“Did you hear anything about this on NPR?” my wife asks?
“I think kids are into it because they want a sense of community,” says my fifteen-year-old, “but they are asked to pay three dollars a month and they get posters of a bad guy to sneak around at night and put up—how’s that going to help?”
“The dad who made the film seemed kinda… I don’t know, like he’s not a grown-up; and he has his six-year-old in it and he’s adorable, but what does he have to do with the issue?” wonders my seventeen-year-old, adding “And then they interview this African kid who says, ‘I wish I wasn’t alive,’ and that’s powerful, we get it, but then the guy keeps asking him, ‘So, you would rather be dead than be on this planet?’ and other questions until the kid is crying. It seemed like he was exploiting him.”
My younger son honestly wonders if it’s a scam. He’s read around on the topic and tells us that Kony’s army is down to two hundred people in remote areas and is hardly the biggest problem the world needs to be aware of at the moment. And the ten million dollars donated (money from the one third of the revenues that goes to actually helping) only helped five hundred kids, while there are tens of thousands needing help.
After dinner and the dishes I Google “Invisible Children NPR” and bingo, four concise minutes on the topic, my sons drift over, listening to the radio emanating from my battered laptop. Only the younger one listens to the end.
“You trust NPR,” he says. “They made my same points,” he adds, and this is true.
We walk the dog in the moonlight and my fifteen-year-old tries to study vocabulary but his eyes can’t adjust and he keeps stopping by house lamps to read a word and then quiz my wife and I on the baggage continually loaded on the train to nowhere, to SATs and college, and NPR and invisible children.
Of course there’s a “sucker” born every minute, since we all enter the world needing to nurse.
I guess most of us just never get enough, and it’s our untamed greed that makes us vulnerable to the con. There’s a pro to take every last nickel. There’s an art to the con.
“This way to the egress, see the egress. Don’t miss the egress,” P.T. Barnum would say to the folks who’d already put their cash on his barrelhead and gawked at his lurid sights. And after they’d seen the egress they found themselves standing in an alley just short of the money they’d started with.
The next day my fifteen-year-old tells me that Invisible Children has enough money now and is not accepting any more.
I wonder to myself about the sort of genetics and experiences and economics and politics that conspire to create “bad guys” of major proportions, and about the forces that create viral fluxes in mass attention. I wonder when consciousness might go viral, when treating hurt kids with compassion rises as a bigger agenda than killing the bad guy.
I picture the old trope of townsfolk with torches and pitchforks swarming after Frankenstein, of Nazi propaganda and tides of hate binding youth to bloody purpose. I realize that I have no idea about what is right, about who is bad, about how to help us see the invisible children. I feel free, suddenly, of opinion.
And I’m at dinner, at that Cuban place I love, eating garlic roasted chicken and plantains and rice and black beans and cold Mexican beer and life is good and my fifteen-year-old is talking about the sheep’s heart he dissected at school that day. The wall of the heart was as thick as his knuckle.