Column: Film and TV

Kony 2012: The film of the year and why

by Brad Nguyen , December 12, 20124 Comments

Kony 2012 is the film of the year in the same way that Nancy Gibbs, writing in Time magazine in 1999, argued that Hitler was the person of the century. It is by no means the best film released in 2012, but more than any other film this year it provided a brutally accurate gauge of our current ideologico-aesthetic climate.

Purportedly a social experiment to encourage young social media-literate people to ‘do something’ about the plight of child soldiers in Uganda, Kony 2012 was endlessly re-blogged and shared when it first appeared online in March but is now considered an embarrassing event we’d probably like to forget.

We now have a better idea of the utter corruptness of the forces behind Kony 2012 – the shady financial record of Invisible Children, the charity that produced the film; their support for the Ugandan government, itself guilty of serious human rights abuses; their advocacy for US military intervention in Uganda; the employment by US private security forces of former Ugandan child soldiers to fight as mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan; US concern over China’s growing economic influence in Uganda. But it shouldn’t be forgotten just how effective the film was in seducing us with its canny manipulation of youth culture, the drive for a global community, child-like whimsy and Apple Inc. utopianism.

This is basically the story of 2012 – the exploitation of liberal sentiment by forces of capital. The queer punk filmmaker Bruce LaBruce wrote an amusing article recently for VICE entitled ‘Beware the Bieber’ in which he argued that Justin Bieber functions as a deceptive and fuzzy icon, perpetuating the myth of Canada as a liberal utopia when in actual fact it is an imperialist force with one of the worst environmental records of developed countries, and with a demonstrated hostility towards immigrants. (Though really, Bieber, as far as the role he plays in LaBruce’s argument, is easily interchangeable with Arcade Fire, Seth Rogen, Broken Social Scene or anything else that gives us the impression of Canada as a country of laid-back peaceniks.)

This same kind of story played out in Australian politics when a video of Julia Gillard berating Tony Abbott went viral, making Gillard a kind of feminist hero when on the same day she cut welfare payments for low-income single mothers.

The Gillard story played out after the US elections when Twitter collectively cooed over a photo posted from Barack Obama’s account of the President hugging his wife. The Administration of this guy—Nobel Prize-winning President no less—would nevertheless stand firm behind Israel as it brutally bombed the people of Gaza.

The story played out with Melbourne Music Week, a 3-year-old initiative designed to demonstrate the State government’s support for Melbourne’s music scene, when in fact nothing substantial has been done to address the damaging liquor licensing laws that prompted the monumental SLAM rally in 2010 and funding to the contemporary music sector has been severely slashed. The government has conceded nothing in the way of structural support for our music culture, hoping that the city would content itself with an ephemeral carnival.

Some may accuse this argument of being too cynical. Isn’t raising awareness about child soldiers in Uganda a good thing? Isn’t celebrating a woman standing up to an unashamed sexist man a good thing? Isn’t Barack Obama a better choice than Romney? Isn’t Melbourne Music Week a chance to highlight genuinely talented and passionate people? The answer is yes to all this, but when all this is given with the left hand by players who take much, much more with the right, we should not lose our critical faculties.

The problem is not of whether to be cynical or not but that we are all too cynical in the wrong places. We’re cynical about the Occupy movement. We’re cynical about Palestine. We say things like, ‘Both parties are partly to blame so I can’t take sides.’ It seems the only time we feel comfortable taking sides is when the party in question has enough money to hire a graphic designer to hand-craft a whimsical font for its website and a musical supervisor to curate some cool, indie (and hopefully Canadian) bands to accompany the uplifting message in their awareness videos. Today we find ourselves living in a slow food, TED Talks, Steadicam, lo-fi, faux-fi, prosumer, hand-knitted, gluten-free world. Today, we find ourselves living in the year of Kony 2012.

Brad Nguyen (@bradnguyen) is a Killings columnist. He is a Melbourne-based writer, and editor of the film criticism website Screen Machine (www.screenmachine.tv).




  • http://discombobula.blogspot.com Sue

    Berwilliant!

  • Richard Watts

    Actually, Melbourne Music Week is a City of Melbourne initiative, not an event presented by the Victorian State Government – so linking it to the State Govt’s lack of support for the local music industry is a bit of a furphy.

  • Brad N

    True, Richard. But don’t get me started on Robert Doyle and the City of Melbourne!

    Still, the point that I think still holds is that these kind of once-a-year extravaganzas with their big-budget, pop-up venues and bourgeois foodie cross-promotions have little to do with what makes Melbourne’s music culture so strong.

