Evangelical narcissism: or, Jason Russell really is an epic douchebag


Haven’t really talked much about the whole Kony 2012 flapdoodle here, because up until now, it didn’t seem to be much of a religious issue. But looking over the curious case of Jason Russell, self-appointed savior of Ugandan children and flamboyant public-naked-meltdown-haver, it is necessary for me to prologue this post in order to give you an idea where I’m going with it.

A question Christians often have for atheists is why we bother being decent, moral human beings, if there isn’t a God up there keeping a running tally of our awesomeness and preparing a sweet reward for us behind door number three when we get to Heaven. We all know the answer to that, so I won’t derail my own post by going into that part of it. Suffice it to say that there are those in the evangelical community who see morality in the context of their public image. They do good deeds to be seen doing good deeds, and praised for it. This was the shocking charge laid against Mother Theresa, a woman acclaimed universally as an unassailable paragon of faultless, selfless Lawful Good, by the late Christopher Hitchens. People simply couldn’t believe it…and yet, the facts were troubling. Here was this very public saint, basking in the adoration of heads of state and taking in millions upon millions in donations, and yet her hospitals were run-down wrecks lacking in anything but the most rudimentary medical care. Curious.

Was Mother Theresa deliberately dishonest in how she went about her affairs? Or was she wholly and sincerely convinced that what she was doing was all for the poor and downtrodden, and that her way was the proper and most Godly way? I tend to think that the most flagrantly dishonest charitable behaviors, the most overt and flamboyant expressions of moral superiority, are in fact done by painfully sincere, un-self-aware egoists convinced of their humility. Following from Kazim’s earlier post about The Amazing Atheist, in the same way horrible people don’t realize they’re horrible — because they’ve constructed an I-totally-rock! narrative around themselves and then shored up a personal environment that supports and protects it — egoists don’t realize they’re egoists. The more giving and self-sacrificing they think they are toward others, the more they’re actually trying to feather their heavenly nest. So to speak.

It becomes necessary to point out that it isn’t everyone, or even necessarily a majority of people (religious or not) who devote themselves to charitable work who hide such cynical, selfish motives. But when you encounter someone who does, the truth of it becomes clear in very creepy and distressing ways. It starts with a vague feeling that there’s something here that just isn’t ringing true, that feels a little off. Then as more details are revealed, it’s as if floodgates have opened. And then you see a very different and bizarre side of the person everyone was being asked to hold in such esteem.

Like this, for instance.

That was Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children, an organization founded to raise awareness of the exploitation of children as soldiers in Uganda, and director of the Kony 2012 film, standing on a street corner, stark naked and totally losing his shit. He does not appear to be publicly masturbating, but that hasn’t stopped a million photo-memes from sprouting like mushrooms. (Perhaps the camera mercifully cut away.) In all, it’s a rather facepalmy position for someone intending to lead a global philanthropic movement to find himself in.

Russell’s colleague, Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey, offered this interesting explanation of Russell’s street-corner shit-losing. “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. Jason’s passion and his work have done so much to help so many, and we are devastated to see him dealing with this personal health issue.”

Personal health issue? Mental health, does he mean? I’ll grant that making a video that garners 81 freaking million YouTube views in 12 days, turning you into a literal overnight celebrity, can stress a guy out. But to result in a collapse so intensely bizarre and potentially destructive to what your whole movement was set up to accomplish from the outset? Was it that the growing criticisms — that the film plays fast and loose with facts and rather rashly advocates American military intervention, which hasn’t exactly worked out so well for us in the past decade; that Invisible Children accepts funding from vehemently anti-gay Christian hate groups, a touchy matter considering that Uganda has been pushing for laws to make being gay at all a capital crime, laws known to have been drafted by American evangelical Christians; that Russell and his buddies have cozied up to Ugandan military leaders themselves accused of ghastly atrocities; that the film focuses on dated events while ignoring real present-day plights suffered by Ugandan children and adults alike — were starting to crack the shell of Russell’s carefully cultivated self-image?

Let’s have a look at that self-image.

The first thing that occurs to you when checking out anything Jason Russell has to say about himself is that the concept of modesty appears to have been surgically chiseled from his brain in early childhood. Seriously, giving yourself the nickname “Radical” is extra-douchey and mad cheesy all on its own, but this…?

I will now subliminally suggest all of you start annoying Russell Glasser by calling him Radical Russell.

