KONY 2012: New Video Answers Critiques, But Lacks Predecessor’s Panache

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The viral video that went epidemic now has a new strain. Released in early March, the original Kony 2012 video sparked a wide range of discussion and criticism about its focus, its techniques, and its success. Yesterday, Invisible Children, the organization behind the first video, released a sequel, titled Kony 2012: Part II – Beyond Famous.

The latest release differs significantly from the first one. Gone are Jason Russell, his son, and those patronizing sequences. Gone is the hyperfocus on what possibilities social media might offer. Gone is the singular focus on arresting Joseph Kony, the Lord’s Resistance Army leader. Gone is the relentless intensity. In their place lies a more tempered, and better supported, message.

A key strength to this new piece is the inclusion of more voices and more authorities closer to the issues. The sequel includes a montage of African voices, of those “on the ground,” including Jolly Okot, labeled as “Country Director” for Invisible Children. Acaye Joseph tells more of his story — he now works for a law firm trying to further social justice issues.

The sequel also addresses the controversy and critiques that the first video generated by noting the changes that resulted from it. It explains how the African Union agreed to step up efforts to pursue Kony. It notes how resolutions in the House and Senate attracted a hundred co-sponsors.

The video further explains the scope of the problem, something the first video failed to do effectively. It outlines a “comprehensive approach” for a solution, including civilian protection, peaceful surrender, rehabilitation and reconstruction, and arrest of the top LRA leadership. Within this comprehensive approach it gets more into the human costs of the child kidnappings and other atrocities, showing how people escaping from the army require assistance in returning to their homes and showing how people work together to rebuild from the destruction caused by the army. Some footage shows the army starting fires and walking with guns, but the video wisely stays away from more gruesome footage, which easily could overpower any other messages the group is trying to get across. The video also shows how previous efforts, such as peaceful negotiations, have failed, and how the LRA managed to turn those peace efforts around to redouble their own strength and strategies.

As much as this video provides a fuller, more nuanced picture than the previous one, it still draws on that all-inclusive rhetoric, and it still places Invisible Children — and “we” — at the center of this change.

The video consistently reminds us that it is made by, and in part about, the group Invisible Children. Many of the interviews are with members of the organization. Charting the response to the first video becomes a sequence, with the segment explaining how the group received a flood of e-mails and phone calls. A lot of the archival stills show events organized by the group.

Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey, replacing Russell, offers a new first-person perspective with a more level and reasonable narration and story. He explains his connection to the group and his involvement. Those narratives occupy little time in this piece, thus removing the ego that fueled the first video.

Keesey’s voiceover quickly invokes the “we.” He says, “We have seen that stories can change lives, and inspire young people toward action.” Also: “Progress is being made and we are not stopping.” Last: “We can all do our part, where we are, with what we have.” After a while, these kinds of statements begin to ring hollow.

While the first 16 or so minutes this piece in general offer a more level and informative overview, the last few minutes revert back to the impassioned plea for our participation in the Cover the Night activities planned for April 20. The voiceover recedes and the music swells, as title cards and images explain what “we” should do that night. After a disclaimer, it even outlines a specific plan, which includes gathering friends, contacting policymakers, serving communities, and (of course) promoting “justice for Joseph Kony.” Images show a range of possibilities for getting that message out, such as signs, stickers, banners, T-shirts, and even street art. All of these items feature the branded message and inverted triangle symbol.

This sequel will not get the same reach and exposure as the first one. In its attempts to be more expansive and rational, it loses the overly dramatic arcs of the first one. For better or worse, those overly dramatic techniques of the first video hooked viewers, kept them watching and sharing, and ultimately polarized them. Keesey lacks the same mania that Russell possessed. The pace is not as driven. The message is not as single-minded.

Overall, while this version answers some of the critiques and gaps of the first, it lacks the same grab to the gut. There is no telling just how people might have reacted if this video had been released first, but my guess is the reaction would have been nowhere near as dramatic or widespread. These two videos raise some interesting questions about the connections among arguments, emotions, and activism; their best representations; and their connections. Unfortunately, they offer no easy answers for those who might be looking to mimic their success.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.