A cry for purpose

Young people want to be part of a cause, especially if it is one their elders have seemingly ignored.
Nicole van Heerden | Mar 16 2012 | comment  

Kony 2012

As a fairytale Hollywood story, you can’t get much better than Kony 2012. Let’s face it, this video is huge because it has mobilised the most lucrative market in the world, the 15-30 year age bracket, in a medium that is historically unique to them, with a cause that is emotive, a video that is inspirational, and a philosophy that is irresistible to the human spirit: a sense of righting wrongs and bringing justice to innocents.

I guess the question is, what is this video going to concretely achieve? The reality is that 76 million people aren’t going to spend their life savings to fly to Uganda, march out into the bush, and bring a mad African terrorist back by the scruff of his neck. The question it is asking – and answering, I think – is, how does one person make a difference in the world? How do I leave my mark on the world? This guy has done it by grabbing the attention of mind-boggling number of people and making them consider the plight of children in Uganda. It’s a question that every person in the world asks themselves at some stage or other, and wants to be able to answer. 

As the director of the video says: “At the end of my life, I want to say that the world we’ve left behind is one that Gavin (his 3-year-old son) can be proud of.”

Whether or not this cause and this man deserve the attention they’ve received over the last week is beside the point. The real issue that all of this has raised is a philosophical one; it’s a cry from a whole generation of young people for purpose in a world that tells them that there is no such thing as right and wrong, or truth, or God.

As a young person, I can understand how attractive hype for a cause is. Young people want a sense of being part of something big and important, particularly if that cause seems to be something that older generations have seemingly ignored or not acted on. There’s a great sense when one is young and coming into adulthood that “now is my time to make a difference in the world; to right the wrongs of the ‘establishment’ and the generations who have gone before and haven’t acted on things like this.”

Everyone loves to find a cause to support; a bandwagon to leap onto and shout from in the name of righteousness and truth – to make the world a better place, to open the windows of society and sweep the cobwebs out from the dank and dusty corners of social justice. To be young is want to make things as fresh and new as you feel yourself, as a young person with ideas to change the world.

Too often in human history, when we heard about injustice, we cared but we didn’t know what to do. So we did nothing. -- Kony 2012

This video has reached too many people for it to be ignored or passed off as no more than a feel-good thing for armchair idealists to latch onto for their daily hit of hedonistic almsgiving. I think the huge amount of interest in this cause highlights the sense of frustration that a lot of people in wealthy countries, especially youth, feel about the injustices going on in the world, which they are effectively completely incapable of physically doing anything about.

Realistically, for a person who has to support a family or look after kids or finish a university degree – what can such a person do about these issues? For most, all they can realistically do is to give their two copper pennies’ worth and hope that they make a difference in someone else's life. And I don’t think that’s something to criticise or pass off, or to be discouraged. Rather, it’s a sign that there are many people in the world who care deeply about the troubles of others, about righting wrongs, and about remedying injustices and improving the lot of others less fortunate than themselves.

Whether this video is right or wrong, whether its message is accurate or inaccurate, whether it’s a cause worth the 76 million hits on YouTube  – is less important than the fact that so many people in the world cared enough about some kids they’ve never met in a faraway African nation to spend half an hour of their life paying attention to their cause. I would be inclined to take that as a positive – wouldn’t you?

Nicole van Heerden has a Masters degree in Screen Production majoring in Drama Directing from the University of Auckland.  She is currently involved in corporate video, documentary and short film production.  

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