COMMUNCIATION THEORY COMS 3901 RESEARCH ESSAY FRIDAY 6TH JULY, 2012 In 2004, Invisible Children, a United States-based non-profit advocacy organization, was founded by filmmakers Bobby Bailey, Laren Poole and Jason Russell. They adopted the mission of capturing Joseph Kony, an Ugandan warlord who commits war crimes in both northern Uganda and surrounding countries since the 1980s for the purpose of building his rebel force, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
On March 5th, 2012, they released a video titled KONY 2012 which told the story of abducted children in Northern Uganda, forced to become child soldiers and sex slaves and operate with the LRA. The campaign is aimed at capturing Joseph Kony by “making Kony famous” and it targets celebrities, movie stars, millionaires and politicians to help spread the campaign. They hope to stimulate action that will have Kony arrested and prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The video was extensively shared over Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, blogs, and other social networking websites – in other words, it went viral.
The video has received approximately 92 million views on YouTube and over 18 million views on Vimeo, both video-sharing websites on which users can upload, share and view videos, making this initiative one of the most effectively distributed advocacy campaigns of the last decade. This essay will take a cultural studies approach to utilize theoretical perspectives to critically analyse the text. In the beginning of the video, an image of a world is shown which connotes globalization and how everything is more accessible by everyone all over the world as they can use the internet and communicate more easily.
This connects with the idea of McLuhan (1964) as he believed that we live in a “global village”. There are also several snapshot’s of the producer’s son which are taken from the point of view of the producer and could possibly allow audiences to emotionally attach themselves to the video and increase their involvement. The close up shots can also engage them into continuing to watch the text. The fact that this could appeal to the “global village” could relate to the growth of electronic media and its uses to spread news virally which can also be linked back to McLuhan.
This video about the real life situation of Kony has many different types of techniques to engage the audience such as the voice over as it is telling the audience and interacting with the audience which is us. This can portray the dominant ideology of man who lives in a patriarchal society but the voice-over also deals with the idea of Americanisation as the man is American so it also portrays the idea of hegemonic values and this is brought forward as America is a dominant global supervisor which everyone is influenced by so this engages the audience to believe in the voice over as he is American.
Another way it engages the audience is by showing the audience how fast social networking sites get news to travel. The KONY 2012 video was originally posted on Facebook and within a couple of days everyone was talking about it. This created awareness with the audience as the audience became aware that information is able to travel over the matter of days. One main thing that catches the audience’s eye is the countdown clock which shows that something is about to end and something is going to be destroyed at the end of the countdown.
This can also be used to engage the audiences as they want to know what happen towards the end of the video. They also have titles in the video which can be used to catch the audience’s attention as the titles are very powerful such as, “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. This makes the audience want to know what they mean and what the detail is. Whatever play on emotions that campaigns can make, they will use because it often times will move people to act on their feelings.
This can be seen in the KONY 2012 video where many persuasive tactics were utilized to engage the audience and to get people involved. Although the film was an effort to spread the word about Joseph Kony and to motivate action, it was also meant to evoke a purely emotional reaction. According to Maslow’s (1954) hierarchy of needs, a person will only be able to reach self-actualization after they have satisfied the top part of the pyramid. However, it is necessary for an individual to fulfil the needs from the base of the pyramid in order to gain access to the second level and thus be able to move up the pyramid.
While it is not essential for a person’s survival, if social needs such as belonging and friendship are not being fulfilled then there is a possibility that they may regress into feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression. Social networking sites such as Facebook are able to provide a source for an individual’s social need of belonging. Along with social network site features such as profiles, friends, comments, and private or instant messaging, Facebook offers a real-time newsfeed and photo or video-sharing features which allow a person to keep connected and up-to-date on the latest news within their social network.
By sharing the KONY 2012 video and posting comments related to the video, this diminishes the level of social isolation felt by an individual. Therefore, they now feel like they belong as they are being kept in the loop of their circle of friends. Maslow’s theories about the power of human needs are quite influential. At the bottom of the pyramid are basic physiological needs, moving up to safety and security needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs, and finally self-actualization needs (Larson, 2010).
The KONY 2012 video, however, indicated that there are thousands of children in Africa that do not have their basic human needs, but they live in fear every day of the threats of Joseph Kony. In the logo shown, there is an upside down triangle which can also indicate that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid has been flipped and can be interpreted to mean that everyone in the public, despite race, age or socio-economic differences, can join and help the cause.
