Monthly Archives: March 2012

International Public Enemy #1

2 days ago a video went viral. For a few hours people were inspired, but quickly it turned into vitriolic critique not only of the film but the concept. Many of the negative critiques have been targeted at Invisible Children’s practices as an organization, not whether Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, is a war criminal. It has drawn a line between optimists and pessimists. Between people who want to believe that they can help make the world better and cynics who see this kind of thing as useless and manipulative. It has quickly devolved into a discussion of whether clicking on a link can help and whether this is a money making scam. The criticisms break down like this:

This is called slacktivism – the self-deluding idea that by sharing, liking, or retweeting something you are helping out.

It would be great to get rid of Kony. He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years. But let’s get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.

Yes, the guy behind this campaign acted with a lot of hubris. And probably did not think about the amount of scrutiny that an idea this big would have to go through. Some are calling it a a scam because the heads of the non-profit are paying themselves ninety grand  /yr., which doesn’t really sound unreasonable to me.

For me it is a cautionary tale about dealing with a huge international issue with a simple media message. You need to craft it well, have a kick-ass communications person ready for the back-lash, and think through all the ways that you could be misunderstood. My take on this is that they thought that their concept was so good and so simple that everyone would jump on board and they would save the world.

But now I am not sure whether people think Kony or Jason Russell, Invisible Children’s founder, are the worst.

And some of the criticisms from “experts” are a bit hyperbolic on their end. For instance the leap like this:

One of the biggest issues with a simplistic “Stop Kony” message is that discussions of Navy Seals or drone strikes are inevitable when patience runs out with Ugandan-led efforts. But what about the dozens or hundreds of abducted and brainwashed kids? Should we bomb everyone?

Many of the criticisms are coming from other relief workers in Uganda who think that Invisible Children should have a different agenda. But I got tired of reading lots of bloggers and opinions and decided to go to a non-blogger for some clarification and found a UN site that stated the following:

[This was written several months ago, before Invisible Children’s video] Economic and social recovery in northern Uganda has been slow, despite more than US$600 million having been spent in foreign aid in the years since the LRA was active there. According to development agencies and local communities, many are still living in abject poverty and in constant fear of a return of the LRA.

Development agencies and local communities cannot envisage economic and social recovery in northern Uganda until the LRA is disbanded and stability is brought to the whole region. “The fear of the LRA returning is affecting development,” said Bishop John Odama.

Lobongo Eromoja, a survivor of April 2005 LRA attack on the town of Atiak, in which some 200 people died, said: “When I hear that Joseph Kony is arrested or killed, only then will I know peace has returned… until then, we can’t rule out the possibility of them returning.”

And not all report are negative. The NY Times reports:

In this case, some experts said Invisible Children’s campaign, while oversimplified, could help add to the international resolve to stop the killing.

“It’s ultimately a good thing,” said Pernille Ironside, a senior adviser for child protection at Unicef who is an expert on the Lord’s Resistance Army. “It’s not just one organization in the United States who has discovered this issue,” she said. Still, Invisible Children “is essentially distilling a very complicated 26-year war into something that’s consumable and understandable by mass media.”

And so at the end of the day, there are many shades of gray in this scenario. If it helps the traumatized people of Uganda, and focuses attention on the other child soldiers in Africa, and catches a despicable war criminal, then it is successful. It has certainly gotten millions of people across a wide spectrum talking.


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The New Old Hatred of Women

Oklahoma Senator protests "personhood" bill

To paraphrase a male friend — “Mandatory transvaginal ultrasound, restrictions on contraception, being forced to bring your rapist’s child to term and simply accept it as “a broken gift from God”, demonizing Planned Parenthood, Rush Limbaugh calling woman who want contraception to be covered by health care “SLUTS”, WOW … these Republicans are a bunch of weird and repressive (repressed?) characters who would undoubtedly have been more at home in the 15th Century telling people how to pray and when and whom they could screw …

I find it extremely difficult to believe that all my conservative girlfriends are okay with this kind of idiocy. I get that we can be on opposite sides on a lot of issues, but in this case I can’t see it at all. Why aren’t they up in arms? And the contradictions are almost too twisted to believe.  The old white men don’t want the government in our lives, yet they want to mandate that women can be denied medicine prescribed by a doctor because your boss doesn’t want to you have it.  Don’t like death panels?  They bring us rape panels. Forcing doctors to do unnecessary and intrusive procedures (we won’t even discuss the extra costs) and in some states to read from scripts written by non-medical bureaucrats. And who is getting between women and their doctors?  The Grand Old Party itself, mostly a bunch of old white farts.  This has gone too far!  What will it take to stop them? 

THE NEW AMAZONS. 13 October 2011. Inna Shevchenko, 21, is one of the leaders of Femen. The feminist Ukrainian protest group organizes topless protests against sex tourists, sexism and social problems. Photo by Guillaume Herbaut.

These women in Ukraine have the right idea!

This photo, recognized on Friday with a World Press Photo award, is bound to grab attention, as breasts often do, and the Ukranian feminist group, FEMEN, clearly plays to that reaction.

The Stance: Shevchenko’s pose, with the raised fist, speaks of her mission to teach women to be more assertive. The figure of the ‘Amazonian’ is a central reference FEMEN utilizes. If the identification is to the “other,” suggesting the marginalization these women feel, it also points to ‘Amazonians,’ in the cultural imagination, as a matriarchal tribe made up of fearsome and fearless women.

The Headdress and Tattoo: The headdress is another a reference to the Amazonians, as well as political protest as public theater. This actual garland and brightly coloured ribbons also suggest femininity, something which the group is keen to display in contrast to some feminist groups in the past. As for the garland tattoo, it shows how Shevchenko’s cause is so essential it is physically mapped to her, her body as both cause and message. The strategy overall involves the reversal of signs: if femininity is seen to equal weakness and vulnerability, Shevchenko and FEMEN demand that it equal strength. What could be the crown of a beauty queen is willed to equal the headdress of a tribal warrior.

The Location: Shevchenko is depicted in open grassland on the edge of what seems to be a cluster of Soviet-style apartment blocks. This speaks of marginalization as well as the groups Ukrainian and urban environment. The grassy field upon which Shevchenko stands is another clever double symbol representing both marginalization and pastoral freedom. It reveals a dream of an Eden, a renewed innocence directed at and by the female body in contrast to the body’s exploitation by mainstream culture.

What this portrait also tells us is that, exposed or hidden, women’s bodies are a hot topic. (I mean, see all the worry over the fact that the woman in the World Press winning photo is wearing a burkha).Veiled or on display, the female body is defined by sexuality in a way that male bodies are not. (It is worth pointing out that if a man walked down the street topless he would not get arrested, and neither would he attract much extra attention at a protest). With this simultaneously innocent and knowing revelation of the female torso, I think Shevchenko is also asking us to realize how “exposed” or “hidden” are false distinction — that it is the human form and, as such, represents identity, physicality and power.

FEMEN considers it a risk worth taking to draw attention to the problems women face in their society. This picture as a photographic object must undergo the same difficult process of interpretation – is it a kind of pornography or a protest item that raises the awareness of FEMEN’s cause? It is highly reliant on context. But in a world where the female body is so often appropriated by others, especially by visual media, it’s also FEMEN’s statement and demand to use their bodies as visual tools to further the cause of equality. Full article here

American Women Unite! We can take back our power, too! Lysistrata, Amazon Women, good old Frontier Women. We do not have to take this crap!!!

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