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On swapping Kony 2012 tickets for Radiohead tickets

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Friends, the project is designed to bring the hard stuff into the airy light. Expose the dark places, put on some Nancy Sinatra, open a sticky window, even if it means breaking it with your elbow. After several days of the Kony 2012 meme, I am more dysatisfunctional than usual, and any laughs have wild horse eyes behind them. Please allow me to explore my social surrounds before moving onto the most embarrassing meme we ever fell for.

I had pretty much accepted that many of my friends and family, while highly intelligent, simply couldn’t find it in them to care much for what goes on and wrong in the world. Maybe because their lives are already too hard, or perhaps too easy. Whatsoever, I love them how they are, and grudgingly I’ll admit, I love the world how it is too. Each causes the other, and I love that. So perfect. So broken. So ugly, but always on the threshold of redemption. And why should everyone automatically care about what I care about? The correct answer is, they should not. What qualifies me as any sort of arbiter for this intellectual and ethical quality assurance scheme? Nothing. So it goes, a wary truce:

1) Last Easter, I gave visiting friends a hard time for not thinking clearly through some party trick that involves four people lifting up a sitting fifth person using only their two index fingers. So quick they were to believe in some mystical mastery of will, and so quick to deride my skepticism and attempts to break the problem down into its components. I was open to eventually concluding that modern physics could not explain it, and maybe there was some Tetsuo bullshit at play after all. But rather uncomfortably, I turned to the issue of how groups handle dissent and difference, ‘playing the man’ rather than the idea, and resorting to a kind of stacks-on bullying that, as I dug in more, gradually lost its sense of cheerful ribbing. Fairly petty stuff, maybe. Trust an arts graduate to turn a conversation about hard sciences into a critique of social power.

2) I was recently derided as pretentious for having the gall to wonder about how we need a word like misogyny but more positive, in which fear results from recognising awesome lady powers. A sympathetic friend offered that “Thambogyny” could mean awe of women, and I like this word. It used not to exist, and now it does, and I’m going to use it. “I am a thambogynist.” There. I might use it the next time my uncle starts a conversation on Gillard’s carbon tax, but winds up talking about how he wouldn’t fuck her.

3) Another friend explained, on a car trip back from a birthday weekend, how he had decided years ago never to consider politics and social justice, because it was all too hard, too stressful, and his life would not improve by dwelling on such things. I appreciated his honesty! No excuses there, no dull compensations, and that is worth something. When we shot past a speed camera and each wondered aloud whether we’d slowed in time, I quipped that all we had to do was refuse to acknowledge the ticket if it came, and it need trouble us no more. The angry flash in the rearview carried more than words could say.

You see, every now and again, I make things uncomfortable for my friends and family. Deliberately. It’s my most dysatisfunctional quality, and my rationale outweighs my regret: if I have to live with their rushed judgements, having to roll over constantly because everyone agrees there’s no time to investigate, no time to think things through, then every now and again I will let them know how immense can be the bridge I cross to hang with, well, people. If they weren’t stuffed to the brim with other wonderful traits, I obviously wouldn’t bother, and the same could be said in return, for every time I take the air from the room.

In the wake of Kony 2012, my Hindu cow acceptance of these social surrounds has shattered into so many billion pinheads. I am bereft and angry. Just as I had carefully arranged the furniture around many of my loved ones’ collective inability to look past their laptops, or to think methodically really about anything beyond “rent or buy?” (which admittedly is a legitimately complicated problem), up they rose to meet the clarion call of human progress, like animated Safari herds.

What finally roused the middle-class beast from its slumber? Was it Labor’s Stronger Futures program, aiming to extend the Northern Territory intervention and retard Indigenous self-determination for another ten years? No. Was it the Eurozone’s latest Greek bailout plans, designed purely to keep repayments flowing from Greece to its creditor nations at the expense of Greek citizens’ quality of life? No. Was it that we don’t know where our investments are going or what they are propping up, that our iPads are ruining Chinese factory workers’ lives, that chickens are engineered so breasty that their legs can’t support them, that cow udders get so lacerated from hormone-augmentation they bleed pus into our milk, or that UNESCO is currently investigating sea floor dredging around the Great Barrier Reef that threatens its world heritage status?

