There are all sorts of conditions that can cause a person to become overwhelmed: natural disasters, loss of a loved one, disease or violence. Circumstances can spiral so completely out of control it's as if life itself has been hijacked and the person is merely along for the ride, clinging desperately to any scrap of normalcy. Sometimes, the person loses hold of that grip completely. Losing your grip happens all the time, altering the course of individual lives and families. Usually, the chaotic cyclone of a breakdown is relatively contained. Last week, however, it appears one of these went viral.
Jason Russell, co-founder of the organization Invisible Children and director of the documentary "Kony 2012" was detained by police in his hometown of San Diego and hospitalized. The initial reports I saw were salacious and, thus, captivating; Russell was reportedly running into traffic, naked, possibly masturbating, possibly making sexual gestures, possibly vandalizing cars. TMZ posted a 12-second video, purported to be Russell, naked, apparently pounding the sidewalk at a neighborhood intersection.
Ben Keesey, the CEO of Invisible Children, put out a statement saying, "Jason Russell was unfortunately hospitalized yesterday suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition. He is now receiving medical care and is focused on getting better. The past two weeks have taken a severe emotional toll on all of us, Jason especially, and that toll manifested itself in an unfortunate incident yesterday..." What happened in the past two weeks that took such a severe emotional toll that it led to Jason Russell becoming exhausted, dehydrated and malnourished? Fame, or its sometimes noxious counterparts, success and notoriety.
Two weeks ago, Invisible Children released the "Kony 2012" documentary directed and narrated by Russell, outlining the decades-long atrocities committed by Joseph Kony, a warlord and leader of a Ugandan guerilla group called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The documentary urges global action on April 20 to call attention to Kony and demand he turn himself in to the International Criminal Court to be tried for crimes against humanity, especially against tens of thousands of children, abducted and turned into soldiers or sex slaves. Since the documentary's release, it has gone viral over YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. In short, the video did what it was supposed to do -- harness the power of social media to advance awareness.
The awareness was supposed to focus on Joseph Kony. Spotlights, however, cast a very large beam. It wasn't long before Jason Russell and Invisible Children got caught up in the glare of public scrutiny. Criticism began to surface about how the money raised by the organization was being spent. Some people called the efforts "neo-colonial," upset with gun-toting whites charging in to save defenseless blacks, deriding a "savior attitude." Not only did Joseph Kony come under fire, but so did Jason Russell and Invisible Children.
Danica Russell, Jason's wife, said "We thought a few thousand people would see the film, but in less than a week, millions of people around the world saw it. While that attention was great at raising awareness about Joseph Kony, it also brought a lot of attention to Jason -- and, because of how personal the film is, many of the attacks against it were also very personal, and Jason took them very hard."
One of those attacks was that the film was over-simplified. Invisible Children again put out a statement: "In our quest to garner wide public support of nuanced policy, Invisible Children has sought to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format ... In a 30-minute film, however, many nuances of the 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked."
I can only hope that those quick to condemn Jason Russell will withhold their judgment just a little longer and do a bit more digging, at least to a greater depth than 140 characters. There are also nuances to public exposure of private pain that should not be lost or overlooked by any of us in a viral rush to judgment.
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