Archive for March, 2012

Kony 2012: Charity, Self-Absorption and Slacktivism

The problem with writing about something topical is that there’s a fair chance that everyone else has already gotten to the story and probably done a better job with it. That shouldn’t deter me, but it does make me question whether or not it’s worth throwing in my two cents. I never imagined that my blog would be a hot spot for the news of the minute, but I’ve had several ideas squashed by not being able to develop them quickly enough for the piece to be relevant. That’s the nice thing about fiction. I can generally get away with knocking around an idea for as long as I want.

I do want to branch out though. This blog has been running for several months now. Breaking out of my creative comfort zone has always been a part of the plan. I didn’t start this just to expand a bunch of movie reviews from a Facebook game. I didn’t even start this solely for the purpose of putting up a creative orphanage for the poems and short stories that have never been able to find a place to go. Both of those things are fine, but this blog was also supposed to be a chronicle of my efforts to try and expand my range. I’m not going to be able to do that by second-guessing every idea. Or worrying myself to death ahead of time as to how it might turn out.

I’m not going to accomplish anything if I’m not willing to potentially make myself look foolish. That’s a lesson I’ve learned a few times over the course of my life, and it’s one I’m trying to put into practice now.

There’s certainly no lack of news stories or social trends that I’d like to try and better understand through writing about them. I’ve chosen this one because, well, it’s been on my mind a little more than the other candidates. The aim isn’t to just write opinions about something that’s going around the news lately. I’d also like to get a stronger sense of why I feel the way I do about this story, a clearer image of my personal outlooks and reactions to things, and the best way I can do that has always been through my writing.

We’ll just see how it goes. Hopefully, it will be a learning experience that doubles as something worth reading.

I won’t know if that will be the case, until I try.

Don’t worry. There’s still going to be plenty of movie reviews and other creative nonsense. I’ve just been ready to try something else for entirely too long. It’s time to find some new ventures, and it’s time to start trying to find a better balance of being creatively fulfilled and actually making some money once in a while. I know it can be done, but I’m also aware of the odds behind succeeding at such a thing. I don’t have a lot of choice but to play those odds, and yet I’m excited nonetheless. That has to be a good sign.

If I could just find some acting work I might cheer up for more than fifteen minutes at a time.

That’s a thought, and I’m sure I’ve never, ever expressed it here before.

Kony 2012: Charity, Self-Absorption and Slacktivism

By Gabriel Ricard

I don’t know when I first heard of Joseph Kony, but I know it was well before a thirty-minute video went viral, shook Facebook and Twitter into a near-stupor with the attention it received and has since gone on to stir one of the more compelling debates to come along in recent weeks. I don’t derive any satisfaction from the fact that I didn’t need a charity, Invisible Children, to tell me about the monster behind the Lord’s Resistance Army. There’s the concept of being smug because you were one the first to get on board for a particular band, movie, writer, restaurant or something like that, which I find relentlessly irritating, and then there are those who truly believe it really matters in the end when you learned about something as significant and terrible as the ongoing situation in Uganda. It’s good that you knew, but it would be even better if you’ve actually been doing something with that knowledge.

My problem is that I rarely do anything with my knowledge. I am constantly exposed to images, videos, conversations and occasionally experiences of how profoundly and coolly horrendous this world can be. I can’t recall who told me about Joseph Kony (it may well have been my mother), and I don’t remember when it was, but I know what I did with the information. I filed it away with all the other things that give one a sense of complete despair and hopelessness. That’s selfish and a clear act of self-absorption, but I guess doing so is also a matter of self-preservation. It’s not the same as ignoring the problem, but it does come close. My own problem is one of feeling extremely limited in what I can do. I don’t have a lot of money, so I’m rarely in a position of being able to donate to any one of the seemingly countless worthy causes that I’m aware of. I live in the middle of nowhere, and I can’t drive, so giving my physical time and energy are also problematic.

Those come off as excuses. Maybe, they are. I try to see them as limitations I currently have an extremely limited amount of control over, but it’s not like I’ve risen to the cause of self-sacrifice for the greater good, every time I’ve had a chance to do so. Being one of those people who give themselves purely and unselfishly to some horror that cannot be defeated without the support of humanity would be wonderful. It’s not that I’m gunning for empowerment or personal fulfillment. Those things are nice, but they don’t call out to me. I’d just like to give more than what I have been.

In the end though, I’m a writer, and that may well be the first and best way I can contribute to the things I believe in. The bulk of my output deals in my enthusiasm and belief in the arts (which includes the occasional dick joke), but I’ve always been the product of the things I absorb, and that thankfully covers a pretty wide range of people, movements, ideas, places and more. I write about the things that interest me, but that doesn’t completely quell the fact that I’m interested in certain things that I want to share them with other people. That’s not a bad thing, I don’t think. The trick is to just not be obnoxious about it.