No. It was fucking Kony 2012. Sounds like a cheap blu-ray player rip-off imported from Seychelles, but is actually the polished product of dubious white people who spend way too much of your donation money on slick online content. This content may be emotionally compelling, yet it is wildly inaccurate and out of date. Kony 2012 is a long advertisement geared towards keeping shady fauxtavist group Invisible Children in business. Read how the group has refused to have their financial records externally audited and verified by NGO watchdogs such as the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator.  Invisible Children funds the Ugandan Army, whose own human rights record is somewhere between dubious and appalling, depending on what you think of rape, looting and mass displacement, answering to a leader who hasn’t budged in 25 years. Invisible Children’s half hour hit meme has very little relevance to a cluster of national crises in Uganda including unemployment, homelessness, mental illness, child prostitution and HIV/AIDS epidemics, none of which are improved by hunting Kony. Saving children is less heroic once they’ve grown into teenagers and adults with crippling mental health problems and a mystery disease. How awkward! We knew about the rapes, abductions and child soldiering back before Kanye was rapping about Blood Diamonds, so why get this excited after the fact? It’s like cheering a goal after everyone left the stadium. The cleaner is giving you that wtf? look, not least because we’ve been economically thriving off of regulated exploitation of failed third states for a couple hundred years.

I take it personally that Kony 2012 has scored such a hit with so many of my friends. Folks regularly share a gaggle of petitions, random ideas, online lectures and other media on their twitter accounts and Facebook newsfeed. Some of it gains traction, some floats by, and that’s appropriate when you consider most folks are grabbing glimpses of it between work and errands and general dicking around. Why Kony 2012, out of all newsfeed causes? It’s not current, it’s not accurate, and it’s conspicuously more popular than the next-best online click-cause. Facebook activism is fairly limited at the best of times, but it still accords with grassroots consciousness-raising principles, and I wouldn’t misunderestimate the amount we learn from each other in online social media. Speaking for myself, I’m only a little embarrassed to admit the dreaded FB is a huge information gateway throughout the day.

And what I’ve learned in the last three days is that falling for the glitzy white man’s burden of Kony 2012 makes you a little bit retarded. Not a metaphor for the intellectually disabled, but actually retarded, as in slowed or stunted—that part of you that should be more developed than it is. Maybe it’s your politics, that you don’t see how the slick production values, the “sad” white kid’s overripe screen time, or reductive straw-Kony rationale—all of which hooked you in the first place—are in themselves what is wrong with the movie. So many people are bored with politics: discussions of democracy, liberalism and militarism, how economics and politics necessarily differ and overlap at once. But many don’t connect this boredom to a lack of understanding when an issue gets too complicated to think through clearly. (Btw, if you think all humans should live together peacefully and learn to get along, you’re not being political.) Or maybe your politics are ok, but your brain is unfit and honestly can’t follow a string of ideas through before you get hungry. I feel that; it’s inherently dysatisfunctional. Do you expect to do a hundred push-ups off the bat, or would you have to work up to it you reckon? Denzel Washington’s Creasy says we are only trained or untrained, and I consider myself somewhat mentally penguin-shaped.

Dysatisfunctional: it’s an incredibly witty bastardisation of dissatisfied and dysfunctional. How clever of me. It thrills, it tantalises. People who never heard it before, who don’t immediately understand it, are pretty sure it includes them. After I invented it, I learned that it had already been invented:

While this site aims for content-in-levity, the good councillor is clearly pissed. And he’s not alone. I am deeply dissatisfied with the dysfunction of this hacktivist meme, with all my friends and family telling me thirty minutes of Slick Rick will change how I see the world. And I’m only blogging, after a string of online article shares, so I’m dissatisfied with my own dysfunction, my own lack of effectiveness, my unintended self-parody and how I cannot escape being implicated in this farce.

A key idea of the project is that our dissatisfaction is the engine for changing our behaviours, so what are my options? I will mail a prize to the best answer in the comments below. Hell I’ll publish your trolling if it’s funny enough.


With thanks to Tom S, Greg Y, Louise A, Sam D and Robin C for commentary since Wednesday night, and to Emah F for coining thambogyny! Genius.


About Luke

Luke Stickels writes fiction, theory, and essays in such a piecemeal fashion as to be moving nigh imperceptibly. But he is no author-ninja. He is dysatisfunctional. Luke has written for Meanjin, The Drum Online, New Matilda, Green Magazine, and various now-defunct magazines, IsNot! Magazine probably being the most fun. He has written on violence, sound and cinema in several refereed academic journals, taught almost every subject at university, and was once quoted in a tumblr tag for "enlightened." As if THAT wasn't due to being completely dysatisfunctional.

