Like many of you, I've been inundated with news about the Ugandan butcher Joseph Kony over the past week. Given the sudden and spectacular media coverage, it's hard not to hear this all as White Noise. A few of you (notably Ross and Emily and Paddy) have already written thoughtfully on this connection, drawing out DeLillo's line "For most people there are only two places in the world. Where they live and their TV set" (66). Or, perhaps their computer screens, the author might have said in 2012.
Suddenly a man perpetrating horrendous atrocities in a remote part of the world (remote to us, that is), finds himself turned into a celebrity. A quick quiz: Who is he? A foreigner. (The Other would also get credit here). Where does he live? Elsewhere. (Famously, almost 2/3 of Americans surveyed could not find Iraq on a map -- even after the invasion; about a third could not identify Louisiana -- even after all the coverage of Hurricane Katrina).
This is not, by a long shot, the first time Ugandan atrocities were covered. But it was never done in such a slick and sexy way before. And it couldn't have been done it without star power. Justin Bieber, Oprah, Kim Kardashian all tweeted (and can you think of a more astute observer of global politics than Kim? I'm going to use her first name because I see her more than I see most of my friends). Rhiana even went topless on her tweet to lend a... hand(?) to the cause.
In fact, the big story, as of a few days ago, was whether or not the Kony 2012 video could "go viral" as fast as Susan Boyle. (I mean, people, please: How many innocent people does one genocidal lunatic have to kill to surpass the talents of Susan Boyle?). I'm happy to report, he's done it! Or, not Kony, of course, but the Invisible Children organization that sponsored the video.
The Kony 2012 video taps into the American self-image of a nation of do-gooders. Why can't the whole world be well-off like the blonde family that opens video? (The video also self-referentially turns the film maker into a star, a hero in his own campaign).
Hearing this latest example of Carnage Elsewhere, is anyone else struck with a case of deja-vu? "What [does] it all mean? Is it possible to have a false perception of an illusion? Is there a true deja-vu and a false deja-vu?" (122).
To the media -- a tired loop of inanity orbiting in the same constellation of movie-stars -- isn't Kony just the another "Hitler-come-lately" -- a boogeyman to whom we can attach all our fears and nightmares? As the Daily Kos wonders, does anyone think "all Ugandan problems would be solved if we took out Kony"? To simplify the storyline, filmmakers seem to think, there needs to be a single clear villain and an "interactive" audience who can donate money and tweet their outrage in order to thwart him.
There are so many competing causes, inconceivable levels of poverty and suffering worldwide. Even in our country, the richest nation in the history of the world, 46 million Americans live below the poverty level, according to the most recent census data. To do nothing is unacceptable to most Americans, but what is there to do?
But the solution is not simple. It's not a tweet and it's not a donation. It's not a wrist band or an action kit. As I am sure the Invisible Children organization recognizes, these gestures may provide means, but hardly ends.
Samantha Power delivered a riveting TED talk on the topic, discussing some of the complicated politics involved in responding to genocide. But Power's own sweeping examination of American response to genocide, in the book "A Problem from Hell", ends with a series of rhetorical questions. This final one is this: "How can it be that who fight [genocide] are the ones deemed unreasonable?" (516). Isn't it less reasonable to do nothing?
Global problems are massive, though, and must be confronted by the entire international community and not just the United States -- and certainly not through the glossy sheen of star power. Yes, friends, this is a problem Hollywood can't solve. This problem is even bigger than Bieber.
Maybe a reality show in which 10 genocidal maniacs are forced to live on an island. Each week, you the viewer gets to decide....