Two events in the past week really stood out: KONY 2012 and DONT WALK. One involved a concerted effort by a group of St Andrews students to organise an evening that would have a tangible and positive social influence. The other typified the vanity and self-absorption that one cannot deny has become an unwanted staple of St Andrews. A sharper contrast could hardly be drawn.
And so I would like to thank the DONT WALK committee, and the director, Kitty Owen in particular, for putting on a fabulous show and raising a frankly ludicrous amount of money for charity, £10,000 this year alone as a rough estimate. I had been brooding in curmudgeonly bafflement at this KONY nonsense all week, but DONT WALK pepped me right up! Not quite what you were expecting? Perhaps I should explain…
Much like the events themselves, two thoughts have occupied my journalistic faculties in the past week. The first was the realisation that every student article that has maliciously battered DONT WALK has shot to dizzying readership and comment stardom. Check the top posts on The Saint’s homepage if you don’t believe me. Now that my KKF-bashing appears to have exhausted its potential, how, I asked myself, could I keep everybody happy? The evidence was pointing clearly to the timeless well of bashing DONT WALK instead…
The second was that, in a fit of hilarity caused by my exchanging comments with a friend who found KONY equally ridiculous, I paraphrased our entire conversation into an article that I would be willing to bet J.H. Ramsay will deem too deplorable for publication, even in Viewpoint. But, in case he does, I would like to get something more civilised on the record before the bleeding hearts hoist their pitchforks and run me out of town.
My hazy consideration of both of these events was suddenly and sharply brought into focus when, on Saturday, I listened to Kitty Owen, giving an interview for BubbleTV, talking about Zamcog, the charity to which DONT WALK donates. If you have never heard of it, as I had not, their mission is the running of the Shitima School in Kabwe, Zambia. The School was founded by the charity and takes in orphans and street children.
St Andrews students raising awareness for a charity that operates in Central Africa helping homeless children… Interesting… Sounds oddly familiar…
But there are crucial differences that make a compelling comparison. Firstly, DONT WALK doesn’t just raise awareness, it raises money. Call me a cynic, but no impoverished African child really gives a flying monkey that you are ‘aware’ of their predicament. What they might give a flying monkey about is a school being built for them. Schools cost money. DONT WALK raises money. It’s not hard to follow.
Secondly, I can pretty much guarantee that 99% of you are not actually aware of any impoverished African child’s predicament. You may be aware of a general predicament of poverty, but you know nothing whatsoever about individual people, real locations or what, specifically, could be done to help. KONY 2012 reeks of such sweeping generalisations that are totally devoid of direct contact, local knowledge and specific plans of action (I don’t count ‘Peace in Africa’ as a plan). Zamcog have all three in abundance; they set realistic goals that will maximise the social benefit from their input, and then they follow through. As mentioned repeatedly, they built a school!
But my favourite comparison is that of the attitudes of those involved. I am sure you are familiar with the stereotype of DONT WALKers as pretentious twats. Perhaps you also think that KONYers are selfless luminaries. Shockingly, I beg to differ.
I was tempted to begin my defence of DONT WALK by pointing out the inherent redundancy in complaining that a fashion show is pretentious. It reminds me of people who complain that they NFL is violent. In short, they need to shut up.
But, on second thought, I believe there is more to it than that. It might be worthwhile to consider what ‘pretentious’ actually means. According to the little red book at the bottom of my screen, it means ‘attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture etc., than is actually possessed.’
Now, out of DONT WALK and KONY, who do you think attempts to impress by affecting greater importance than is actually possessed? If we substitute in our variables, we find that DONT WALK want to raise money for a charity by charging people to attend their event, while KONY want to save Uganda by putting up posters. If A is the set of all things ‘affecting greater importance than is possessed’, then within A, KONY > DONT WALK. You can’t argue with that, it’s Maths.
In terms of culture, seeing what some of the girls were wearing (or weren’t wearing) on Saturday night ought to dispel any notion that DONT WALK is grappling with delusions of aesthetic grandeur. Meanwhile, I have heard KONY described as a ‘social phenomenon embracing the tangible power of the people to make change’. One day there were no posters. Then there were posters. Such phenomenal power makes me quiver in awe. I hope Africa noticed.
Talent is an easy one. DONT WALK was a brilliant collage of artistic ability, incorporating fashion design, lighting, music, and choreography, not to mention the astounding logistical operation that encompasses coordinating professional sponsors from all over the world and managing a crew of over 100 on the night. I don’t want to give the impression that I was enthralled; I wasn’t, but the vast majority of attendees were. And while I am not exactly a fan of fashion shows, I could still appreciate that it was fantastically executed (the show, that is, not so much on the after party). Incidentally, I have also put up posters and worn T-shirts in the past; I put neither on my CV.
And yes, it’s moderately irritating that I need to correct Spell-check every time it insists that DONT has an apostrophe, but if I had a quarter for every time I removed a KONY post from my Facebook wall, why I could almost sign somebody into the Union…
It may seem like I am subtly racking up a list of faults in DONT WALK. But if you read the list back, although my observations may be correct, they are utterly petty criticisms that do not at all stand up to the praise that is equally due. Namely: DONT WALK intends to put on an impressive fashion show, entertain their guests, and raise money for charity. They succeed wildly on all counts.
So what exactly do KONYers have on DONT WALKers? They aren’t less pretentious by the actual definition of the word, but I can immediately imagine the suggestion of virtue. KONYers care about our common humanity, whereas DONT WALKers only care about their appearance. It’s magnanimous and considerate versus vain and shallow.
I’m sorry, but I have bad news for anybody that holds this view. The people who really care about suffering and injustice get up off their asses and figure out a way to help people. And more importantly, they don’t care about how other people see them; i.e. they don’t beg for attention by posting their actual, real, charitable work on other people’s Facebook walls.
If DONT WALKers are vain, then KONYers are far worse, because they don’t back it up. The DONT WALK models don’t say a thing; they show off their looks because they are beautiful. This is an integral part of a well-orchestrated process that channels energy and money into aid for those who need it most. KONYers talk and talk and talk to show off their compassion, but will only commit any physical energy to putting up posters, which is almost insulting to those who could benefit from that time and energy if it were directed towards something more tangible than the vague hope of eventually deposing a Warlord.
I feel like I should cut this rant short to make something clear. I am not saying that KONYers don’t actually care at all, or are hopelessly vain, or anything of the sort. It is very unlikely that they would embrace such a movement if that were the case. The problem is that, regardless of how they are, this is exactly how they appear when they tow the KONY line.
Let’s all be honest for a moment. When you posted the KONY status on Facebook, were you really talking about it because you thought that it would be educational to somebody to find out that there are problems in war-torn parts of Africa? Did you really give a flying monkey about raising awareness of Joseph Kony, and did you think that by doing so you would bring about his demise? Or did you talk about it because that’s what all the cool kids were doing?
No, KONY isn’t actually bad, it’s just nothing. It’s probably best described as a fad, and I would offer the following advice to anybody who has been swept off their feet; making you realise your passion for charitable work is the only good thing that will come from this. If this is something that you really care about, find a more productive outlet for your energy that involves real knowledge, real goals, and a real plan. It would be admirable if you made such a plan yourself, but there are plenty of charitable bodies out there who would be happy for you to get on board with theirs.
I might even suggest that you apply to join the DONT WALK committee, but that might tip your sensitivities over the edge. Wait – does it count that I said it anyway? Oops… My bad…
But above all, remember that the act of charity can only be achieved by actual, real work.
If you care, don’t talk: just do.