The Dark Side of Kony 2012: Look in the Mirror

Most folks are at least somewhat familiar with the “Kony 2012″ phenomenon by now. Millions have become captivated by the story. But by and large, no one knew a thing about Joseph Kony, Invisible Children or Jason Russell a couple of weeks ago.

It’s a new world.

For those still catching their breath in the 24-hour news cycle and viral media reality we’re in, Joseph Kony is a member of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. He’s also a wanted war criminal, accused of having a hand in more than 30,000 children being abducted and forced into fighting for the LRA in the past few decades. He’s a fugitive, and the folks at Invisible Children decided to do something about it.

Earlier this month, the organization released a 30-minute video that not only laid bare the crimes of which Kony and the LRA have been accused; it also employed what is called “an experiment” in the video. The idea was to turn all the ammunition of social media on rooting out this man. The results were amazing.

But not in the way everyone might have hoped, and certainly not how the creators expected.

The video went viral. Celebrities jumped on board, helping spread the word. Hashtags on Twitter like “StopKony” and “Kony2012″ trended upward at dizzying rates. After millions of hits, the Invisible Children site crashed under the weight of such unforeseen attention. Jason Russell, the narrator of the video and spokesperson for Invisible Children, became an instant celebrity, invited onto every talk show and news segment his schedule could handle.

I can only imagine what the effects of such literal overnight stardom have on a person. But if Jason Russell is any example, it’s not good.

Jason Russell, Spokesperson for Invisible Children

After a breakneck media tour, Russell snapped. He was discovered nearly naked, wandering the streets, babbling incoherently. It was also reported he was pulling his underwear off and masturbating in public. Though the official press release from Invisible Children is that Russell’s theatrics were a result of exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition, speculation is that he was under the influence of controlled substances.

What’s remarkable and exciting is that a small group like Invisible Children with a limited budget and a compelling story can rock the media world on its heels. They can command the public’s attention and focus millions of people on a common goal of calling an injustice out into the light.

Related: Understanding the Criticism of Kony 2012

The problem is that, to date, Kony is still at large, and the story has devolved into tabloid fodder over Jason Russell. He is humiliated, the organization risks the loss of all credibility. Children are still at risk of abduction, abuse and murder in Uganda, but we’re more fascinated with a guy making a fool of himself when he withers under the intense glare of an unexpected spotlight.

Brave New Films

How much did we, or do we, care about child soldiers in Uganda? How motivated are we to see Joseph Kony brought to justice? Enough to repost a video or tweet a trending hashtag perhaps. But we’re so easily distracted. There’s so much else scrambling for our attention. so many wrongs in the world that it can be overwhelming. And though we like a quick, sanitary, low-demand way to feel like we’re doing something good, we’d actually much rather be reading about a drugged-up white guy running around town in his underwear.

Yes, Jason Russell Screwed up, and his timing could hardly be worse. But the breakdown itself, though it tells us something about the culture of instant celebrity we live in, tells us more about ourselves if we pay attention.

We want to feel good about ourselves, but more than that, we’re hopeless voyeurs. Given the choice between digging deeper into the problem of child soldiers in Uganda and a clicking on a headline about a schmuck in his underwear, we’ll take the latter.

Some might say the ugly side of this story is what happened to Jason Russell. I say its the fact that we made what happened to him a story at all. Call me a hypocrite or say I’m adding to the problem by talking about it further, but you won’t find links here to stories about Jason Russell. This isn’t about Jason; it never was.

It all reminds me of a now-famous sermon given by Tony Campolo in which he said, “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said ‘shit’ than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

Tony’s right. We don’t really give a shit. And it’s too bad, because 30,000 child soldiers in Uganda wish we did.

READ HERE about the UN’s report on Ugandan child soldiers.

Learn more about Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army HERE.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. He is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. Christian has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.Visit, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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About the Author

Christian Piatt

Christian PiattChristian Piatt is an author, founder of the Homebrewed CultureCast Podcast and owner of Crowdscribed, a publishing house, social networking platform and crowdfunding tool.View all posts by Christian Piatt →

  • Kokkonuts

    Yeah but even before he lost it. I had figured that giving money to the Uganda military who also uses children and rape women is just not the way to go about making a difference in children’s lives. Plus oil has been found in the teritory. There seems to be a bigger agenda here. Maybe he went nuts after realizing that.

  • Drew

    You don’t like the media focusing on Russell.  So naturally, you focus on the media.  Nobody is focusing on Kony.  Epic fail, Piatt.

  • Carolnowlin

    Please rethink your statements about Jason Russell. You began by noting the “speculation” about his use of controlled substances but then went on to freely use epithets like “drugged-up” and “schmuck in his underwear.” Jason’s wife recently published a statement confirming that he suffered a mental health breakdown; wouldn’t it be better to accept her word for it than join in the character-smearing and voyeuristic language you deplore? Also on the same topic of a plea for greater compassion, your blanket judgment of people who may have followed the KONY 2012 movement as “not giving a shit” is unkind and doesn’t help anyone–them, Jason Russell, or the “30,000 child soldiers in Uganda” (not a correct number). I would have responded better to your overall point if you had directed your frustration first at yourself before attacking others so thoughtlessly.

  • a little compassion?  Jason didn’t whither under the heat of celebrity.  there was vitriol and hate directed at him. the world weighed his motives – in effect attacking his identity and character- if you don’t like the message, attack the messenger. if you don’t want to participate, then find an excuse to delegitimize the cause or organization.   I can’t begin to imagine the weight of that scrutiny on what was a well-crafted video – with one intent – keep the promise made to Jacob – the young boy whose intense cries of grief at the loss of his brothers to the LRA prompted a promise and launched a ministry.

    You’ve judged his character and motives just the rest of the world.

    and by the way – Kony is not a mere “member” of the LRA.  He is the witchdoctor, leader, and author of devastation caused by the LRA.

  • Tynne

    I forced myself to finish reading this article and my conclusion is – it’s cynical and mean-spirited. Not exactly Christ-like (from your purpose statement “He also calls us to be merciful”). I failed to see Christian Piatt giving any mercy to Jason Russell. Russell suffered a psychotic break (in the article Piatt referred to it as a “breakdown”). A psychotic break is a biological reaction to excessive mental strain (either induced by stress or by existing medical conditions), a MEDICAL disorder (God designed our bodies to give us warning systems, our society teaches us to ignore the smaller signs so our bodies are often forced to desperate measures). I fail to see where Piatt’s descriptions (“a guy making a fool of himself when he withers”; a schmuck in his underwear”; ‘Jason Russell Screwed up, and his timing could hardly be worse”) honoured Russell, God or Christ in any shape, form or fashion. The man I saw in the video was sincere. You could see how much he truly cares about these people and has spent the last decade of his life dedicated to helping them.

    As someone who is recovering from a psychotic break I hope that people would have the empathy and compassion not to judge my entire life, my family and my work based on the darkest days of my existence. Christ commanded us to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34. I fail to see any love in this article only cruelty.

    Tony, it says on your home page that “I am going to do my best to introduce you to people and ideas that will inspire, encourage…” well, let me tell you – you “screwed up”. “Made a fool” of yourself. From what I read above Christian Piatt is a “schmuck” and his outdated attitude toward mental health proves his “timing couldn’t be worse.”

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Understanding the Criticism of KONY 2012

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