Kony 2012 and Apple’s Mr. Daisy

There were two stories in the news last week that fascinated me as I watched them unravel. The first was the meteoric rise of the viral 30 minute video Kony 2012 that took over Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. The second story was an NPR radio episode of This American Life about working conditions in the Apple factories in China. The story centered around a play/monologue by Mr. Daisy about his trip to China to investigate the matter. Over 1 million people had downloaded that NPR podcast – by far an all time record.

Both stories turned tragic last week. Invisible Children, the group responsible for Kony 2012, came under heavy criticism. It turns out that the conflict as it was presented was not all that accurate – It had been accurate in the early 2000s but after 2004 no longer represented the true affairs of the country and Joseph Kony himself had left Uganda and migrated to a neighboring country.

People accused the film’s star Jason Russell  and his Invisible Children crew of knowingly misleading people and falsifying content in order to elicit a greater emotional response.

The Apple story went down a similar road for Mr. Daisy. It turns out that he had taken some artistic license in presenting his one-man-show and that not everything he claims would qualify as ‘journalistic standard’ of truthfulness. For instance, while he was in China for that week, he saw a news story about some factory workers in another province suffering horrible effects from a chemical. He never went to that province nor talked to those workers but just imported that story and connected it to his subject. The result was that this one factory seemed to be layers and layers of horrific working conditions – but in reality what was presented was an amalgamation of many factories in several provinces.

In the follow-up  interviews this weekend Mr. Daisy said that he took license with the facts because he wanted people to care about this. He knew that the conditions were bad and so orchestrated the story to draw a response.

 These two stories, taken together, point to a series of issues that are relevant to the church and her theology.

 

The first issue is complacency. Both of these ‘presenters’ knew that some tweaks and modifications needed to made in order to overcome our collective complacency. We see  so much bad, that unless something is really bad – it just doesn’t register. We are so overwhelmed with images, adverts, messages and pleas that unless something is sensational or horrific, we have evolved mechanisms and filters to catch it and screen it out.  The result is that we become complicit in maintaining the status-quo and passive participants in the system, structures and institutions that comprise the ‘Powers the Be’ that Paul reference in Ephesians 6.

 

The second issue is Paternalism. At some point white people from the West are going to have to stop thinking that the solution to what ails Africa or Asia is us coming over and fixing it.  Now, I applaud the generous heart behind both Invisible Children and Mr. Daisy but until we repent of our Colonial impulse and step away from that model of missions, we are going to continue to run into problems and run over the very folks we purport to be helping.

  • We want to help – that is great.
  • We do it in our way – and that is hurtful.

There is no doubt that in global system of international trade and foreign policy that the church must come to terms with our inter-connectivity and inter-relatedness in a way that transcends outdated clichés and antiquated platitudes of centuries past. We live in an evolving world that is experiencing exponential and radical change.

I love that good folks want to care about that and not just go shopping to bury their head in the sand. BUT until we repent of our ongoing paternalism and acknowledge the devastating effects of our colonial missions we will continue to replicate the harm and multiply the devastation.

As Christians, do we need to think through and address our participation in the global market and international structures that dominate our contemporary economy? Yes.

If, however, we do not first repent of our Colonial missions mentality, we will continue  the pattern of paternalism and Imperial impulse that has created these very situations we want to address. 

 

p.s. I know about Jason Russell’s arrest episode this weekend but did not want to distract from the bigger issue. 

