Last Spring, upon viewing the internet video phenomenon, Kony 2012, I was struck by the extremely professional orchestration of powerful scenes interspersed with subliminally fast bouts of symbolic imagery. The emotionally charged story thus assembled told of the plight of child soldiers abducted in Uganda and their possible liberation through US empire, pressured to act by Invisible Children Inc. and it's legion of followers. The story was certainly compelling at times, and the accounts of people like Jacob, who was victimized by the LRA under the leadership of Joseph Kony, were truly heart wrenching. I never the less always remain skeptical when a feel-good, detail-lite narrative ties together American militarism and rapid fire imagery. It wasn't that I doubted the authenticity of people like Jacob, but rather the outcomes which would be achieved by embracing the US military as a strategic ally.
But what at first struck me as a well done propaganda piece, very quickly had me thinking something even stranger was taking place. I noticed patterns of images and words that suggested that the agenda of the organization was being subtly inserted into the film in a way similar to the kind of branding and manipulative subliminal messaging one would expect from an ad campaign, not a grass roots human rights organization. I contend that the film goes even a step further than this, into a form of black magic. I will explain.
What initially got my attention was not the barely noticeable frame (pictured above) from 27:01 in the film (more on that in a moment), but rather the repeated images of Saturn's rings, seen below, used in both the intro and final sequences. While I will demonstrate that there are several interesting connections with this planet and the Kony 2012 film, I cannot conclude that the film, as a truly magical act, is designed consciously to be a form of ritualized supplication to the ancient god. Ultimately, this does not matter. What matters is the appropriation of magical and pop culture symbols, words, imagery, and references to notions like destiny and cosmic significance, which channeled through powerful emotionalism, create a surface narrative of humanitarianism in order to realize a hidden desire for power.
In religious ritual and occult practices, numbers are often seen as having significance and power. Sacred dates and times and phrases like "the third time is the charm" indicates the way such notions effortlessly spill into our so-called modern world. We see both an overt, as well as an occult use of numbers within Kony 2012, whose title itself is partially numeric. The film is a total of 29 minutes and 59 seconds, and when the intro sequence tells us that "the game has changed," and "the next twenty seven minutes are an experiment, but in order for it to work, you have to pay attention," two things are accomplished. Firstly, through a kind verbally induced reality shift, the doorway for our own inclusion into possibilities that would not otherwise be possible has been flung open. We have suddenly been magically transformed from spectators into participants in an experiment, within a game whose familiar rules have changed. At this beginning stage of the film, we are vocally compelled to "pay attention," and thus led into a state of increased suggestibility through a sort of hypnotic induction. Just as we are told to pay attention, a series of images are flashed too quickly to consciously take in, (but which include kids running as revolutions through the streets, and a depiction of a triangle, pointed down). Secondly, the importance of this particular time frame, attached to the number twenty seven, has been authoritatively defined for us.
The so called period of Saturn Returns is a time in which Saturn literally returns to the same position in the heavens that it resided in at one's birth, supposedly effecting one's life in significant ways between the ages of 27 and 29. In the same intro sequence, right after the camera pans from Saturn and captures three stars appearing to fall towards Earth, there is a dramatic pause and a black screen, and then immediately we see the scene of a birth, the birth of Jason's son, to be exact. At the end of the film, a few seconds before the promised 27 minutes (and just a few seconds after minute 29 of the film), Saturn does indeed return in similar fashion as seen at the beginning, coupled with images of earth and a counting down clock. The images of the ringed planet are fast and seemingly unrelated to the movie as a whole, and thus they are hidden in plain sight, likely only subconsciously witnessed by most viewers. Yet their occult effect, if not to literally conjure the Roman god, is to establish a cosmic presence and a sense of arriving destiny. The message: a new age is at hand.
After reflecting on the film's mention of 27 minutes and discovering the highly suspect placements of Saturn in the film, on a lark, I skipped ahead to minute 27. One second later, at 27:01, situated just before another one of those dramatic pause-to-black-screen moments, was the screen shot taken above, with the word Power followed by a message in Latin. (This portion of the film can also be seen in a youtube clip below)
Before I get to that hidden message, I want to mention a few more things about numbers. The Kony campaign was set to expire December 31, 2012, a fact which was pronounced pretty clearly in the production by US Senator Jame Inhofe (incidentally, author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, and member of the secretive conservative Christian C Street organization known as The Family which receives significant funding from the parapsychologically oriented Institute of Noetic Sciences founder, Paul N. Temple.) So here we have two distinctive delineations of time, (one of which is shown twice as a clock counting backwards, accompanied by periodic appearances of celestial bodies, the other as a static date, 12/31/12) which in and of themselves suggest a sort of magical progression according to hidden, cosmological forces.
