And then the second story.
This atypically mild take from the Melbourne Herald Sun:
“Mr Russell, 33, was taken to hospital last week after being spotted by passers-by ‘running in the street, interfering with traffic, screaming; one person said that he was naked and masturbating,’ a police spokeswoman said.
‘The preliminary diagnosis he received is called brief reactive psychosis, an acute state brought on by extreme exhaustion, stress and dehydration,’ she added.
The 33-year-old was suffering from exhaustion and stress brought on by the massive attention garnered by the online video, which was viewed by tens of millions of people within a few days earlier this month.”
A few years ago I was at a wedding reception with a friend. We were leaning against the bar. For some reason I didn’t feel like drinking that day. I can’t remember why. He kept giving me shit about it as I matched his beers with seltzer and lime.
After a while I went to the bathroom and when I came back there was a shot of Wild Turkey in front of me.
“Drink up,” he said.
“I don’t want it.”
“I told you already, I’m not in the mood.”
He wouldn’t let up. He used all the usual frat-boy tactics like “Be a man!” and “Don’t puss out!” He slapped me on the back and kept saying “Let’s celebrate!” I was almost persuaded, fingering the sticky glass, when something occurred to me.
“You didn’t buy it, did you?”
At first he tried to play it off, but then he laughingly confessed. Someone had probably ordered the shot hours ago then thought better of it. The glass had sat orphaned on the bar, in the sun, people sneezing over it, popcorn floating in the greasy swell at the lip.
I had no doubt at all, as I watched him laugh, that he wouldn’t have stopped me if I’d brought it to my mouth, ready to knock the liquor back.
I got up and walked away. I haven’t talked to that friend since.
I mention that story because that’s exactly how I felt watching the KONY video for the first time. Manipulated. Pushed to be outraged about something that deserves outrage, but also came in the form of a plea that seemed professionally spun under the guise of amateurism. The queasy realization that the video seemed to be as much about Jason Russell and his perception of himself as it was a tool for shining light on the ongoing horrors of Uganda. The vague sense that the whole thing might even be an elaborate joke, something put out by Will Ferrell or commissioned by Mountain Dew. And I still had more than twenty minutes of viewing to go. Perhaps twenty million other people felt the same way. But did they still order their KONY press kits? Or at least forward the video to all their friends?
I didn’t forward the video to anyone. Mainly because the scene where Jason Russell tries to explain the concepts of genocide and murder and kidnapping to his five year-old son disturbed me. It seemed profoundly wrong, the kind of thing you would run by a child actor while his mom stood just off stage ready to cash in her SAG day rate, as opposed to something you would blithely expose your own son to.
And so, although it probably sounds like revisionism, I was completely unsurprised to see video of Jason Russell’s meltdown. Perhaps not naked and masturbating in traffic, but I had a feeling something just like it was coming all along, something that would strip away a vital chunk of the earnestness and positivity of the project and cause a major rethinking of the entire enterprise.
Least surprising of all, I guess, is that some asshole was there to record and then gleefully broadcast another man’s mental dissolution.
The jokes thundered in. Late night monologues wrote themselves. Yet another seemingly innocent and easily supported cause proved to be choked with nuance and contradiction.
The whole thing now feels like one of those too-easy (or maybe too difficult) metaphors for the rot in the system. YouTube less an anarchic force and suddenly more like 1962 CBS. Facebook as a supposedly cutting-edge medium that is mostly a vehicle for cat jokes, and has already been meta-within-meta outed by an establishment film about the randomness, disdain, and greed that spawned it. Mindlessly clicking “like.” Our ignorance of Uganda and its people, and a sudden surge of caring at the behest of a video instead of a moral or ethical imperative that transcends a particular warlord or well-edited clip.
But mostly our willingness (preference?) to engage in “selfless” acts that are convenient and unexamined, almost exactly like “supporting the troops” while being basically unaware that we’ve fought two ten-year wars with zero sacrifice from anyone except the troops themselves.
Nothing real has ever happened at the click of a mouse.