10 responses »

  1. Political machines spend a lot of money day in day out delivering their agenda out into the world in similar fashion. This is just another example, it just came from the activist movement. I personally think it’s entertaining television regardless of how accurate the content is. Let’s face it, anyone who watched that Kony video and didn’t hear alarm bells when all the emotive crap started rolling out, is clearly out of touch (and would probably be outraged by Curb Your Enthusiasm).

    Only point of order here Luke, it is possible to levitate people off the ground. I wasn’t in the room, but when it comes to indulging in a mystical moment, regardless of how weird, logic can take a back seat and you’re probably best to sit in it and stay quite, enjoy the ride.

    • Interesting comments Andrew. *Maybe* it’s possible. My friends definitely have the right to ask me to stay quiet, just as I have the right to say no. On political machinery, parties have to be registered and they have a self-regulating onus tied to ballot box performance. Invisible children are a business outside of regulatory structures that legitimise NGO activity, and their self-regulation is tied to their profit margin. Profit margin is, of course, nothing to do with representation, and therefore not political, only economic. Invisible children then is no better and no worse than a business, except that most businesses don’t masquerade as charities or politically representative bodies. Oh great now I’m defending the integrity of businesses…

  2. I’m going to usefully weigh in here to say that the only thing clearly wrong I found with this post was your spelling of judgment.

  3. Madison, if this piece is dripping in self righteousness, then that video is positively waterlogged with self righteous, arrogant, infantalising bullshit. I don’t think the onus is on Luke to provide alternatives to a campaign whose conception of ‘action’ is buying a $30 ‘action’ kit in order to raise money for an organisation advocating unilateral US intervention in support of the corrupt Yoweri Musuveni regime. If people can’t look far enough past a shiny video to see that that is a stupid idea then, sorry, they are pretty retarded. I’ve been trying to point people in the direction of articles that might broaden their understanding of the issues at hand and the response I’ve been getting has been less than favourable. It strikes me that it is just inconvenient for these people to think that stopping the cycle of violence in Africa might take more than getting a few middle class white people to buy ‘action’ kits. This way they can think to themselves if and when they may capture Joseph Kony ‘hey! That was me! I bought that action kit! $30 well spent! Africa fixed!’ It’s bullshit, and I would like to clear up, doing something is not always better than doing nothing and meaning well does not necessarily mean doing well.

  4. The true essence of humankind is kindness and compassion. There are other qualities which come from education and knowledge, but it is essential, if one wishes to be a genuine human being and impart satisfying meaning to ones existence, to have a good heart.
    The 14th Dalai Lama

    You give me much food for thought Luke……just don’t lose sight of the basics
    Thank you xx

    • Well said Marina. Education can help us understand what compassion is, but you’re right–it’s a different quality. Ignorance turns compassion into bad shit, wastes it and turns it against itself. Sometimes compassion is hard; were that it could stay soft and fluffy at all times.

  5. this paper is dripping with self righteousness, arrogance, and condescending rhetoric. The criticism’s aren’t constructive what-so ever, he offers no alternatives, he doesn’t isolate the strength’s or weaknesses of the movement… it’s literally just him saying “anyone who follows this movement can’t possibly be as culturally enlightened as me” It’s selfish and offers no help what-so ever.

    • Thanks for your comments Madison. Some of what you say is true. I’ve tried to show how it is I’ve come to take this arrogant and condescending posture. Alongside is humility proper and acknowledgement of a legitimate problem there are no easy alternatives to. Obviously, easy answers are the heart of what I’m criticising. I did assess the strengths and weaknesses of the movement: on the plus side Kony 2012 is emotive, and on the minus side it’s a complete sham. Blogs and writing generally ARE selfish, but you haven’t seen fit to respond to my challenge by offering your own solution to the problems mentioned. Seriously you could win a prize, and it won’t be a Kony bracelet. Just to be clear: anyone who follows the Kony 2012 cause is less culturally enlightened than everyone who doesn’t.

    • I’d create a meaningful and intelligent reply for you Madison, but I think it’s perfectly natural that you feel like you’re being condescended to, considering you don’t know how to use apostrophes.

      Luke, you’re doing fine by me.



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