Invisible Children and the Cyberactivist Spectator (Critical Essay) - Nebula

Invisible Children and the Cyberactivist Spectator (Critical Essay)

By Nebula

  • Release Date: 2009-12-01
  • Genre: Reference
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Invisible Children and the Cyberactivist Spectator (Critical Essay) Nebula Book Review Score: ★★★★★ 5/5 stars

Since its first screening in 2004, the amateur documentary Invisible Children has sparked an online social movement and directed vast amounts of money and attention toward the plight of former child soldiers in war-torn, northern Uganda. Through a combination of campus screenings, house parties, and streaming webcasts, the film has become a rallying point for a massive, youth-oriented humanitarian effort. The film is the endeavor of three Californian twentysomethings who documented their haphazard and uninformed trip to "do something" about the humanitarian crisis in southern Sudan. Upon arriving to find that many Sudanese had become refugees in Uganda, they discovered large numbers of "night commuters," children who, in order not to be abducted and pressed into service by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), walk several miles every night from their small villages to sleep on the floor of large buildings in the relative safety of a city. The documentarians interviewed these children who told of horrific experiences in which they were abducted from their families and made to murder civilians indiscriminately while under the control of guerrilla-warrior Joseph Kony's "resistance army." With estimates of 12,000 killed in the conflict since 1987 and over 25,000 children abducted, Kony and other members of the LRA have been charged with multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity. (1) Coupled with the nearly 1.2 million Ugandans displaced due to this conflict, Jan Egeland, former UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs has called the situation "one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world." (2) This essay combines textual analysis of the Invisible Children documentary along with an examination of the ways in which the Invisible Children movement has utilized network technologies to spread awareness, raise money, and enlist individuals to join in this cause. Drawing upon previous studies of similar social movements, I will consider the Invisible Children project as a particularly unique example of "cyberactivism" in the way that it utilizes networked technologies (social networking sites in particular) and, by centering this movement on the documentary, represents a new type of cultural logic that Henry Jenkins' calls "convergence culture." Having positioned the Invisible Children project as such, I will also analyze the strategies of the film in relation to not only the formal devices used to engage the intended youth audience (through music, editing, and narrative) but also the positioning of the viewer and the filmmakers as the empowered (and networked) figures who can take very simple actions to join this activist movement and affect real change in the lives of these Ugandan children. By watching the film and taking advantage of the tactics of cyberactivism offered to them, viewers are no longer positioned to simply become more informed. They can instead become "monitorial citizens," which as I will point out, affords them a certain type of political efficacy. This essay points out the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to studying the film, and the larger cyberactivist movement of which it is a part, in order to better understand the practices of these cyberactivist spectators.

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