Das ÜberNub

Given the last post on this blog before it went quiet was a year ago, we missed the whole of 2012 so far. It seems like it would impossible to restart without acknowledging the most successful viral video of all time, which hit Youtube at the beginning of this year.

Yes, you guessed it: Kony 2012

Kony 2012 may not really qualify as a nub, mainly because it is half an hour long. We prefer short, pithy videos, but there’s no specific rule for length when it comes to nubs so what the hell. It qualifies in the sense that it takes an issue and seeks to make it understandable and accessible to a huge audience. By the sheer numbers, it achieved that goal with spectacular success. It therefore cannot be ignored.

But it is exactly this simplicity that made K2012 so controversial. Most of the extremely heated debate centred around this question: at what point does the necessary simplification mean that a nub, or a campaign loses its actual value? Does simplification always do a kind of violence to an idea or an issue? This question goes to the heart of what it means to make nubs.

The usual defence is ‘awareness raising’, but how should we weigh the value of the awareness raised? There are several schools of thought here. The first, or ‘better than nothing’ school says that awareness is  always good – people now know a bit about something they never knew before. It’s a crowded world out there, and if you manage to win some attention at least something can happen.

The second school says that its good as long as there’s a clear call to action. This ‘clicktivism’ school argues that although social media and the web have massively increased the audience you can reach, you can’t expect people to do much. You need to find ways to convert awareness into a simple, low threshold action that aggregates to something bigger. Avaaz.org is a good example of this tactic (they, too, nub).

Invisible Children (who made K2012) took this approach – creating a ladder of actions, from sharing the video on facebook, through more time-consuming actions like writing to Congress, all the way up to things like plastering your town with posters and banners. (Their Cover the Night event fell a bit flat).

The third school of thought says that awareness raising is not worth much unless it is anchored in a serious analysis and a meaningful program of work that tackles the issue in a credible way. This was one of the biggest criticism of Kony 2012 – that the movement was essentially a massive placebo without a very convincing or sophisticated analysis or prescription behind it, which did not really represent the ‘beneficiaries’ and therefore lost momentum.  For these critics, the test of awareness raising is how well it can be channelled and aggregated into actions or donations that lead to measurable change which takes in to account the complexity of a situation. (A look at how the ‘Girl effect’ campaign evolved is an interesting example of this – I will tackle that in another post).

So, so much has been said and written about Kony 2012 that I don’t think I can add much to the debate by giving my opinion. You can probably already tell which way I lean, but here is a piece by Dinaw Mengestu in Warscapes that expresses it better than I could.