Russell’s superhero complex is further shored up by his bio at the Invisible Children website, where we learn he has given his children middle names like Danger and Darling, and hopes to breed nine more. Presumably he has consulted with his wife about this. Perhaps he means to grow his own moppet army to fight off Kony’s. In any event, wherever you find Jason Russell, you find a man reveling without shame in his sense of personal grandeur.

And his evangelism. Russell spoke last fall at Liberty University, where he pretty much laid bare the fact that what he and his organization are doing is motivated, to at least an equal degree as their desire to save the kids, by “stealth evangelism.”

Russell has been criticized most heavily for playing the “white savior” role, which is what happens when privileged white Westerners decide they have some duty to impose their presence upon struggling developing nations and underprivileged peoples and Fix Everything with their magical Whiteness rays. “White savior” behavior is usually marked by not-entirely-honest motives, and an oafish refusal to make sure you have all your facts in order and a sensible game plan in mind before donning your cape and flying in. It is, as noted before, all about doing good in order to be seen doing good. (Which again requires the disclaimer that not all charitable white Westerners working to fix problems in developing nations are guilty of “white savior” syndrome.)

Don’t you wish your savior was white like me?

That Russell is operating under a full-fledged case of “white savior” is evident simply from watching the half-hour film. If you’re not one of the 81 million people who’ve yet seen it, the first thing you’ll notice is that, in a manner more in keeping with narrative (fiction) rather than documentary film, Kony 2012 establishes a storyline with a protagonist. And that protagonist is Jason Russell. Slickly shot and edited, with highly professional use of digital graphics, the movie’s first five minutes detail the birth of Russell’s son and Russell’s own background in political activism. (No religious angle is presented here, so as to appeal to the broadest possible audience.) Then Russell shifts focus to the time he spent in Uganda, acquainting himself with “another little boy,” Jacob. The movie’s first genuinely affecting moment comes six minutes in, when Jacob, very matter-of-factly, talks about his dead brother, and that he’d really be better off dead himself. He says this as calmly as if he’s telling you he prefers Battlefield 3 to Halo Reach. And then all the grief he’s had bottled up inside bursts forth, and he breaks into truly pitiable tears.

Obviously Russell wants to offer comfort and succor. And he goes about it in the douchiest fucking way possible. He reaches out to Jacob and says — I shit you not &#151 “It’s okay, Jacob, it’s okay…we’re going to stop him [Kony].”

And what immediately follows this? We cut to uplifting rock music, and the whole thing turns into a “Get involved, people!” infomercial!

The narrative of Jason Russell, White Savior of Poor Black Children, is thrust to the forefront. That there are Invisible Children employees and volunteers on the ground in Uganda doing meaningful work is pushed to the back burner by a film that frames the plight of child soldiers in the context of how it’s changed Jason Russell’s life. And if certain facts have to be downplayed (that Kony — a truly loathsome piece of shit, no question — and his Lord’s Resistance Army have actually been scattered and out of Uganda for about six years now, and that Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has himself used child soldiers) to sell this self-aggrandizing narrative, so be it.

Which brings us full circle to Russell’s evangelism, and his breakdown. No, I don’t know the inside of the guy’s mind, but I look at his talk at Liberty, advising Christians to “get in the fight,” and I see his film, with himself very much at the forefront as the hero. And I see an evangelical narcissist. Is he insincere? No, that’s the problem. He’s exceedingly freaking sincere, and this has blinded him to his faults: that he’s affiliating with an army that has itself been guilty of looting and rape, that he paints a complex and evolving array of political turmoil in simplistic good-vs-evil terms. And so on. God will smile on Jason Russell for all of these things. I’m sure Jason is sure of that.

And yet, when the man who swears to a crying boy that he’s going to stop the ferocious warlord who killed his brother and so many other children is faced with media attention, criticism, scrutiny and backlash, he’s so undone that he strips off his clothes and throws a fit on a street corner in broad daylight?

That’s the tragedy of the narcissist. Occasionally, reality breaks through that shell of fantasy you’ve built around yourself. And for a brief moment, you must face the horror that your life is not, in fact, a movie.

Comments

  1. Steven says

    I kind of feel bad for him now, he’s grossly ignorant and immature.

    The White Saviour thing is pretty bad, but I can forgive accidental ignorance if said person drops the privileged ball and listens to others around him.

    The break down was the worse, I would have hoped a grown up would have gotten that out of their system by…. However old he is…. That spaz out is why I feel sorry for him, he hasn’t matured enough to be an adult and probably shouldn’t have that level of responsibility.