According to Blumler and Katz (1974), Uses and Gratifications theory suggests that media consumption is based on what satisfies our immediate needs. Different types of media satisfy the need for entertainment, knowledge, and socializing, and different types of media can satisfy more than one need. The type of media that we consume is constantly changing because it needs to match the constant change in the type of media that we need. The theory assumes that the audience is taking an active role in seeking out media to meet their needs.
The KONY 2012 video uses a range of techniques to engage the viewers to the issues being shown. The use of sound and the voiceover anchor the images on the screen so the audience could be informed and educated of the facts ultimately informing the audience and meeting their needs. An example that can be related to the Uses and Gratifications theory is that the audience can see that a young woman is emotionally damaged from what she has seen. This can be seen as identification with the issue at hand and the audience being informed as hey may have cousins, friends or family members there. Also, this connotes that Kony has affected people by his negative persona. The young adults are represented as caring youths who will actually do something about this serious issue. There is also a young speaker who is shown as actually caring for what is occurring in Uganda and she is adamant about trying to do something to help. The video has used young adults which is beneficial as the audience, which mainly consists of young adults, can identify with their specific age and style.
The video shows young teenagers and adults participating which connotes that even though they have the representation of being cool, they still care for what is happening around the world. On the other-hand, the voice over also anchors the images leading the audience to follow the voice-over view of the images. It gives the audience a sense of reliability and trust as the relationship with the narrator and audience is built throughout the text which helps them to identify with him as he is shown as a family man and father figure.
Additionally, the intimate moments of the producer’s life also could provide a more personal basis for the audience to relate or identify to. This could also be related to the Uses and Gratification theory as the audience is being informed of Kony’s wrongdoings and also fulfils some of the satisfaction of the audience to be informed and educated. According to Henry Jenkins (2004), global convergence gives rise to a new pop cosmopolitanism and that new media has enabled and acted as a “rapid flow of images across national borders” whereby making the world a smaller and more close-knit global community.
This has also led to an “increased centrality of teens and youth to the global circulation of media” meaning that young people are becoming more involved in new media and globalization through social networking websites by interacting with people from all around the world. He also argues that cosmopolitanism offers us “an escape from parochialism and isolationism, the beginning of global perspective and the awareness of alternative vantage points”. This can be applied to the KONY 2012 video in which millions of people from all over the world were informed of an issue in Uganda which would not have reached them without new media.
Jenkins draws on Pierre Levy’s notion of collective intelligence which the video had enforced in the sense that those who knew about Kony shared the information with those who were unaware of what was going on. Since most viewers do not take things at face-value, they conducted more research into the event and rather than the viewers’ being passive, they made video responses which were uploaded to YouTube and posted comments sharing their thoughts and additional knowledge on the subject.
It can also be said that although this cause had not been a top priority on the political or news media agenda because it started among the public and the grassroots movements, it illustrates that corporations and governments do not always have the loudest voice in the public sphere. Levi-Strauss (1963) created the notion of binary opposition as a useful way to consider the production of meaning within narratives. He argued that all construction of meaning was dependent, to some degree, on these oppositions.
The video represents Kony as having a negative persona which people do not like therefore he is perceived to be the villain and binary opposition is used to illustrate the difference between him and the rest of society. Ethnicity is also represented in two ways in the video as it shows that blacks and whites who are normally contrasted against each other are joining together for one common goal. It also shows good versus evil, for example Kony who is black is portrayed to be evil and bad villain whereas the whites are shown to be on the good side and are portrayed as heroes.
Guy Debord (1999) argues in the Society of Spectacle that mass media has changed our world into a spectacle society. In the spectacle society, visual media is the most important media. People care less about the truth, but receive information by talking pictures. Debord thinks that in this kind of society, truth does not exist and people are superficial. This argument can be applied to the KONY 2012 video, which was so popular on many social media websites. According to Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire, the video “paints a Uganda six or seven years ago, that is totally not how it is today.
It’s highly irresponsible. ” It could be said that audiences who viewed this video began thinking that KONY 2012 was just a soft news piece that was packed in a Hollywood way to mislead our minds. Ultimately we live in a world that is shaped by visual images, so we are cheated by the superficial images. Professor Dorothy Dunning (2000) of Georgetown University defines hacktivism as the convergence of hacking with activism, where ‘hacking’ is used here to refer to operations that exploit computers in ways that are unusual and often illegal, typically with the help of special software.
