Kony 2012 Sparks Dicussion on Representation and the ‘Narrative of Others’

By schwartzsa | April 10, 2012

Members of the Arcadia community crowded into the Castle Mirror Room to participate in “Kony 2012: Facts and Fictions, Perceptions and Publicity,” a public forum about Invisible Children’s controversial Kony 2012 campaign, on the afternoon of April 5. Students, faculty and staff shared their diverse reactions to the short series of films, Invisible Children, released by the non-governmental organization (NGO) to introduce its Kony 2012 campaign. The most recent edition of the Kony 2012 videos was shown following the discussion.

The event was led by Dr. Jennifer Riggan, Assistant Professor of International Studies, Alex Otieno, Instructor of Sociology and International Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), and Dr. Maryam Deloffre, Assistant Professor of Historical and Political Studies and Assistant Director of the IPCR program. Deloffre began the discussion by sharing the words of Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan multimedia journalist covering peace and conflict issues in East Africa who recently offered a response “from the ground” about the Kony 2012 campaign:

How you tell the stories of Africans is much more important on what the story is actually. Because if you are showing me as voiceless,as hopeless, you have no space telling my story, you shouldn’t be telling my story if you don’t believe that I also have the power to change what is goingon. And this video [KONY 2012] seems to say that the power lies in America and it does not lie with my government. It does not lie with local initiatives onthe ground. That aspect is lacking and this is the problem. It is furtheringthat narrative about Africans, totally unable to help themselves and needingoutside help all the time.

Many undergraduate and graduate students added to the discussion, some endorsing the video campaign, others endorsing it. Hannah Simon-Girard ’14M, who is pursuing a dual major in IPCR and Public Health, added to the dialogue, addressing the inherent complexity of creating a “truthful” and non-vilifying narrative asking the question, “How do we create a narrative of others?”

“Narrative inherently has protagonists and antagonists and it’s hard to get away from that while you’re telling a story,” says Simon-Girard. “I think every day we tell stories with protagonists and antagonists… so how do we tell someone else’sstory when it’s not our own if reality is subjective? You can engage people in your reality, though they’re not necessarily going to totally understand it from your speech.

“In terms of semiotics—that is how we assign meaning: how we hear something or see something and decide how we’re going to define it in our minds—that’s relative to all of our history of our experiences, our education, our environment. So this 30 minutes of narrative is going to speak a plethora of discourses, and I would argue that from a global view, that there’s that issue in terms of the varying perceptions of the audience. There’s a complexity of media—especially in the digital age—that we don’t actually appreciate or see the impact of our technology and how we use it until after the fact. So as much as we might bring to bear positive intention, whether it’s simplistic or overly simplifies the issues it addresses, we’re not going to see that until after we’ve produced it. It takes on a life of its own.”