  • ian summerfield

    Kony was good in those Naked Gun movies.

marilyn-ulysses

Reading Marilyn reading Ulysses: when celebrities are photographed with books

In 1955, photographer Eve Arnold snapped a now-iconic image of American actress Marilyn Monroe, in her bathers on a Long Island playground, reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. In the sixty years since, the photo has prompted continual suspicion in those who see literature and celebrity as mutually exclusive – was she really reading it? Read more »

capote-dog

The Outsiders: The early stories of Truman Capote

The recent publication of The Early Stories of Truman Capote – a collection of newly-discovered short stories from the archives of the New York Public Library – reveals the preoccupations of the adolescent Capote, drawn to drifters, exiles, and others living on society’s fringes. Read more »

CAROL

You Could Burn a House Down: Todd Haynes’s Carol

For many years, lesbians in fiction were punished for their social transgressions, condemned to a life of solitude, insanity, feigned heterosexuality and/or suicide. Radically, Carol portrays a lesbian love that doesn’t destroy or diminish its subjects, but enables them to transform, to grow and to be free. Read more »

21EMMYJP6-master675

Killings Columnists Pick Their Best of 2015

As 2015 concludes, we also farewell our fabulous 2015 Killings columnists. They’ve entertained and delighted us all year with fortnightly columns on culture, politics and society, and now they offer us a wrap up of their highlights for 2015 across their respective fields. Read more »

18-gilmore-girls.w1200.h630

Tim McGuire

Progressive to a Point: Homophobia and Gilmore Girls

You can’t watch a TV show over and over again without picking up on a couple of its flaws, much as you might prefer not to see them. In the case of Gilmore Girls, the hamartia I didn’t want to find was a troubling and weirdly homophobic one, layered over with pithy dialogue, pop culture nods, and the small town charm that made the show’s seven seasons such a success. Read more »

ROSEANNE - On set in New York - 10/16/93 
Sara Gilbert (Darlene) on the ABC Television Network comedy "Roseanne". "Roseanne" is the story of a working class family struggling with life's essential problems.
(AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANIES, INC.)
SARA GILBERT

Rebecca Shaw

Out of the Imaginary Closet: Fictional characters who should have been gay

When you are part of a group that isn’t portrayed in the same way (or only negatively, or not at all) you become desperate for that glimmer of recognition. Here are several characters that I loved as a young person, who became stand-ins for the openly lesbian characters I wanted to see so much. Read more »

SPEAR_0014_Edward_Mulvihill copy 2

Lauren Carroll Harris

Eyes Open Dreaming: Spear and the potential for an Australian art cinema

Commercial success has long been prized as Australian cinema’s salve, and the values of that commerce-based vision of success have deeply permeated the national conversation. Spear sets this conversation aside entirely, raising in its stead the possibility of an art cinema in Australia. Read more »

CAROL

You Could Burn a House Down: Todd Haynes’s Carol

For many years, lesbians in fiction were punished for their social transgressions, condemned to a life of solitude, insanity, feigned heterosexuality and/or suicide. Radically, Carol portrays a lesbian love that doesn’t destroy or diminish its subjects, but enables them to transform, to grow and to be free. Read more »

Bowie - The Image  1

The Art of Immortality: David Bowie and The Image

With the news this week of David Bowie’s death at the age of 69 from a long battle with cancer, watching The Image is an oddly reassuring experience: the shared, mass hope that it can’t be true, that he’s not really gone, is played out in this grainy, almost haunted relic now almost 50 years old. Read more »

21EMMYJP6-master675

Killings Columnists Pick Their Best of 2015

As 2015 concludes, we also farewell our fabulous 2015 Killings columnists. They’ve entertained and delighted us all year with fortnightly columns on culture, politics and society, and now they offer us a wrap up of their highlights for 2015 across their respective fields. Read more »

18-gilmore-girls.w1200.h630

Tim McGuire

Progressive to a Point: Homophobia and Gilmore Girls

You can’t watch a TV show over and over again without picking up on a couple of its flaws, much as you might prefer not to see them. In the case of Gilmore Girls, the hamartia I didn’t want to find was a troubling and weirdly homophobic one, layered over with pithy dialogue, pop culture nods, and the small town charm that made the show’s seven seasons such a success. Read more »

PLM

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Family Matters: Please Like Me and the Aussie TV family

In a recent episode of Josh Thomas’s Please Like Me, the bouncy titles run over three little scenarios: Josh cooks dinner for his mate Tom and his boyfriend Arnold; his Mum cooks for her new housemate Hannah; and his Dad cooks for his wife, Mae. The three of them stir, sip wine and dance daggily around their kitchens in a neat metaphor for this season’s fantastic, cohesive new trajectory. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Sydney - January 20, 2016: This Is How We Die perfomed during the 2016 Sydney Festival (photo by Jamie Williams/Sydney Festival)

Impossible Futures: Tomorrow’s Parties and This is How We Die

These two shows ask: how hard do we need to listen? In each, minutiae can be discarded, at least in slivers of time. Tomorrow’s Parties and This is How We Die each allow your brain to detach for a moment: to spin off into the different worlds they create, before returning once again, as best you can, to the work at hand. Read more »

Tom Conroy and Colin Friels in Mortido. Photo credit: Shane Reid

Jane Howard

A Shining Nightmare: Mortido‘s Sydney

Sydney is a city of shine and reflective surfaces. The glint of the harbour follows through to city high-rises clad in polished glass, bouncing off the wide windows of the mansions hugging the undulating land before it gives way to the impossibly deep and wide water. But this beauty that can betray the darkness of the city and its people. Read more »

_85072354_hamlet3-pa

Angela Meyer

Outrageous Fortune: Seeing Hamlet as a Cumberbitch

Jazz swells, hushing the audience, and the solid black gate of the theatre curtain opens. It reveals the lounging figure of Hamlet, playing a record, sniffing his father’s old jumper. But what I see first is not Hamlet: it is Benedict Cumberbatch. Read more »