The stranger than fiction rise and fall of the Kony 2012 Viral Campaign was one of the most fascinating in media history.
The 30 minute video that first began its circulation in the early stages of March this year, now rests at a whopping 93 million views.
On the other hand, the 30 second video of its creator Jason Russell looking for the mind he lost- naked in the streets of LA, scrapes a comparatively minor 1.8 million.
Despite a few shades of grey, opinions towards the video and the campaign became quickly polarised. A huge number of people remained all aboard the Kony express, and rode that train into the sunset of April 20th, when the supporters were encouraged to go out after dark and clad their respective cities in Kony promotional material. Others, arguably the majority, became cynical. They questioned Invisible Children’s financial workings, and indeed, it’s leadership. Urging people to take a closer peek at the organisation that they have chosen to support.
If you wish to find more information on these perspectives, enlightenment is, as always, a Google search away.
I want to do something slightly different and take a deeper look at KONY 2012, not at Invisible Children and not at Jason Russell but rather at us, the people who have consumed it. I want to look at what the video appealed to within us.
Almost every campaign that’s gone viral in the past has centered on the driving force of humour. People see something that they find funny and pass it on. Those that receive it enjoy it and give social kudos to those that sent it. The process continues and the video spreads like wildfire. Social kudos is the driving factor behind virality. But Kony has appealed to a force far stronger than humour.
Being socially conscious gets you some social kudos. Just ask Patrick Bateman.
Being perceived by others as a good person is a pretty darn stylish thing, and we would all like to be perceived as having a social conscience. Kony 2012 has given us the cheapest way to achieve that feeling, circulate the video. Get likes; achieve the image of a socially minded individual. Granted, it sounds spiteful but it’s not intended as such.
It also feels good to help people, this is why we drop fifty cents into the guitar case of the busker, it’s why we volunteer to give blood and it’s why we buy the Big Issue (journalistic value aside). For many people, the good feeling one received by sharing the video was a strong motivator. This shouldn’t be shunned for its superficiality. Regardless of whether or not one wishes to appear socially minded, feel good for their actions or both as long as these motivators prompt legitimately socially conscious action, then it can be argued they are each still positive motivators.
But I do not believe that it was either of these components, these motivators within the Kony 2012 campaign that became the driving factor of its virality.
I believe it’s the grander idea of being a part of something, throwing in your lot to a quest that’s romantic and uplifting- that sense of purpose. Kony 2012 appeals directly to the stories that we were told as children of good ultimately overcoming evil. Not the morality of it, but the dream of wanting to be a part of the band of heroic knights that slay the dragon. We all want to be heroes.
To quote Hunter Thompson
“A fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…”
The Kony video is successful for exactly the same reason that this scene from Lord Of The Rings is amazing. It fills us with contempt, then inspires us.
Feel the despair at the screams and hopelessness of the Gondor civilians!
Feel the anger as you see them desperately struggle against the evil oppressors!
Feel disgust as their evil leader- the witch king- does his evil thing!
The feel the hope as the third party forces of good arrive!
Feel the excitement as the heroic king Theoden calls his men to arms!
Feel the surge of power as they charge down hillside to glory, saving the Ugandan childre- I mean Gondor civilians!
Kony 2012 invites us to join the Riders of Rohan, It paints a polarized picture of good versus evil and quite literally calls us to arms. For those with limited understanding of how messaging is constructed within the media, this is an incredibly potent idea.
It’s terrifying to think that this emotion is so universally powerful within us. Not to mention so easily tapped. That so many people can be prompted to simply switch off that higher judgement and become carried away by a beautiful energy. Of course- channel this for good and it’s fantastic. But it’s also just as terrifying to think how easily that emotion could be manipulated and harnessed to achieve anything. Sending our military to occupy another country for instance. But hey our democratically elected officials would never dream of something like that.
So where are those WMD’s again?