“What’s the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.” (Cobb. Inception).
Inception – for the few who haven’t seen it – is a film about entering a person’s subconscious during a dream state and implanting an idea that plays on emotional hooks and then triggers a course of action from that person in the real world. Which is Kony2012 to a tee.
“Humanity’s greatest desire is to belong and connect”. Lots of shots of people hugging children, older parents at airports etc. Subtle piano tones coming back in with audio FX of scratches again as the filmmaker starts to ramp up the emotional manipulation. The phrase “I love you” repeated a couple of times by children on webcams etc. This quickly cuts to the YouTube logo, the Share and Embed button and lots of quick edits of people sharing seminal YouTube videos of great emotional impact and human triumph over adversity. This juxtaposition is significant. It builds on the opening ‘Planet Facebook’ message and cements a deep emotional connection with – and a love of – social media and its most popular tools and mechanisms …notably YouTube and Facebook, sharing and embedding. The call-to-action is clear and we dutifully responded ….hence 65m views in five days.
At this point, I’m starting to think this might be one of those Google Chrome “Web Is What You Make Of It” ads, (no doubt it soon will be). I’m also starting to wonder which organisations contributed to the $4.76m of donations and $5m of funds released from restrictions that Invisible Children received in 2011, especially the “very strong and unexpected revenue near fiscal year end” (published accounts, p. 13 ). Again, I’ll come back to this later.
If Invisible Children was actually visible about its accounts and transparent about its backing, (which it’s not ), I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find contributions from Google/YouTube and possibly Facebook/Zuckerberg, given how prominently they feature throughout the video and how brilliantly it promotes their products and agenda. Most interestingly, whatever its political impact, this is undoubtedly a landmark video for YouTube and its long-form content strategy . Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the viral growth of Kony2012, (at the time of writing, nearly 65m views in five days), is that this is no throwaway, 60 second video-snack of cats playing pianos. It’s a 29 minute film that deals with some weighty issues. Can anyone think of any other long-form film that’s gone so massively viral, so quickly? YouTube will be loving this.
“And this connection is changing the way the world works”. Cue twitter. Arab Spring. And …
Random Arab guy with subtitled quote “Now we can taste the freedom“. Instantly cuts to a shot of another Arab guy holding a hand-made cardboard sign that says simply “Facebook”. The connection between “tasting the freedom” and “Facebook” again makes me wonder what this is really promoting.
This is where Kony2012 identifies and addresses its target audience. This is aimed squarely at young people ….
VO: “….and older generations are concerned”.
Lots of shots of older newsreaders and commentators, who – judging by the downward-trending graphs behind them – seem to be talking about the economic collapse, looking very worried and saying things like “many people are very concerned about tomorrow“, “things could get worse next year” etc. This is all entirely out-of-context. What does concern over the economy have to do with Kony, this campaign or how people, (not just the young), are using social media? The filmmaker seems to be suggesting that older generations are concerned because they don’t get the power of social media or the fact that it “is changing the way the world works“. These images do not support this thesis.
I’m uncomfortable with this for many reasons – not just the misleading inappropriateness of the images. Of course, I can’t discount the fact that I could just be pissed off by the implication that I don’t ‘get’ social media because I almost certainly fall into that ‘older generation’ category. But it’s more than that. Targeting a campaign at a young audience is one thing – and totally understandable. But why alienate an older audience and imply – and suggest to your audience – they won’t get it? My concern here is that this is a pre-emptive strike. The filmmakers, perhaps fearing the kind of inevitable backlash from an older, more cynical generation, have encoded a subtle message here to ignore those who question this film, Invisible Children or its motives. Because they’re not like ‘us’, they’re not part of this … they just don’t get it.
This is the first example of protective armouring the film uses to teflon-coat itself. There are more, which I’ll discuss later.
Black screen. Timecode, counting down. VO: “The game has new rules. The next 27 minutes are an experiment“. This fulfils a number of functions….
(1) Having set the tone, established the importance of everyone being connected, made us feel that because we are connected we have some kind of link to movements like the Arab Spring and set up the rules of engagement as “you’re either young, connected and get this or old, scared and don’t”, the countdown acts like a lock-in. If you get it, you must keep watching. Similar lock-in techniques are used later in the film.
(2) This is a timecode counting down, which – of course – video timecodes don’t. This is about setting a sense of urgency and suggests an event or action, (ie ours), when the countdown reaches zero.
(3) The ‘experiment’ bit is important. This acts as the filmmaker’s Get Out Of Jail Free card should the campaign fail in its main objective. Doesn’t matter. It was all just an experiment. And anyway …..
“In order for it to work, you have to pay attention”
“My name is Jason Russell and this is my son, Gavin…. and just like his Dad, he likes being in movies and making movies”
Alarm bells are now ringing with me. Their volume increases around 03:21 where we see shots of some of the fun home movies they’ve made together, including home-made special effects shots of missiles firing in on random human targets. Nothing necessarily wrong with this per se – it’s just the kind of fun vid a kid might make with his dad – but it is a curious and ill-advised inclusion here, given the message that’s to follow about promoting military intervention in someone else’s country.
This whole home movie footage, which starts with a focus on young Gavin and instills the message that “it’s all about a better world for our kids” then switches focus back to Jason “Radical” Russell, (that’s his choice of middle name, not mine). Shots of him talking passionately at conferences because he “knows a way to get there”. More self-aggrandisement, with slight overtones of a messianic complex that also features heavily in that PMc Magazine piece.
04:01 – 04:18
Introducing Jacob. There are clips playing of Jason with Jacob but the dominant imagery is that of the films playing in a Facebook timeline, again putting the social network front-and-centre with a starring role in this film. This is very directly – and very deliberately – appealing to a clearly defined target audience. Young consumers of social media. When I showed this film to a group of 16 year old BOA students on Thursday they remarked how they liked this aspect of it as it talked to them with visuals they could relate to. So they ‘bond’ more readily with Jason, with Gavin, with Jacob…. these people live in a world that they recognise.
These early clips of Jacob show him having fun with Jason … at Sea World, watching the Dolphins, laughing with Gavin. He’s in a good place … and this all helps with the audience bonding too. We feel good about him.
04:18 – 04:40
“But when my friends I first met him in Uganda, in Central Africa, it was in very different circumstances. He was running for his life”
Visuals still very much influenced by the online world, with a map zoom on Uganda from Google Earth. Music changes tone, segueing into slightly darker audio FX as we whoosh slowly in on the map. This tells us that things are about to get serious. Hold on to your hats, people.
04:44 – 05:45
Point-of-View (POV) driving shots, with audio of what we assume is Jason Russell’s immediate reaction to what he has been told by Jacob …“I cannot believe that. This has been going on for years? If that happened one night in America it would be on the cover of Newsweek”.This is Russell setting up the motivation – and justification – for his own organisation’s chosen response. The focus of his ire is not that it has happened or that Uganda’s President Museveni allowed it to happen, but that he – and his fellow Americans – didn’t know about it because it isn’t in the media. Consequently, the focus of their activity – from the Invisible Children website – is to “make documentaries, tour them around the world and lobby our nation’s leaders to make ending this conflict a priority”.06:00 – 07:28
(work-in-progress …. never completed. Pleased with the idea and the progress. Not pleased with massive time commitment -vs- benefits. The point was already made.)