NAIROBI, Kenya — Jon Stewart nailed it in his Daily Show sketch about KONY 2012 last week where he pointed out the traditional media's jealousy of Jason Russell and his KONY 2012 video.
"Mainly the media just seems annoyed ... 'I mean we're handsome, we're on TV, why won't Rihanna re-tweet our Kony stories?'" Stewart joked, mimicking aggrieved network anchors who don't understand why people pay attention to Invisible Children and Jason Russell rather than them.
The KONY 2012 video is not for experts who know the conflict — it is not for Africanists and academics, policy-makers, journalists, or even Ugandans — it is for the huge number of young mostly white, mostly Christian, wannabe-world-changers out there who don't know who Joseph Kony is, don't know where Uganda is and might even be a little hazy on whether Africa is a country or a continent.
Or we should say "didn't know" because over 100 million have watched the film now.
Will the video and the attention it's getting change anything on the ground in the parts of Africa where Kony still roams? Who knows?
Invisible Children's LRA Crisis Tracker and radio network is impressive and useful. Its advocacy efforts that led to 100 US military "advisors" being deployed to the region last year last year might help destroy the LRA or it might worsen the situation. We don't know which yet, but can it really be a bad thing that there are today a whole lot more people who know something about the LRA and Joseph Kony than there were last week? And if some of them want to know more they can start to dig a little deeper into the reams of reportage and academic studies that are out there.
Now it seems that under the pressure of an unexpectedly successful viral video and the media's mean-spirited attacks Russell has gone bonkers: running about his hometown drunk, semi-naked, smashing up cars and (this seems tricky to, ahem, pull off at the same time) masturbating. Hardly just deserts for a bloke who tried to stop something horrible happening in a faraway country, even if he does come across gallingly egotistical and self-satisfied.
Russell isn't the only one to take a kicking from the self-appointed guardians of what should and shouldn't be said about Africa — and who should and shouldn't be allowed to say it and to whom.
This tweet, for example, from Laura Seay aka Texas In Africa, a political science teacher at Morehouse College in Atlanta: "WHO CARES what George Clooney thinks about Sudan? I mean, it's great he's engaged and all, but he shouldn't be testifying before Congress."
I suppose Congress should be listening to — oh, I don't know — perhaps a professor at an American university who's never been to the Nuba Mountains but has read lots of footnoted academia on the subject. The point is Clooney's been there, he's seen stuff and he's got something to tell Congress or anyone else who'll listen, which because he's Clooney is a hell of a lot of people. Certainly more than will listen to a journalist or academic.
Like Russell, Clooney's heart is in the right place — even if we quibble with his methods — and he knows who his audience is.