Jason Russell, creator of the viral video Kony 2012 and co-founder of Invisible Children, has finally emerged from treatment for the public breakdown he suffered nearly six months ago. On Sunday, Oprah’s Next Chapter aired an exclusive interview in which Russell speaks about the tsunami that followed as Kony 2012 gained 70 million views in its first week. Invisible Children strategically released Move on the same evening, “a behind-the-scenes look at the most viral video ever and the movement that made an African warlord famous.”
With Oprah, Russell talks about how difficult it is for him to remember the breakdown, because it was an out of body experience. He denies accusations that he was using drugs, but admits to being “out of control” as he was “slapping his hands on the ground” as hard as he could. Oprah listens sympathetically to Russell, who now appears composed and back in control.
Russell’s confession of sorts is both necessary and respectable if he is to return to the public sphere. But Move takes this one step too far as Invisible Children tried yet again to sympathize with and justify Russell’s breakdown.
The video has the same slick production value and catchy soundtrack as Kony 2012 and its sequel, Kony 2012: Beyond Famous. The video is intended to redeem Russell and restore some semblance of respect to Invisible Children’s work. But it fails to do so, because it contributes nothing to their movement to ensure that Joseph Kony is captured. Almost as an afterthought, only the last 2 minutes of the video that summon activists from across the world to Washington on November 17th and lobby global leaders to arrest Kony.
Move is nothing more than a narcissistic attempt to recover from the embarrassment that Russell’s public breakdown caused the organization. It will only serve to strengthen the criticism that Invisible Children only spends a fraction of its raised funds in Uganda. Filled with teary testimonies from Invisible Children’s staff about the unanticipated negative scrutiny that Kony 2012 spawned, it is unlikely to have any impact, online or in Uganda.
In this video, Russell says that his mind betrayed him and apologizes to the “thousands of people who were confused and didn’t trust us anymore.” He responds to the “what happened” question with feigned light-heartedness, laughing that he gained 20 pounds with Kony 2012. Russell’s public breakdown, diagnosed as “reactive psychosis” due to extreme exhaustion, led to him parading the streets of San Diego naked, screaming and disrupting traffic.
Russell must now resume his commitment to the Kony 2012 movement and stop indulging in the restoration of his own public image. Otherwise, he will only prove the critics right and detract from any positive impact that Invisible Children and Kony 2012 has had.