    That and he’s probably crazy.

  2. Rob M says

    Thanks for a perceptive read. There is such a thing as “narcissistic breakdown”, described in some psych articles that I’ve read about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It’s what happens when the self-constructed delusions start to collapse, and it can be very bad, including outcomes like suicide.

    It did vaguely occur to me that there might be a link, and I think you’ve described that very well – if his religious sunlit world has suddenly gone to custard when the exposure shone a light on the vast inconsistencies and duplicity in the video and in IC – then maybe the delusions have fractured – with the resulting outcome that we see here. It’ll be interesting to see if he ever returns to his former life.

  3. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Russell makes this great movie starring himself and basks in the massive attention and adulation resulting from it. And then people start picking holes into his magnum opus. Kony hasn’t been in Uganda for six years. Uganda has massive problems completely unconnected with Kony. The difference between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan Army is a matter of degree rather than substance. Even Rush Limbaugh sneers at Russell’s anti-Kony efforts (although for completely idiotic reasons).

    All of a sudden, instead of being “Radical Russell” he becomes “Jerk Jason”. That’s not easy for someone with such a well groomed and cultivated ego to deal with criticism. I really wonder if capering naked on a street corner isn’t just a case of “look at me!”

  4. says

    This is the same Kony and Lord’s Resistance Army that Rush Limbaugh defended as a Christian when Obama sent a handful of troops to Uganda. You know, because Obama is a Muslim Atheist and wants to kill the world’s Christians starting in Africa where he’s really from.

    It is so hard for right-wingers/evangelicals to keep their friends and enemies straight.

  5. an observer says

    You write an excellent explanation for Russell and his meltdown. You nailed it…..narcissism. Jason went to college and studied film, and wanted to write Hollywood musicals according to a bio on him. He then went to Africa with some friends looking for adventure and a story after college. The Kony situation became his narcissistic prop and platform for creating film, garnering himself attention and money, and giving himself access to celebrities. He must have craved fame early on as he had set his sights on being a Hollywood filmmaker in college. Also, he was raised in an evangelical Christian family who had a puppet ministry, and this obviously influenced his beliefs as well. So there you have it….one part saviour, one part filmmaker, one part celebrity, and one nasty case of an ever widening grandiosity gap between the real Jason Russell with limited experience, knowledge, and maturity and his alter ego as Spielberg, Oprah, and Bono incarnate…oh yeah, and Jesus too.

    Whew….a nasty narcissistic meltdown on the world stage. I’m not saying that he did not feel sincere compassion for the victims, but he was surely blinded by his own need for attention, celebrity, and specialness that the narcissist craves. Throw in the evangelical element of believing one’s own chosen spiriitual beliefs are the ONE TRUTH, and that is one nasty case of self delusion and misguidedness.

    Your last line about the shell cracking, and him realizing his life is not a movie, and he is not in fact the golden child of Bono and Oprah (and Spielberg and Jesus) was stated brilliantly.

    I kind of feel sorry for the guy, but he obviously had some lessons to learn.

  6. says

    The manner of his breakdown is revealing of religious fanaticism as well. He didn’t hole up in his bathroom and start hoarding food, he goes for incredibly public nudity, masturbation and vandalism. The guy is screaming to the world “I’m evil!”

    I’ve seen this in some of the religious people in my life. They seem to believe they are evil, barely keeping a lid on horrific behavior with their Christianity.

  7. Leni says

    Wow. I actually feel bad for the guy. I mean, I’ve had some pretty bad moments. Lots of us have. But most of us managed not to do it naked on a street corner in broad daylight while being videotaped.

    That’s just rough.

  8. Zengaze says

    I think the link between his religious mind and the resulting kony debacle can’t be understated. The emergent church is full of jason type nutters. They have very little doctrine, their worship leaders are failed wannabe pop stars, who convince themselves that they would be megastars if they hadn’t sacrificed their potential glittering careers to serve the lord, all the while performing mini rock concerts and raking in oodles of cash from Jesus sheep.

    Their pastors are crazier, each one the star of his own church, with their flock worshipping every infallible word that their prophet spouts. They make their doctrine up as they go along, and usually are convinced they got a hotline to the guy in the sky with a plan. Egomaniacs just doesn’t come close.

    Jason is a product of this nonsense, it’s all style no substance, it’s all about “the movement” rather than pesky facts, and don’t doubt for a second that he is incapable of realising himself to be a corrupt leach piggy backing on the suffering of others, in the mind of the emergent church type, it is those who are cynical and doubt intention and motive who are at fault.

