Russell and his colleagues seem to believe that because their goal is not to make Kony famous so as to celebrate him, but instead "to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice," that this justifies the fact that they don't need to explain anything complicated to the young people they are trying to mobilize. Albert Einstein once observed bitterly that "he who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him a spinal cord will suffice." If one watches the music-video-style evocation in Kony 2012 of crowds of young people joyfully mobilizing en masse to demand Kony's arrest, it is quite hard to believe Invisible Children's claim that their campaign encourages deep thinking -- or, frankly, any thinking at all -- beyond the expression of moral outrage. In the end, this is Kony 2012's deepest flaw. For what it is actually peddling (under the flag of grassroots activism and a universal ethics of caring) is little more than a cheap techno-utopianism that conflates the entirely admirable wish for a better world with the belief that knowing how to move toward it is a simple matter, requiring more determination and goodwill than knowledge.
This is a fundamentally childlike view of the world. But even by the standards of the contemporary United States, where feeling and the instinctual is raised high above reason -- a view encapsulated in author Malcolm Gladwell's claim that "there can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis" -- and the child's eye view is held by many to be more discerning than the adult's, Kony 2012 is an extreme version of the idea. The early part of the film, after a few opening bits of technophilia about global connectedness, is followed by Russell sitting down with his young son, Gavin, to "explain" to him what "the war's about and who Joseph Kony is." He does this, and it makes for painful viewing -- a politically correct catechism in which it is unclear whether it is Russell or his son who is the more infantile. "What do I do for a job?" Russell asks. "You stop the bad guys from being mean," Gavin replies.
This might be written off as a relatively harmless narrative device were the rest of Russell's explanation to his viewers more nuanced, which is to say, more adult. But Kony 2012 is rhetorically seamless in that it delivers all its argument at the same level of maturity as Russell exhibits in his conversation with Gavin. Joseph Kony is the bad guy, and it is up to the good guys -- Russell, the Facebook millions, the U.S. military, and you -- to stop Kony. Nothing more, it seems, needs to be said. One more military intervention by the United States in the name of human rights, with all the imperial echoes that go with it? No problem in such a good cause. Ugandan history? Some other time, perhaps. The context of Kony's rebellion? Too complicated, at least for now. In short, nothing must be allowed to get in the way of building a movement, getting ready to put up posters, and pressuring the celebrities and politicians, or "policymakers" and "culture-makers," as Russell calls them in the film, to find a way to arrest Joseph Kony.
Here, too, Russell's choice of whom to try to influence is revealing, for the infatuation with celebrity, the worship of (American) power, and the refusal of politics is at the core of the campaign. It allows Russell to lump together Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Sen. Harry Reid, and Rep. John Boehner in the list of policymakers he wants to influence (U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are the only non-Americans on the list) with Lady Gaga, Oprah, Rush Limbaugh, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg among the culture-makers. (Justin Bieber, a Canadian, is the lone non-American on the culture-makers list.)
Again, in a film that treated its audience as adults, rather than as children or the recruits Einstein evoked, joyfully marching in rank and file, Russell would have had to pause to ask himself hard questions, such as: What might be the risks to Uganda's civilian population if the U.S. government were to give aid and more advanced military equipment to the Ugandan military to track Kony, thus strengthening a regime in Kampala whose hands are anything but clean -- as anyone who was in eastern Congo during the Ugandan intervention there in the late-1990s can attest? And as they say in the military, in war, the enemy gets a vote. At present -- though one would never know this from Russell's film -- Kony and the LRA are a largely spent force. But if a new campaign against them were launched, what would their response be; what crimes would they commit? Russell can talk all he likes about "arresting" Kony, but what Invisible Children is actually calling for is "war" -- without acknowledging that in war there are invariably unintended consequences. The lesson of the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- which is that hoping for the best is not a plan -- does not seem to resonate with Russell at all.