Well then, what have you done to make a difference? This is perhaps the most common question hurled at critics of Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign. At anyone, really, who dares question the efforts of a humanitarian organization. What have you done? What have you accomplished in your life that grants you a position over those trying to make a difference in the world? If you’ve got nothing better than sound judgment and intelligent reasoning to back your criticism, then why don’t you shut your cynical self up and repost that video on Facebook like everyone else?
Like all ad hominem attacks disguised poorly as meaningfully introspective questions, the question tries to stick the knife in where it hurts. It’s never really a question when the answer is so clearly presumed, which is no. Nein. You have done nothing to make a difference. Ergo you don’t deserve to have a contrary opinion. All you’re doing with your criticism is just sitting idle and typing away with your bums on a cushion and two feet resting on top of a table, vegetating.
It would be easy to ask in response, are the supporters of the Kony 2012 program doing anything more than sitting in comfy little chairs and typing away on laptops? You could even go out on a limb and say cynics have to expend a tad more energy because they actually have to open up a whole other tab and Google for sources to back their negativity. Also, frowning requires more facial muscles.
All sarcasm put aside, I, like most, had mixed feelings about the Kony Campaign. First and foremost, to give credit where credit is due, the way Invisible Children was able to mobilize the online community was astounding. And it was great that they, however briefly, created this outflow of Kony 2012 support that seemed to point to a sort of universal human sympathy for the plights of other human beings. And that an undoubtedly evil man with a history of committing atrocities was brought into attention seemed a worthy enough cause.
At the same time, it felt inherently wrong to herald a man in hiding since ’06 as He-Who-Must-Be-Stopped of 2012, much less make him the poster child for donations for an organization with somewhat of a questionable history in terms of using its money.
Money. Really, this was the seed from which all criticism stemmed. Money you could give to them by buying an action kit or walking the traditional route and giving them donations, for which you’d get the kit for free. Those were number two and number three on stuff you should do if you aren’t a celebrity or a person with political gravitas.
And that’s all fine. After all, even non-profit organizations need money to take action. But where would all of the money that Invisible Children garners from this video actually go to? How will it be used? Critics charge at the fact that most of this money is not spent on the issues for which the donations are made. A lot of it is being spent on traveling and making videos, apparently. Well, we could all see that. The video was well made and probably wasn’t too cheap to make. Heck, it even starred George Clooney.
Then what do these videos do in turn? One of the things the Kony video does, and does well, is to flatter and empower its viewers, telling them yes, they can be as cool and effective as those charitable celebrities if they use what is within their arsenal — money and the social media. Can they, really, be as effective as Clooney? And should they even try? As kindhearted and humanitarian as they may be, should the lay people attempt to meddle with the issues of another country that are already being dealt with under cover by the U.S. government and military? And is this video honest and truthful, and not merely sparking a sort of mob mentality amongst the online, generation Y community by feeding biased, inflammatory facts? In short, is Invisible Children trolling for money?
The reality is, if you dig around a bit, you’ll find dirt in any organization. So the Invisible Children may have stretched the truth here and there, misappropriated money and may potentially incite violence in support of its causes. We can all think of at least one religion with a long, long history of all of the above. So Invisible Children may be somewhat of a hypocrite, just like how PETA, heralded by an insulin dependent leader, kills more animals daily than certain slaughterhouses. All of these organizations are founded to promote humanitarian efforts. Do these efforts sanctify them from criticism, because the end justifies the means?
No. They don’t. And that kind of childishly defensive “what have you done” attitude doesn’t get us any farther along than unbridled cynicism does. It would be as pointless as Obama responding to criticisms of his presidency by asking his critics, “Well then, what have you done to run the country?”
I quote the wise words of Anton Ego, esteemed food critic with a weakness for ratatouille: “But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”
Indeed. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, the Kony 2012 campaign is meaningful, more meaningful than our criticisms, however valid. At the very least, it will have meant that there was an organization that was able to bring over 70 million to recognize a heinous civil rights abuser, to make that 70 million feel, if only for 30 minutes, for the sufferings of others. Donating money, however misappropriated it is, however pointless, brings that wonderful high that comes from the feeling of having made a difference. And if through millions of misappropriated dollars a difference was made to a single life, than it will have achieved more than what most of us have achieved thus far. It will have brought to fruition that wonderful, inherent human desire to help those in need that is perhaps the very driving force that made Kony 2012 such a sensation.
Patricia Kim is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Better on Paper appears alternate Thursdays this semester.