled every funny cat and car advert on the internet this week, despite, or perhaps due to, the fact it's thirty minutes long.

This chart found at Campaign is produced in conjunction with Unruly media ranks how often the video has been shared on Facebook, Twitter etc. It was a runaway suceess in sharing.

If you can get past the ultimate bwana-moment of the VO saying over the image of his wife's vimeod c-section where she's surrounded by medical personnel and doctors : "this is how we all came into this world", you'll be treated to home-videos of his adorable kid with special effects overlay before diving into the story of Jacob in Uganda. Jacob is one of the "invisible children" that never was invisible to his family, community and country.

Now, if it all feels very Hollywood in its dramatic storytelling, breaking it down to easy to identify goods guys vs bad guys, it's because it is. The film even waits until halfway through before explain that "the war" is no longer happening in Uganda. In the NYT Jason Russell acknowledges that he has not made the most nuanced or academic of films, but he believes that he has to boil it down in order to captivate so many people:

“No one wants a boring documentary on Africa,” he said. “Maybe we have to make it pop, and we have to make it cool.”
“We view ourself as the Pixar of human rights stories,” he added.

I love that he chose Pixar, the company that creates well loved and entirely computer generated films. And sure, why can't we have easily digestible clips tugging at just the right heartstrings for activism, when we have commercials that do the same for insurance? I also love how the founders of IC posed with the Sudan People's Liberation Army - as in the army who used child soldiers from the Sudan Lost boys - while attempting peace negotiations with Kony's army so that he'd stop using child soldiers. Logic.

Mr. Russell said he was far from finished with his campaign, which he said was an example of just how much young political novices could accomplish. “We are ready to make this bigger,” he said. “We are waiting for Jay-Z” to trumpet the cause.
And as a filmmaker, he said he had already received plaudits from producers in Hollywood. “They are getting in touch with the Academy Awards. They want this to be up for an Oscar.”

Wait hold up, you mean like Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's and Daniel Junge's Saving Face? Of course not, these films can not compare. One is a documentary, one is an call to slacktivism action. What is it one is expected to do after watching the KONY2012 film? Invisible Children’s call to action is to do three things: 1) sign its pledge, 2) get the Kony 2012 bracelet and action kit (it's only $30, surely you can spare that?), and 3) sign up to donate. Their goal is to bring Kony to justice and their tactic seems to be by pressuring the US Government to send soldiers and arms to Uganda. Never mind that arming one group to pit it against another has always been a tremendously bad idea. People were swept up in this film, and clicked to share it all over, clearly this worked as perfect slacktivism-bait. The downside of which is the cynicism it fuels.

The director of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without borders) UK office Marc DuBois had this to say about the New Kids on the Block, who much like the boy-band NKOTB have screaming teenage fans all of the world.

The aid industry has just been Biebered. IC’s hundreds of thousands of donor / activist – they were invisible to us. Kids. That’s the target and that’s the message. If you think the aid world depends on gray haired HNWIs (High Net Worth Individuals, aka rich folk), wait and see what IC does with its pubescent legions.
My advice to the aid industry? First, get over it. Then, get on the boat. Invisible Children has more than an audience, more than loyal donors. They’ve built a repository of faithusiasm that will make change happen. As a colleague of mine lamented, too bad we can’t do for tuberculosis or Eastern Congo what they’ve done for Kony. Invisible Children might well deserve our scorn, but we’d be smarter to take notes. They are schooling us in comms, mobilization and fundraising. While we try to exploit social media to improve return on investment, IC turned social media into operations itself.

As quickly as the video was shared by those who loved it, the backlash against it began. There were people watching who noted the little fibs and factual faults in the film - Kony isn't in Uganda for one - and they started poking around. The daily What said "what?", the Ugandans were ticked off, Alternet ran with this headline: Invisible Children "Kony 2012" Leader Suggests It's About Jesus and Evangelizing .

While the rise (and fall) of the IC video is clearly pointing to the future of how to rally for a cause, the main of what they're attempting to do is as old as war itself. It boils down to bad aid vs good aid, and when to leave countries to sorting their own problems out. Flooding a country with free T-shirts is a great example of bad aid, as it'll topple the local economy in businesses related to clothes making, actually making the situation worse when all you wanted to do was help. KONY and other warlords have been dodging around the borders of Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic republic of Congo for more years than most of the IC slacktivists have lived, why can't we let Yoweri Museveni, Salva Kiir Mayardit and Joseph Kabila get on with their jobs? If you don't know who any of those men are, it's because the presidents of the affected countries were never mentioned in the KONY2012 film, leaving a heavy white-savior colonialism stench on it.

But the IC has clearly showed us one thing, this is how we need to get messages about aid out - a film that sells and can use word of mouth over the social web. We also need to have a better idea of what to do. The BBC say that this campaign has attracted ire of its own after critics attacked its methods and have collected examples of harsh criticism.

So if this is how we need to get stories of aid-problems out in the future - you know, for the kids - then the media-driven org Witness is already doing it right. They equip and train local human rights organizations so that they can create films about their work and the situations where help is needed. Instead of a schooled film-maker storyteller who turned aid worker, it's aid-workers turned documentary film-makers.

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This fellar in the comment is free section over by theGuardian has done his best to break down why exactly this film spread so far, so fast. It pushes buttons infomercial style. The "now" of Kony 2012 is when you do things. It's when you act: "now we know what to do. If we succeed, we change the course of human history. But time is running out …" Act now! Hurry, offer ends soon. "To level with you, this movie expires on December 31, 2012". Really? How very Mayan.

Also, I simply love this screenshot.