Celebrity activism and Kony2012

The website Opinio Juris asked me to write an article about Kony2012 as part of their expert symposium on social activism and international law. So of course I wrote about Justin Bieber:

Kony2012 rose and fell on the power of celebrity. “We want to make Kony famous”, Invisible Children proclaimed, and it did, enlisting the support of twenty “culture-makers” to spread the word that an African child-killer was still at large. Kony2012 is often touted as an example of how ordinary people can use the internet to influence political institutions, but what it really proved was the durability of entrenched media hierarchies. This was not a social media revolution. This was the Biebs leading the blind.

The rationale behind Kony2012’s selection of celebrities like Justin Bieber, Oprah Winfrey, Rick Warren and Rush Limbaugh to promote their cause was as clear as its donkey-elephant logo: Kony2012 was by Americans and for Americans, a salve for our partisan psychic wounds. If A-listers this diverse can come together, then anything is possible. The video molded the American vision of justice with the American fantasy of fame, making a complex conflict seem easy to resolve. Like celebrity, retribution comes if you dare to dream big. And so was born a new national pastime: catching warlords with the stars.

Read my full article, Catching Warlords with the Stars, and check out the symposium here.

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