Global vision, ground truth? Kony 2012 vs A Short Film About War

I’ve found the controversy surrounding the Kony 2012 film interesting in light of Thomson & Craighead’s two channel video installation A Short Film About War (take a look here), which begins and ends with a soldier reflecting on deployment to Iraq. Though Iraq is in some way the anchor point for the work, it ranges much wider, zipping between a number of crisis zones. Reading them together maybe tells us something about how a certain sense of ‘the global’ is being constituted as media techniques, social networking technologies and geopolitics evolve and synergise each other.

Among other things, Invisible Children’s film has become notorious for its manipulative affective techniques. A key part of this is the way the film zooms in and out between locations, with ground-level sections giving the details of the story they want to tell. This trick of zooming and snapping into close-up action has long been a staple of movies from Bond to Bourne as well as Call of Duty-type video games. The technique joins the illusion of global vision from an authoritative position with claims to embodied ground truth. In Kony 2012, these tricks are blended with social networking tools as part of a wider campaign, which seems to be implicated in growing US military involvement Africa as well as Ugandan and regional politics.

One thing that A Short Film About War does is highlight and thus problematise the workings of the infrastructures of visibility and affect upon which Kony 2012 film relies. One video channel shows images from a variety of crisis zones sourced from Flickr. A voice track conveys extracts from blogs written by people in those zones while the other video channel shows the web locations and dates and times of the photos and blog entries. Part way through the work there is a compressed section of images, sounds and a meditation on the data systems that support global vision, communication and networking.
Rather than seeking to incite a humanitarian urge to ‘do something’, A Short Film About War enables reflection on the means whereby large numbers of people are being enrolled into geopolitics. Constructed so that it appears to give us a rapid tour of crisis zones, anchored in ground truth and enabled by the world wide web, A Short Film About War also asks us to question how a sense of ‘the global’, of other people and places and our own subjectivities are constituted, targeted and mobilised.

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