Is Jason Russell's Hysterical Naked Madness Good for Kony?


Invisible Children activist Jason Russell's butt-naked meltdown in San Diego doesn't just give new meaning to the phrase "exposing child soldiers." It raises the question of how an obscure-to-most-Americans political issue will play after its most prominent spokesman has flamed out. 

Nick Sibilla gave the lowdown on Russell's arrest earlier: 

Russell was taken into custody Thursday night after vandalizing cars and masturbating in public. In addition, the SDPD "received several calls yesterday at 11:30 a.m. of a man in various stages of undress, running through traffic and screaming. Police described him as 'in his underwear.'"… 

The police will not press charges, since according to a SDPD spokesperson, "We determined that medical treatment was a better course of action than arrest."

TMZ notes that cops were responding to reports of a man in "various stages of undress." And because this is your lucky day, TMZ also has video of Russell in what looks like the final stage of undress, very athletically getting the message out to what looks like a pretty nice section of America's Finest City. 

My own impressions of Kony 2012 were that 1) it was remarkably centered on Russell's sense of his own awesomeness; 2) the use of Russell's son was so shameless – such an unjust act of parenting, journalism and cinema – that it made me feel terribly old; and 3) Russell is the type of person about whom a friend of mine once said, "That guy's problem is that he's never had nobody give a shit about his ideas."

More importantly, Sibillla noted in an excellent overview last week, the viral video failed either to describe Kony's crimes in full or to deal honestly with the crimes of the governments that are fighting against him. The other day Tate Watkins described how this post-post-post-modern phenomenon also contains plenty of old-school political propaganda and overlaps with State Department ambitions. Sibilla also described how Invisible Children's strange mission of funding "hipsters uploading videos to Vimeo" has nevertheless resulted in getting Kony declared an enemy of the United States.

Because the explosion of the anti-Joseph Kony cause is so wound up in Russell's own story – which, whatever the video's faults, was clearly compelling to 80 million people – it will be interesting to see if this news has any impact on the campaign. It's also an example of how the very technofabulism celebrated in Kony 2012 accelerates career cycles: In the old days a celebrity got at least a month between the overnight success and the Sean Young-level breakdown. 

Theoretically, Russell's problems, which I hope for his family's sake he will overcome, should not have any effect on the political situation. But it's hard to see how the American public's fascination with Joseph Kony, who is himself only a bit player in Russell's film, would have been of long duration under any circumstances. The attention span can only get shorter now that the campaign's leading spokesman has rendered himself  – unlike the American forces sent to help hunt for Kony – hors de combat