It also includes electronic civil disobedience, which brings methods of civil disobedience to cyberspace. Anonymous, a well-known hacktivist group, released a video regarding Invisible Children’s video KONY 2012, titled “KONY 2012 Warning” which attempts to clarify Anonymous’ position regarding whether they were associated with Invisible Children and KONY 2012, which they refer to as “propaganda,” and explain that while Anonymous will continue to stand by the KONY 2012 message in order to take down the Ugandan war criminal, they suspect that Invisible Children may be a scam or war propaganda.
When the KONY 2012 video was initially released and went viral, Trinidadian audiences were captivated by this initiative. Many youths were genuinely shocked and saddened by this video which prompted them to share the link to their friends and family. Multiple Facebook and Twitter accounts were made such as KONY 2012 TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO and even a rally was being planned to support the cause. However, not everyone felt compelled to take action and eventually the hype died down. Months later, the Facebook and Twitter accounts are not listed as inactive. Fiske (1987) puts forth the notion of the active audience.
Fiske argues that audiences are not merely passive watchers, but rather are active audiences, engaging with the program in ways the producers never could imagine. The meanings we take in are created by our own interpretations. Individuals are allowed to hold two or more views simultaneously. Since all texts contain multiple meanings, it allows us to be active. We can take in what we want to take in and leave out what we do not want. The producer may want us to grasp what Stuart Hall (1993) defines as the dominant-hegemonic position or preferred meaning but that is not always the case.
The audience can also take a negotiated position or an oppositional position. Some took the video at face-value and openly supported the cause, others did research and began warning people against supporting an organization they knew so little about and others were opposed to the cause. According to McCombs and Shaw (1972), Agenda Setting theory states that news media largely influence their audience by telling them what to think about and what is newsworthy. They are able to transfer what is deemed “salient” to mass audiences’ hereby encouraging particular response from their audience and it also influences opinion.
We are socialized to accept media content as relevant and real although every story has been screened by a gatekeeper or edited by a producer. Trinidadian media houses published articles in the local newspapers about the KONY 2012 social media campaign and there was mention of it on the popular local news stations. However, this generated no substantial feedback with the general public therefore the media eventually downplayed the issue and deemed it irrelevant. Ultimately, the media was unable to influence the public on this particular topic of interest.
Since the traditional new media were unsuccessful in generating discourse on KONY 2012 and interest in the cause was lost, Trinidadians gave the KONY movement a whole new meaning by producing memes which Richard Dawkins (1976) defined as “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation”. Baudrillard (1994) states that “Simulation is no longer a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyper-real”. In many ways, the meme is a simulation of reality.
The character portrayed, in this case Kony, will probably never have the moment being demonstrated in the images to the phrases written. However, we still recognize the image as true, even if it is in the hyper-real, a reality that does not exist, but we can still acknowledge that the image captures the essence of the situation in the image. We have entered a hyper-real age of meme culture therefore it can be said that Joseph Kony is not a Ugandan warlord, Trinidadians have now made him a cultural artefact in the form of a meme.
The KONY 2012 social media campaign failed to make a difference in Trinidad but it impacted in many other various ways. The media had a profound effect on the audience through various images and discourses which were there to capture the audience and try to mobilize a movement. The campaign also sought to focus on a target group, young adults, because they are easily influenced and also quickly mobilized to carry out a social movement based on their social media skills.
The producers of the documentary filmed it in such a way so as to obtain emotional sympathy from the audience however the audience is not passive but active therefore they choose what they want to believe and what they do not want to believe. It can also be said that although the audience is active, the intrusion of the KONY 2012 video may have indirectly forced most people to take a stand because most of them may not have viewed the video however if their friends were supporting the cause, they can do the same. It can also be said that the video is based on a Western ideology that blacks are evil and the whites will save the world.
In terms of the Trinidadian audience, although the video was seen online by many, the news media did nothing to influence the audience by ignoring the issue therefore killing any chances of interest being gathered on the ground. Based on the analysis of this text, audiences should become more active and not just accept everything social media feeds them because not everything is true. BIBLIOGRAPHY Baudrillard, Jean. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. Blumler, J. , ;amp; Katz, E. (1974). The Uses of Mass Communications.
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