On Friday, March 16, news broke of the public breakdown of Jason Russell, director of the 29-minute Kony 2012 video that, after its March 5 release, went viral and skyrocketed him, LRA leader Joseph Kony, and the San Diego-based organization Invisible Children to international fame. Authorities reported that Russell was sighted in various states of undress, vandalizing cars, and — according to one witness — masturbating. When found, Russell was reported to be in his underwear and cooperative with the police requests for detention. Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey released this statement on Friday:
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. 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. We will always love and support Jason, and we ask that you give his entire family privacy during this difficult time.
?Russell wasn’t arrested, but rather detained and put under medical surveillance because of supposed mental instability. SDPD does not plan to press charges. His wife, Danica Russell, also commented:
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 the attention was great for 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.
What happened after the report was deeply disturbing, but predictably in-step with the traditional American response to tragedy: gut-wrenching mockery. I watched #Horny2012 trend on Twitter as the public seized its opportunity to bastardize Russell, his family, his children, and his organization. Within minutes, Russell was crucified on the unforgiving cross of social media, and — like waves of jeers — the tweets rolled in for hours.
I am troubled that the culture that reared me seems to be one that gets off on the failure of others, as if somehow sadness is sexy. Perhaps some vestige of social Darwinism, we seem to celebrate when the lionized crumble, and the applause only escalates when the fall is damaging and the person is left bruised, naked, and shamed.
?We are a voyeuristic people who have made defeat an industry, printing news of divorce and scandal and tragedy, covering it in glossy finish, and selling it for $4.99 next to packs of gum at the grocery store. To be fair, this vicious ideology isn’t unique to 21st century America; it’s actually age-old, and can be heard in the two-thousand-year-old cries of the Roman Coliseum. People of empire have always loved the collapse of others, because — for a moment — it ensures their own stability. The problem is, at some point, we all will fall. We will collapse, we will fail, we will wish we could have done things differently, and we can only hope that our inevitable short-comings don’t make their way to the desktops of millions around the world.
Historically, the times we’ve chosen the destruction of dehumanizing lampooning have led to unbelievable personal, social, and national violence. What preserves our humanity and makes us compelling creatures is our choice to take up the evolutionarily destructive mantle of compassion and empathize with the wounded. May we remember that we are all Jason.