Social movements can be described as “organized yet informal social entities that are engaged in extra-institutional conflict that is oriented towards a goal. These goals can be either aimed at a specific and narrow policy or be more broadly aimed at cultural change.” (Christiansen, 2009, p. 2). Christiansen’s definition is slightly more in depth than the one in our text, but still very specific. In our text, the definition of a social movement also appends that it “operates on a sustained basis…” (Simons & Jones, 2011, p. 408). What these definitions collectively lack is how they explain when a social movement ceases to exist. For example, once demands are met, does this mean the movement stops fighting? If it reaches public policy and, can politicians be a part of the social movement, too? Without these exemptions, the line between a social movement and lobbying group might slowly begin to blur together. Regardless, these movements do not usually begin in politics, but they often end up weaved within policies later. The picture above comes from the Kony 2012 campaign video. Pictured is Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony and many children he has taken for his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The Kony 2012 campaign is a very well-known social movement. The campaign was put into action and organized by the non for profit organization Invisible Children, Inc. It is possibly one of the most viral social movements to date. Not without controversy, the Kony 2012 movement seeks to nullify party lines and unify the world in the quest to make Joseph Kony famous and bring him to justice. They are in conflict with those who think their messages are too simplified, those who think they misinformed the audience of the whereabouts and timeline of the Kony’s LRA, and, of course, Kony himself. Kony’s infamy is a sub goal of the group. Their ultimate goal is to help find Kony, make sure he is arrested and to help those he has harmed. As stated in their video, the Invisible Children, Inc. wanted to influence “twenty culture makers and twelve policy makers” to spread the word and bring Kony’s action into the public’s field of vision (Russell, 2012.) As stated in Christiansen’s definition, “cultural change” or “specific and narrow policy” must be a component in a social movement. The Kony 2012 movement had a goal dealing with both. They wanted to twenty culture makers to help them get the world involved to change the way we demanded justice, and they wanted policy makers to send help to Uganda’ leaders to find and bring Kony to justice.
The picture above, in context of the thirty minute film where it appears, showed Kony standing among many children. The way he is positioned gives the audience an assumption that he feels like he has ownership over the children, that they are his puppets he uses to commit heinous crimes. Following this photo, the shot is zoomed in to show us Jacob, someone who inspired the director to start the cause years ago. The popularity of this cause can be attributed to mass media. Media is known to inspire people quickly, and its viral nature allows messages to spread globally. As our book states, “this same power and pervasiveness can also become a central problem for contemporary movements, especially for those movements seeking more than modest reforms.” (Simons & Jones, 2011, p. 485). The popularity and persuasiveness of this video reached the targeted celebrities, policy makers, and several young activists worldwide. There were many statistics used throughout the film to qualify the movement, but the narrative method is what persuaded people the most. It was also the narration style that caused the most controversy because it was accused of simplifying a large-scale situation.
The photo (and the rest of the movie) is narrated by the director, Jason Russell. The narrative paradigm proposes that we are homo narrans, or natural story tellers. (Fisher, 1984, p. 6) The Kony 2012 video would be an example of a “mode of expression” by an organization who wants to communicate to as many people as possible. This narrative has some coherence and fidelity, but still a lot of controversy. It has structural coherence because it follows a series of events from the inspiration to start the movement and to the progress of the movement itself. It also has material coherence because of our tendency to side with the underdog in American culture. It seems to have a familiar story line or concept that we are familiar with and relate to: There is a bad guy (Kony) who causes injustice to an underdog (the children in the photo), and we expect the underdog’s mission to end in victory (the social movement in progress). Because we do not know as much about the politics of Uganda, the characterological coherence cannot be as justifiable. In other words, we cannot compare Kony to others in Uganda or other warlords if we are not familiar with their type. This issue was one of the reasons the movement was dubbed “simplified.” The story’s fidelity seems to match up with those whose values drive them to change the world. The artifact from the film shows in essence the situation of the entire narrative. People who viewed the video (mostly young people and social media users) were immediately driven to make a change based on the well-worded and persuasive narrative. Its values made sense, and the outcome seemed to be rational and inevitable based on the underdog stories people have grown to love. Despite the controversies, the Invisible Children, Inc. is still fighting to stop Kony. The discrepancy that lost some persuasive appeal was when the characterological coherence was broken when the director had a nude and very public breakdown due to stress. The image above still had meaning based on the narrative, but the slight interruption in our assumed reality of coherence settled some of the excitement the movement initially carried.
Christiansen, J. (2009). Four stages of social movements. Research starters: Academic topic
Fisher, W. (1984). Narration as human communication paradigm: the case of public moral
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Simons, H., & Jones, J. (2011). Persuasion in society: Leading social movements. New York, NY:
Vandivort, K., Longerbeam, H., Clendinen, C., Jouglet, N., (Producers), & Russell, J. (Director).
(2012). Kony 2012 [Online film]. United States: Invisible Children, Inc.