Expertise and Experience: Two Ingredients to an Op-Ed with Bite

“What Do Young People Think of Kony 2012 Now?” This was the query of Carina Ray, a Public Voices Fellow at Fordham, whose op-ed on the waxing youth wariness of the Kony 2012 phenomenon went live on Time Ideas on April 20th. In it, she examines the unprecedented viral success of the film attacking Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. She looks beyond the initial superlative popularity of the video, and into the evolving, critical reactions of the young people whose sympathy it was intended to evoke.

At first, Ray acknowledges, it inspired the sincere outrage of fresh-faced Americans whose estrangement from the conventional means of forcing change (money, for example) led them to express their support using the currency most available to them: tweets, likes, and status updates. Indeed, the support that the campaign amassed on social media sites was unprecedented.

But Ray, who polled her undergraduate students at Fordham, says that many of them soon became concerned by the troubling African stereotypes featured in the film, the manipulative nature of the narrative, and the reality that what the film was actually advocating was a military intervention in Africa.

Its success, she has come to believe from engaging in these dialogues, was more about a budding generation’s desire to affect some good in the world with the click of a button, rather than the actual particular merits of Kony 2012.

The sincerity of this impulse, she further concludes, is attested to by the fact that so many young people have withdrawn their support as criticisms of Kony 2012 came to light.

There are so many pieces out there that chew the same old cud about the phenomenon of social media at play in youth culture. Rarely is this paired with a conversation about youth empowerment. Ray hits on something profound in her analysis of the Kony 2012 flash in the pan– that kids today want to feel good about what they do in the world, and they’re highly amenable to using social media to accomplish it.

Also one of the most powerful parts of this op-ed was the fact that Carina explicitly derived her opinions from actual conversations that she had with actual young people. She recruited, not just her expertise as a scholar of African history, but also her first-hand experiences as an educator to make an article with immense authority and bite. Congrats Carina! Keep up the good work Public Voices Fellowship teams!

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