  9. minxatlarge says

    What everyone has said may be true, but from my experience (one does not swim in the corporate world without recognizing snakes in suits with personality disorders) the whole nekid-in-public thing is more typical of the manic phase of bi-polar disorder (which also has a component of psychotic break).

    So yeah, possible that too much criticism could cause a psychotic break in someone with a personality disorder, but also not unlikely that too much adulation overstimulated someone with bipolar disorder into a different kind of psychotic break (mania). That his associate labeled it a ‘personal health issue’ also leads me to think that he may suffer from a recognized mental illness like bi-polar. It seems to be more difficult to recognize personality disorders, never mind expecting that the public will have any sympathy for someone with NPD. I just can’t imagine that someone would know that his associate had delusions of grandeur due to a personality disorder and call it ‘health issues’.

    FWIW, YMMV

  10. says

    Word is that Jason Russell has not been arrested or charged for rocking out with his cock out, but he has been placed under a 5150 psychiatric watch.

  11. sphex says

    I can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Clearly he’s unwell. And narcissism may have something to do with it, bipolar disorder may have something to do with it…. but am I the only one whose gaydar needle popped clear off? I would be shocked, SHOCKED, if an evangelical were discovered to also be a closeted homosexual.
    sigh.

  12. says

    (e_e) No, a lot of folks have proposed that. (Must be the jazz hands in the video.) I think that speculation he’s gay might carry more weight if the focus of his activism was anti-gay, not some Stallone/Bond fantasy about bringing down a mad African warlord. Some of his donors are anti-gay groups, but apart from taking their money I don’t see that Russell has expressly involved himself in their activities.

    I have noticed how many straight people seem to think they have infallible gaydar. But like some star recently said (Clooney? dunno, can’t remember) you’re nobody in this business until you’ve got a gay rumor going about you.

  13. Tim H. says

    Reminds me of “Jerusalem Syndrome,” when people visit the Holy Land and discover it’s not continuously bathed in golden light like a church poster, but an ordinary place with litter and traffic. It disappoints something deep within them and they go nuts with a messianic flavor. Celebrity might be Russell’s Jerusalem.

  14. Kes says

    C’mon, I can’t have been the only person who read “naked on a street corner” and immediately thought “PCP’s a hellyva a drug”, can I? The video only makes that conclusion more plausible.

  15. Nicoline Smits says

    I’m all for arresting & trying Kony, and the charge that Uganda’s army has itself used child soldiers doesn’t change that one bit. However, I abhor his evangelism as explained above, especially the fact that they are so closely allied with anti-gay groups. That teaches me not to fall for facile explanations of complex problems, I guess… sigh.

  16. says

    Yes, been dealing with this one on Facebook too.

    Let me just point this out once, okay? Anything’s possible, and we don’t have all the facts yet. But that’s the point…we should wait until they are in before jumping to these conclusions. So far, there have been no reports that drugs or alcohol were involved in Russell’s breakdown. Russell was not charged with anything (which he almost certainly would have been by now had there been intoxicants swimming in his system), he is only being detained on a 5150, indicating the authorities consider this a mental health problem. It may have been a drug-induced rampage, but we don’t know for certain (and surely the gossip rags would have gotten hold of the info by now and run with it if it were so). So until we have the actual evidence in, let’s not assume he’s tripping on acid or angel dust, let’s not assume he’s a closet homosexual, and so forth. We’ve already seen how fast the falsehood that he was publicly masturbating spread. The curse of the internet is that people just indiscriminately assume stuff, and before you know it, the assumption is enshrined in lore. Indeed, that’s one of the major faults of Kony 2012. It’s full of half-truths and inaccuracies, and people just watched it and believed it because it was this big viral video.

  17. says

    The “Guy who spews homophobic crap is secretly 50 miles deep in the closet gay!” thing is way overplayed. Most homophobes are simply bigots.

  18. an observer says

    Another thing that struck me as very odd about this guy is that he rattled off his future plans which include helping stop war in Africa, getting a Divinity degree from Oxford in England, writing and producing a Hollywood musical, founding a private school in New York City for the world’s most brilliant students. And he is currently training for an Iron Man. And he wants to have 7 more children with his wife.

    Hmmmmm……..very immature, grandiose, childlike delusions of grandeur and magical fantasy thinking. I wonder how he was planning on fitting the role of father to nine children and husband in between his Hollywood musical and Divinity degree?

