Another case of: Please Stop This Now. After Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign to stop Joseph Kony’s violence waned and flamed out, a new hero has finally arrived to save us from the warlord. Journalist, author of the book The World’s Most Dangerous Places and rugged man’s man, Robert Pelton, has taken it upon himself to find Kony … with your (financial) support. Pelton is currently raising money on a crowd-sourcing platform for “Dangerous Magazine,” a show (and magazine) that seeks to not only deliver excitement to audiences by taking them where the problems are located—but also deliver solutions! And Pelton will make our journey entertaining, wandering into dangerous places on simple barges, and walk all alone through picturesque rivers framed by jungle ferns (despite the fact that armies of camera, luggage, and security personnel are accompanying him), as the promotional video—with its attendant stereotypes of Africa/Third World Jungle-Gone-Wrong—demonstrates.
The concept is as simple as ordering take-out: pick your adventure from the convenience of your home by giving money and telling Pelton where to go and what to do, and Pelton and his team will “deliver the product.” To demonstrate just how skilled Pelton and his team are and what they are able to accomplish, their first mission will be to find a man that US Special Forces and others have failed to locate. Others who’ve tried the same “have limitations to what they are prepared to do, and they after a while start to benefit from the existence of Kony,” Pelton told Foreign Policy. “It becomes a self-licking lollipop.” We assume he is talking about Invisible Children. His team, however, is different, he claims. The righteous are coming to finally solve Africa’s biggest problem. BTW, that Foreign Policy post as a bonus also includes this neat summary of Invisible Children:
… the group has raised millions of dollars off Kony’s back for an organization with deep ties to anti-gay, creationist groups and was co-founded by a man whose celebrity took on a life of its own after he suffered a breakdown and paraded naked through the streets of San Diego.
We always insisted that the evangelical basis for their campaign was weirdly ignored when the whole thing blew up.
But back to Pelton. In his promo video Pelton says he won’t use the plight of people in Africa to entertain us: “What we’re trying to do is not to use people’s misery as entertainment, but we’re trying to solve their problems.” Of course, we hear him saying this right as the camera shows starving children and a boy with his hand cut off. While there is an overt dissonance between images and rhetoric in the video, that’s part of the game; if anyone accuses him of the very thing he’s doing, he can say that it’s our fault for interpreting his intent incorrectly. The promotional video is also a great example of how journalism aimed at Western audiences has become entertainment masquerading as activism, with little to do with the people whose problems they claim to be solving.
Then: Finding people is simple, he adds. And the UN people know where Kony is: they intercept his satellite phone convos. So, it’s not like the NSA doesn’t know where he is. So why does this genius need to take people from the NGO world (you know, they are known for good investigative journalism) to go on a picturesque trek through stream beds framed by jungle ferns?
Of course mainstream media (BBC, NPR, Monocle, etcetera) jumped on it–writing borderline PR puff pieces–they’ll claim they’re curious–about the project. Chances are Pelton won’t make it. He is still way off his intended fundraising target. We could go on and on about this, but it will suffice to say: This is the newest example of activism as adventurism, in which Africa is a just a picturesque backdrop for TV entertainment. We don’t need any more of this.
* Neelika Jayawardane contributed to this post.