 

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10 comments
dmf
dmf

@shawn, I think the secular focus on management techniques can mask the deeper need to cultivate and act out of agape, all of our actions will have unforeseen consequences but what spirit we do things in is surely more important that what we, on our own, can accomplish. If one is truly interested in living out of a love for ( a hope that rests in the event-uality of) the Impossible than one shouldn't put all of one's faith, attention, and efforts in more of the same.

shawn
shawn

Sometimes it feels like ALL helping has the potential to be hurtful. Advocating for someone whose poor choices has landed them in a predicament can facilitate their continued poor choices (or allow them the opportunity to move forward, up, whatever). Blindly throwing money at a problem rarely works (you have to partner with someone who has wisdom, integrity and knowledge/experience). Buying fair trade or organic can mean you end up supporting an oppressive economic structure. Providing medical care can introduce potentially dangerous medications (when used in settings for which they were not intended) into a community. Giving away food/clothing/etc in poor countries can undermine the local economy. It is so difficult to help in ways that don't hurt, but it is essential to keep trying. If I don't keep engaging people in need, I turn inward, and sacrifice my own humanity. I love that we are talking about not being colonial or messianic in our approach, but we need to talk about what our approach SHOULD look like, and what organizations are doing good work that doesn't undermine or derail local culture/economy. SIster Connection and Heifer International come to mind. Local tool libraries (where you can check out tools that are owned by the community, so every family doesn't have to buy every tool and use it twice) are fantastic, and community gardens (or sharing stuff from your own garden with friends) seems like a reasonable start. I know amazing people who open their homes to people who need to be part of a family. I would love to hear about local or international work that is going well, and what safeguards against doing damage with our "help".

Jacqui
Jacqui

Bo, thanks for this post. I completely agree with you. I worship in an "urban" church that is linked to two other church campuses in affluent suburbs. Years ago, before I made this church community my home, I don't think I would have understood what you're saying in this post, but the truth is that paternalism and colonialism are not limited to Western cultures reaching overseas. There's plenty of the same, "We feel bad, so we're going to come fix you (and then you'll thank us) mentality within our own culture. A couple other great resources on the topic are Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton (who is very open about all the ways he's messed up in his attempt to help) and Beyond Charity by John Perkins (who is the founder of the Christian community development movement, which stresses the importance of affirming dignity and personhood in the people you're called to serve.)

Austin
Austin

...and also, that the second issue is serving as an effective distraction from the deeply serious issue of the colonial missions/savior mentality in IC that you rightly point out.

Austin
Austin

Bo, as I said, I agreed with your larger point completely and think it's good you didn't concentrate on the side issue of Russel's breakdown. I am uncomfortable with IC's naive approach for the same reasons. But language of course matters (as you are so fond of pointing out), and when you say Russell was "arrested", it's not only inaccurate but could unintentionally perpetuate an unjust, mass/social media-fueled public ridicule of someone who is physically and psychologically ill. My concern is that there are now two larger systemic issues at hand: a colonial missions mentality floating under a lot of people's awareness, and a media that perpetuates outrageous stories to a misinformed public at the expense of another human being.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Rob and DMF thanks for the resources. This is an ongoing and increasing problem so much thought will be required. Austin, thanks for that that. I did not build it into the main post because I thought it would detract from the bigger point. even without the mental breakdown, there is reason enough to be concerned with what IC did. I am not trying to besmirch a hurting person... but there is a larger systemic issue at hand -Bo

Austin
Austin

I completely agree, Bo. Thanks for this. One small point - the news has corrected the story on Russell. He was not apparently arrested but briefly detained and then quickly admitted to a hospital when they realized he had a mental breakdown rather than engaging in criminal activities. I know this might seem like splitting hairs, but I think it's important to note as he has been unjustly, viciously ridiculed by too many for something that was not under his control.

dmf
dmf

certainly efforts should be made to alleviate suffering and to limit our roles in it, but one does worry that there is often a kind of mass messiah complex whereby folks come to believe that there are human solutions to all of the worlds problems, that we just need to be clever technocrats and the peaceable kingdom will be ours to achieve. this is where secular thinkers like Zizek are powerful, even haunting, reminders of the limits of our capacities and our inevitable guilt/hypocrisy in matters of ethics/conscience. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpAMbpQ8J7g&feature=relmfu

Rob
Rob

Just finished a book called "When Helping Hurts" that speaks at length about the subconscious "God Complex" that Western missionaries often possess. Thanks for the additional info.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

WOW. that is quite the insight. and thanks for the other resources .... I am gathering quite a collection now ;) -Bo