    This just smacks of either severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Bipolar (or other mental disorder that results in manic grandiose thinking) or some combo of the two.

    I also found it odd that most of the US employees at Invisible Children are young, very attractive hipster types. It looks like the casting from a Jennifer Aniston movie with all of the females looking like models or actresses. Odd.

  19. Zengaze says

    Why do you guys always have to focus on the small things? I’m a big thinker so I look at the big things, so what if my recruitment policies are based on how much mojo I flow from your vibe, beautiful people make beautiful worlds, and we are going to make Uganda beautiful and free, leaps of faith are leaps of liberty, the liberty of little children that need friends. Will you be their friend? Will you be mine, come on my journey and I’ll show you the world we all could have on the big screen. Peace out, stop kony!!

  20. LA says

    Totally agree. Very well written. Invisible Children needs to become invisible again. He’s a nutter, poor bloke.

  21. Michael Wilton says

    Just like everybody jumped on the Kony bandwagon blindly when the video was first released (I couldn’t see how – it was so obviously manipulative and with a transparently self-serving agenda), now everyone’s jumping on the “see, I told you they were all bad” bandwagon too.

    Ok, the guy’s a douche. There’ve been millions of those and there are still millions more. He likely did not anticipate the scope of the response to his video and even if he did he was obviously not prepared for it. But it’s too simplistic to start throwing the ‘crazy christian’ label around and bringing atheist judgement down on Mother Teresa and whoever else.

    It’s a simple story – he’s a douche – move on.

  22. an observer says

    Simple story? I think we all know plenty of garden variety douches, and they aren’t on The Today Show one day discussing their organization and film, and then the next day running amok naked in the streets having a jazz handed psychotic breakdown.

    This extends far beyond douche or religious zealot, and into mental illness and/or drug use territory. I hope the guy gets help, but also feel for the people who donated their hard earned cash to his organization.

  23. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    “No-one that certain can fail to be a maniac” – somewhat prophetic.

  24. douchebag says

    Yeah, Russell is an epic douchebag. Knowing that a douchebag has raised millions of dollars for humanitarian programs in central africa will surly make us feel better about the great things we’ve accomplished. This article is a beautiful gift for humanity. Russel’s douchey humanitarian advocacy pales in comparison to the good that will result from people like Wagner. Martin Wagner’s cynicism is the gift that keeps on giving!!! Hooray and thank you! I was an idiot until I read this. ;-)

  25. Yan Barnes says

    Clearly the man is also a closeted homosexual. Did you see those fierce queen snaps in that video? My gaydar was screaming.

    I hope this guy can find help.

  26. Kazim says

    I have to say, it’s a little disconcerting to have to keep moderating comments that say “Russell is a douchebag” and fighting the inner voice that says “It’s a troll! Delete comment!”

  27. an observer says

    Yes, I thought he was gay in the Kony video, and I hate to even mention that because it’s none of my business. The sidewalk video looked like he was possessed by Rupaul.

    Maybe Kony’s aunts put a voodoo spell on him?!?

    Poor guy :-(

  28. Applehead says

    I am kind of disgusted with how people have twisted the Kony 2012 campaign from being an effort to utilize viral media for something more meaningful than Kardashian memes into a vilification of those who dare suggest the average person become invested in world affairs. Yes, Russel is probably doing this for his own personal ego-inflating reasons, and Invisible Children does not appear to be the best recipient of funds for this cause – and these arguments need to be well-discussed and disseminated.

    But I am beginning to feel like the conversation has shifted to making any efforts by anyone who doesn’t live in Uganda feel guilty for being privileged. You can’t have it both ways – to be disgusted at the world for ignoring these atrocities, and to beat people over the head for wanting to help. With a lot of problems, I agree, western intervention ends up hurting those it is intended to help (though many relief agencies are trying to climb the learning curve on that front).

    But crimes against humanity are supposed to supersede these concerns because they are an affront to all civilization. There is no statute of limitations on these crimes, just as former SS officers involved in the concentration camps are still actively pursued.

    It is awful that the publicity did not take root when the atrocities were at their peak, and that the establishments created to pursue these monsters are too weak to be effective independently of considerable support from first-world countries – including lobbying by religious groups. But I wish the conversation would focus on how to address those problems, rather than on all the reasons we should scorn and turn our backs on the only mechanisms that currently exist to address this tragedies – arguments that ultimately rationalize the status quo.