Facebook is great for that sort of compulsion, but there’s also Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, Tumblr and a host of other social networking sites. All of them have potential. All of them can in fact be used to create awareness and debate. There’s a lot of cynicism about the idea of “Slacktivism.” I can’t say where I first saw the word, but I think it accurately describes a growing contingency of people who truly believe that liking, commenting on or sharing a deathly somber social or political event entitles them to feel like honest-to-God activists. There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing any of those things. The cynicism people express seemingly has more to do with those take their capacity to do more than just share a video on the internet for granted. At least, that’s how it appears to me, and I think that’s a justifiable frustration. It’s great that you suddenly care about something that has nothing to do with you. What gets in the way is a person’s ability to separate that something from you. To take a reaction and use it towards charitable, unselfish means is almost never beyond one’s reach. Self-absorption, a thousand distractions both understandable and not and even being overwhelmed by discouragement tends to get in the way.

I feel as though I struggle with all of those things. All I can do is try to learn from that struggle, and to let go of selfish thoughts in relation to causes, and what I can do to aid them. Sometimes, writing about it, or just trying to generate awareness and dialog are the best tools at my disposal. I don’t say this to justify my lack of doing more. It just might make me a better contributor to the world at large if I accept this fact. I’m not in danger of breaking an arm from patting myself on the back. That’s never been my problem. What I have to do is get over the guilt of wanting to do more, and that can be just as arrogant and useless as the people who are so busy giving themselves high-fives to the victory music from Rocky that they forget what it was they shared on Facebook to begin with.

Maybe, not as bad, but it’s awfully damn useless in the end if it doesn’t lead to something that helps more than my bruised and battered sense of self.

What impresses the most about the Kony 2012 video is that I still people posting opinions and fostering dialog. I’ve remarked at least a few million times now on my misanthropy towards people and what motivates them to say and do things, but it’s hard to be complete bastard about the aftermath of Invisible Children’s lengthy video that detail Joseph Kony’s monstrous deeds, and rally for others to join the cause. What I do understand is the extreme skepticism of Invisible Children’s qualifications as a charitable organization. Even the disgust some have felt towards the video’s smarmy, arrogant posturing makes sense. Sitting through the video is a task and a half. Not just because of its details, but because of how it comes across. I had a lot of difficult discouraging the thought that the filmmakers were just as concerned with crafting an image for themselves and Invisible Children as they were with their finding an audience for the video’s content. I never really did discourage it. The video is so smug that its heart is almost lost in an ocean of pretention.

So what? It’s unimportant what I think of the video from a technical or narrative standpoint. It’s that aftermath that’s held the greatest fascination for me. God bless those detractors. Even the ones who are clearly just getting off on wanting to be right. They have worked harder than those filmmakers in pointing out a number of highly suspect points about this organization. Their points have reached almost as large an audience, as those who posted the video with little thought towards doing some genuine research on their own part. Major news outlets have covered some of the very critical questions these doubters have raised. Issues such as Invisible Children’s handling of their funds (which they have responded to on their website), their desire to see military action, their failure to include Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, in their condemnation of Kony and the LRA. Or how the video failed to mention that Kony is reportedly no longer actually in Uganda. Some might respond to all of this by wondering if raising these questions will make a difference. I’ve noticed that it has actually made a difference. A quick glance at my Facebook news feed reveals people who are actually responding to the dissent behind Invisible Children in a way that might actually be meaningful. They’re actually looking for and then sharing information on organizations that don’t have the benefit of a slick video, but don’t raise quite as many red flags.

Nagging thoughts still creep in. Will this momentum have long-term implications? Will this receive the time and attention it truly deserves? I really don’t know, but I want to hope it does. That hope might be foolish, but I’ll give it a shot all the same. One thing is certain, and that’s the inescapable fact that if Invisible Children sincerely wanted to make Kony famous, then they have succeeded wildly. That video has received seen over forty-million hits thus far, and that number is certain to continue climbing for at least a while.

And what am I going to do? Whatever I can. I don’t want to feel empowered by what I do. I just want to see what hope, compassion an open mind and strength can do. That might have to be limited to writing, talking to people and sharing information and ideas. While I’m not about to wait for a humanitarian award I will always ask myself if what I’m doing is all I can do, and I will only look at that in terms of what I want to assist. Anything else is just an obstacle that gets in the way of whatever the actual subject might be.

However, I will always be engrossed by the evolution of a story on the internet. It’s engaging to see what happens to the original idea, what people do or don’t do with it when the ball is in their hands. Call it a modern-day version of people-watching.

Call this article whatever you want. All of this has been very keenly on my mind lately, and is often the case the best way for me to process something on my mind is to write about it. I have no clue what the writing will mean to others, and I shouldn’t care. This is just an aside to things around us that matter a whole lot more than what goes through my head. Commentary is nothing without action. Talking and thinking are not sins to the best of my knowledge. What is a sin is letting it get in the way of exhausting those actions.

If something truly good happens from all this everything else will just become mere static. When that happens a person is able to see that the work at hand is never truly done, and that thought will hopefully encourage them to get up in the morning, and do it all over again.

The following links were invaluable in the writing of this piece.

Kony 2012: Invisible Children And 7 Other Charities Fighting For Child Soldiers
How the Kony Video Went Viral
Think Twice Before Donating to Kony 2012, the Charitable Meme du Jour
What The Hell Is All This ‘#Kony2012′ Crap About?