Autistic enemy images : The case of Kony 2012

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On February 5th 2012, Invisible Children launched the campaign Kony 2012 with the release of a 30 minute film. It focussed on the victims of a civil war which started in northern Uganda 26 years ago and which has since then spread to (present day) South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. The war is characterized by war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, mutilation and abduction of civilians, children included. Within days of its release the film attracted millions of viewers, making it the biggest viral phenomenon in web history (Bariyo, 2012). Invisible Children managed to achieve what no news agency or documentary maker had been able to do in the 26 years of the conflict’s history; it managed to focus the attention of ‘the international community’ on a conflict that few people outside of the conflict affected area had heard of before. It was able to do so by focussing the campaign’s story on a small part of the conflict, the LRA and its leader Joseph Kony, and relating the conflict to high emotional values held by the target audience. By using a variety of manipulation techniques that include the techniques of identification and labelling, simplification, repetition, personification and visual referencing, a powerful autistic enemy image was created. It made it easy for an uninformed audience to subscribe to the enemy image of the LRA and in particular Joseph Kony being solely responsible for the atrocities committed in the conflict against children and innocent civilians. In Kony 2012, Invisible Children omitted to show how the colonial roots of the conflict, as well as the numerous other parties (other than the Ugandan and US governments and the ICC) that are involved of which many have been accused of having committed similar crimes. Nor did it tell the history of the conflict and the continuous failure of military intervention or the existence of opportunities for a peaceful resolution and the obstacles that the ICC arrest warrants issued against the LRA leadership form in this process. This intense focus on Joseph Kony and his use of children in the conflict, combined with compelling storytelling and manipulation techniques lead Kony 2012 to create a very strong one sided view, an autistic enemy image, of Joseph Kony and the LRA in the minds of the viewer. By analysing the goals and interests of the main parties involved in the conflict it becomes evident that several parties, including the Ugandan government, the United States government and Invisible Children itself benefitted from the effects of the autistic enemy images created by the Kony 2012 campaign. The autistic enemy images that many have subscribed to and that have generated such a vast media attention have helped legitimize imperial and colonial objectives of the foreign parties involved in the conflict. In case of the United States government the campaign is a welcome development that will help it legitimize its expansion of military and political influence in Central Africa and for Invisible Children it means a continuation and potential expansion of its activities to other regions. These underlying interest focusing on the expansion of political and military influence, and the transfer of western culture and values onto non-western populations indicate imperial and colonial tendencies of the US government and Invisible Children. The Kony 2012 campaign, through its use of autistic enemy images and manipulation techniques may be a continuation of colonialism and used as a legitimisation for imperialism, but perhaps at its very core Invisible Children’s call for the defence of basic values, human rights and a desire for peace, that are supported by the vast majority of cultures around the world is not colonial at all but very human.
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