  29. says

    There may be people whose criticisms have taken the all-damning tone you suggest, Applehead. And I agree with you that working constructively towards real solutions ought to be everyone’s priority.

    But the purpose of my post was not to denigrate all the people who want to help out the victims of atrocities, only the ones like Jason Russell, who do so out of self-aggrandizing motives as much as sincere ones. Compare the way Kony 2012 is made — in the manner of a crass, slick, pop-video influenced infomercial that puts its handsome white director and his adorable boy front-and-center as stars — to some of the great, actual documentaries that have had real social impact and successfully gotten their consciousness-raining message across. Errol Morris was able to get a wrongful conviction for murder reversed in The Thin Blue Line without making a movie that was all about the Heroic Crusade of Errol Morris to do so. The filmmakers behind the Paradise Lost trilogy made a real impact with their films, by not making the films about themselves, but about their actual subjects. Similar powerful movies like Restrepo and Taxi to the Dark Side have made an impact by staying on-message. In short, no matter how noble your goals, overt showboating in pursuit of them is a little off-putting. There are ample people doing it right out there that we shouldn’t feel self-conscious about calling out the ones who are doing it wrong. (And I’d personally be more impressed hearing about all the money Invisible Children has raised for their charitable efforts if more than 30-odd percent of it was actually going to those efforts.) Find the organizations and people making real change happen without being narcissists and publicity whores about it and support them. Norman Borlaug didn’t need to do a dance video to save a billion lives.

  30. Zengaze says

    The Kony 2012 campaign was not about the plight of the oppressed in Uganda, it was a platform for Russell to launch himself and make bucket loads of cash to be diverted into his other projects. Anyone who wants to promote viral media as a tool to aid those without a voice need to use their voice to take the legs from under Russell and those like him. That is how best to protect the integrity of genuine movements.

  31. Applehead says

    But as you say, there are ample people trying to get the message out in a way that adheres to the ideals and integrity of humanitarian work – the problem is, *it doesn’t work*

    Sad as it may be, the slick, glitzy, emotionally-manipulative commercial-esque style featuring happy white people works, while the number of people who voluntarily watch or are even willing to tweet about more serious documentaries is very small.

    An ugly truth, one Russel no doubt realizes, is that humanitarian groups are basically sales-people – they sell a feel-good moment in exchange for your donation or investment. But what most humanitarian groups sell is a terrible emotional exchange – if they catch your attention, they show you things that make you feel awful, and then you give them time or money to try to get back to feeling as well about the world as you did before you encountered them – and it is never enough to solve the problem. The result: people avoid humanitarian groups like the plague, ignoring links, turning the channel when those awful ASPCA commercials come on, and resolutely not looking at people with petitions in the eye.

    The Kony 2012 video turned all of that on its head. The video left people feeling better and more empowered than before they watched it, and so people were eager to share it. Yes, that meant emphasizing familiar, attractive, happy faces. In the case of Liberty University, it may have meant pandering to Evangelical goals. Invisible Children are sales people, pure and simple.

    But bottom line, giving people that epiphany moment is the price you have to pay if you want people to care. Is it fair that you have to make people feel good to get them to care about something so terrible? No, but I think it is absolutely better than the alternatives that, again, have done nothing but fail over and over again to get the groundswell needed to address crimes against humanity.

    I think Invisible Children should be held accountable for factual errors, and as I said before I think it is very important to discuss the credibility of any humanitarian group that makes a splash to make sure people’s energy goes into productively addressing these very important issues. But I don’t blame Invisible Children for using the same tools as Apple, Honda, and Obama – I actually think its about freaking time.

  32. says

    But as you say, there are ample people trying to get the message out in a way that adheres to the ideals and integrity of humanitarian work – the problem is, *it doesn’t work*

    Then you’d better let the Red Cross know. That should explain why their humanitarian efforts have been such an abject failure in all the decades they’ve been operating. :-)

    I don’t deny that slick pop-video salesmanship can reach a youth audience who wouldn’t take an interest in these issues otherwise, Applehead. Nor do I deny that an uplifting video is far more effective than those maudlin humanitarian ads that try to guilt you out of your money, that people always mute their TVs for. And I would support efforts like Kony 2012 unequivocally when done with integrity.

    It’s just that this particular example of slick pop-video salesmanship appears to be the product of a raving narcissist with some severe emotional instabilities, who bends the truth disgracefully in order to achieve his goals, and who places — and this is the key point I don’t think can be understated — who places himself and his own celebrity at the center of his video outreach efforts. Yes, a bajillion people watched this thing. And now there’s a backlash happening, followed by a public meltdown…and now, any future efforts at consciousness raising along the lines of Kony 2012 will most likely be met with eye-rolling skepticism by the very audience that embraced this one. Burn me once, shame on you…

    Wanna bring the awareness of the privileged West to third-world atrocities and change things via the use of slick pop videos and teen-friendly music and graphics? Go for it! By all means! Make it happen!

    Just…why did the most widely seen example of it to date have to be made by this clown?

  33. Fifi Lamour says

    I find it odd that even people who acknowledge that Jason Russell probably suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder feel the need to add that they think he probably felt real compassion for Ugandan child soldiers. It’s like everyone is an apologist for this guy, which is part of the problem in the first place. The thing about narcissistic personality disorders is that people who suffer from them don’t actually experience empathy or compassion – it’s part of what defines the disorder and associated behaviour really. Others are seen as objects or props in one’s own personal movie or as a means to an end. All the children in the Kony2012 epic of douchebaggery were merely props to show how wonderful Jason Russell is, from his own child to the one in Uganda.

  34. says

    The thing about narcissistic personality disorders is that people who suffer from them don’t actually experience empathy or compassion…

    But they believe they do, and even that they’re better at compassion than anyone else. That’s part of the narcissistic delusion.

  35. Fifi Lamour says

    The guy’s not a PR/social media genius either and the movie was actually quite atrocious considering how much money was spent on it (not as bad as his earlier more overtly Christian musical effort, however, which also features Russell and his buddies as, this time dancing, saviours). He’s stolen almost everything in this video from somewhere else, and the whole idea of the campaign is built on the Occupy movement and he’s just tried to do a “stealth evangelical” version of Occupy (coopting Sheperd Fairey’s aesthetic via hiring his ex-assistant). There’s also a very hefty theft of aesthetics from Vice.com (hence why people mistook these evangelical Christians for hipsters). The video itself is more or less modeled on other videos of the new agey sort that have had viral success. Now, the big difference with Invisible Children is that they have both powerful evangelical and corporate/mainstream backers, and oodles of money, where most of the other efforts mentioned tend to be grassroots. No need to give credit where it isn’t due. It’s not only okay to call Invisible Children and this guy on their bullshit, it’s kind of necessary.

  36. Fifi Lamour says

    Well, yes, people with narcissistic personality disorders do tend to believe all kinds of things about themselves but buying into that delusion doesn’t do anyone any good – particularly people who were conned in the first place. I just find it odd that people seem to NEED to believe that there were “good intentions” when it’s really pretty clear if you look at all the evidence that there never were, just the marketing of the image of good intentions.

  37. ryanlangford says

    Sorry, I find this kind of over the top psychoanalysis a bit more telling about the speaker. No question, the guy is mentally unstable, but I’m not sure why someone with such clear mental issues deserves so much vitriol. Could it be his religious convictions are a side effect of his mental condition? Could it be his “narcissism” is a side effect?

    I would hope someone who is compassionate could have a bit of empathy towards the mentally disturbed, however they discover their personal problems, but I detect none in this post.

    It is one thing to denounce people that are self-delusional but still sane, it is quite another to shit on people that are, if not completely insane, on the fringe of sanity.

    I hope you found that uplifting for your ego.

  38. says

    If you’d like to help stop commercializing the pain and suffering of innocent children. Come to Africa, see what it’s like, get your hands dirty. Stop raising public awareness using people’s “sympathy” with the sole intention of starting another war. Now the whole world associates this ignorant narcissistic but hole with saving Africa. America needs the help of Africa in my opinion, maybe we could teach you basic moral standards. Our suffering is a result of impoverished lands that have been drained dry and left to implode by colonial powers. The only way to fix Africa is through education and building from within, we don’t need war and we don’t need America throwing money at our corrupt government officials. Stick to the Cardashians and Jersey shore, these are real issues that really effect peoples lives.

  39. Fifi Lamour says

    I was responding to this comment by An Observer – “I’m not saying that he did not feel sincere compassion for the victims, but he was surely blinded by his own need for attention, celebrity, and specialness that the narcissist craves.”

    I was simply pointing out that if he does indeed have a narcissistic personality disorder then he would not feel “sincere compassion for the victims.” No need for anyone to get defensive, it was just an observation on the observation by An Observation!

  40. says

    Thanks Martin. I completely missed the evangelical thing, I guess he succeeded at the stealth part. Up to now, I was going with Nicholas Kristof’s analysis. I allow for a certain amount of craziness for anyone who is “on a mission”, but Jason crossed a lot of lines.

    On the one mission I went on as a Christian, I was given what I thought was great advice; don’t make promises, don’t even say you will come back unless you are sure you can. While you are there, you will get the feeling that whoever it is you are helping is the most important problem in the world and you’ll want to do everything to help them. You may want to dedicate your life to them, but chances are you will change your mind when you get home. Even if you try, you might fail. You shouldn’t make promises like that to children.

    My guess is, more than one person has given Jason the same advice, but he is not listening.

  41. an observer says

    You may be right. He may not have felt any genuine empathy for the victims of Kony. I was just off handedly giving him the benefit of the doubt by not making a definitive statement that he did not have any real sympathies at any time for the child soldiers as I am not in the guy’s head to make a call on that. I said “I’m not saying…..” as in I am not going to speak definitively since I don’t know him personally and the exact nature and degree of his psychiatric issues. If he has a Narcissist Personality Disorder which is different from just having narcissist traits, he was using the Kony issue as a prop and way to garner narcissistic supply for himself. As one with NPD, he would lack the self awareness to differentiate between heartfelt empathy and compassion, and his unconscious motives to take up the cause for his own egoic need for fame, power, and admiration. With NPD, he would also lack the ability to recognize his own limitations of his real self versus his false self as true narcissists fancy themselves almost godlike in their specialness and talents. Maybe his breakdown was the result of the grandiosity gap between the real and false self imploding in on itself with the worldwide criticism causing a psychotic episode of narcissistic rage?

    I mistakenly wrote earlier that his parents had a puppet ministry, and later read that they founded a Christian theater group that exists throughout the US. I wonder if the family were very ambitious evangelicals who overly emphasized success, talent, specialness, and recognition with their kids? If he does have NPD, an upbringing like that could have been quite the breeding ground out there in SoCal for his personality disorder. I don’t know for sure, but am interested to find out more details.

    I was married to someone with NPD, and it took me years to figure out and dissect all the crazymaking patterns of his behavior that often resulted in a wake of destructive chaos. If Jason Russell is in fact a narcissist AND has sexuality issues AND hails from a very evangelical Christian (read: dysfunctional IMHO) upbringing, he will have one hell of a psychic knot to unravel and string back together to get himself to a healthy and sane place. I don’t know any of this for sure, but have a gut feeling that these are the underlying issues…could be wrong though.

  42. Muzz says

    No question the guy is mentally unstable? It’s probably not a good idea to come over all righteous and pretend that your arm chair diagnosis is better than anyone else’s at the same time.

  43. says

    If you’re saying attacking Russell is a strategy to promote the use of viral media, I disagree. People are defined by how they react to criticism. Russell is now defined. If we allow his actions to be used to attack social media, that is our detriment, but reacting vehemently, piling on Russell, would also be to that same detriment. Creating some distance, definitely. Defining his meltdown in terms of his motivations, his lack of clarity on his mission, sure. Martin did a good job of defining those lines.

    To the rest of the world, most Americans are the 1%, and we need to take responsibility for that. We can take responsible action on situations that we caused (or our ancestors caused) and we can do it without asking for a plaque with our name or taking pride in the hits on our website. Sorry, gettin’ preachy. Done now.

  44. says

    I get that Brian, but not everybody can make that trip. We do need a lot of people going to work every day and making widgets and then making small donations. That is what has built the infrastructure that has led to bringing much of the world out of poverty. Now, obviously we need to be making useful widgets, with less waste and less energy and with a global view of what our widget making affects. I get your complaint, but telling people to go back to watching TV (or whatever disctraction) is what caused the problems in the first place.

  45. mike says

    I just watched the “naked video” and my gaydar is never wrong (confirmation bias, yes I know lol) anyways, my gaydar is never wrong and simply put, he’s gay. When people are extremely upset thats when their true identities are harder to mask, i.e. they make racist comments, they stutter, accents come back, and sometimes they reveal that they gay!

  46. ik says

    … no. Certainly aiding corrupt government officials will not normally serve the greater good. The fact that these are problems that really affect people’s lives is why I cannot respect either the narcissists of America OR the those who would impede power in actual service of the greater good.

    I think that rather than arguing against Kony 2012, we should try to co-opt the massive support it has gained and use that money to help some actually effective NGO, or start one ourselves. If we play it right, it would be like we got free advertising from those assholes.

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