While one of the filmmakers claimed in their recent followup film, MOVE, that 2012 was simply the year that they wanted to put all their weight behind the movement and see Kony arrested, it does seem a little odd to put together an artificial time table around something one can't really control, and which had already been going on for nearly a decade. Unless, of course, the time frame wasn't entirely artificial. Perhaps there was a sort of "magical" tie in to the range of dates falling around the same period, which included not only the end of the Mayan calendar, the Winter Solstice, the Christmas holy day, and the beginning of the Gregorian New Year, but also the old pagan celebration of Saturnalia, which is put at December 23 of each year. December 31 would make the most sense to a modern Western, taxpaying audience (arbitrary date though it ultimately may be), but was there a general "end of the year" sacred symbology at work, which could make room for the old Roman god Saturn?
To get back to the above image, the Latin words below the word Power, as a mere blip on screen, might read to some subconscious minds as a sort of ancient, magical or alchemical text. In my estimation, this frame points to the heart of the intention behind the spell cast by Kony 2012. The words are actually attributed to Cicero, a Roman statesman who would have been alive during a time when Saturnalia was celebrated. Today these words are commonly used as placeholders in graphic design and webpage formatting, but why they show up for a fraction of a second, probably unnoticed by most, under the word Power, into the tightly edited Kony 2012, is a bit of a mystery. The words themselves translate to
"No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure"
The focus in this frame, then, appears to be an appeal to ancient lost wisdom, and thus modern occultism, functioning as an arcane magical instruction on temperance, rationality, and forbearance as a means to obtain power and pleasure. Further cementing this magical formula for power within the spectrum of Kony 2012's emphasis on time, is the fact that the film begins and ends with an alternate translation of a quote from Victor Hugo: "Nothing is more powerful than an idea who's time has come." [emphasis mine] Certainly the urgency of time and powerful ideas go hand in hand with revolution, and a less obvious meaning of revolution is also the movement of a planet, Saturn to pick an example, around the sun.
The way this all ties together is that the film serves as a sort of multi-layered incantation for which the desired effect is one of a changing of the current power structure. Joseph Kony, as Russel has stated, plays a critical role in lending credibility to the initial stages of this new, gathering force, and therefore the warlord himself becomes a sacred object of desire, a kind of ring of power that denotes deserved entitlement to its bearer. On the surface, the power shift of which Russel speaks, transacted through Kony's apprehension, is to be understood as a revolutionary empowerment of the masses who are now able to "see each other" through the dawning of a "New World" of Facebook, in time for the yearnings of the so-called millennials.
Millenials, referenced by Russel in MOVE, are the tech savvy, socially networked, and stereotypically purposeless young adults of today who simply need a cause to get behind in order to make their mark. The name itself calls to mind notions of an end of days, a new era, or a sort of mystical empowerment woven into the fabric of destiny and time. The kind of power shift that these millenials and the masses at large are supposed to achieve is demonstrated through a diagrammatic, magical reversal in the film, when the power pyramid of our current reality is flipped upside down. In the clip below, such individuals are given a familiar guise, again with a revolutionary resonance with V is for Vendetta. Crowds of the gathered, "now visible" American children working for the Invisible Children organization, make copious use of the peace symbol V, (a symbol which echoes the image of Russel's upturned pyramid). Here Kony 2012 engages in brilliant symbolic appropriation, a magical act which further contextualizes the film's scenes of radical populism in their cloak of anarchistic action, giving clear umbrage to those of a Guy Fawkes, OWS bent. This all-night covert activism, dubbed Cover the Night, was part of the plan to Make Kony Famous, and bears all the associations of risk, fear, excitement, and magic of operating during the "witching hour". The tension between that which is seen and unseen, occult and common knowledge, is clear in two contrasting titles.
Additionally, Saturn worship was often accompanied by child sacrifice, and the December holiday Saturnalia, with its carnival like atmosphere, was known for temporarily flipping the social power structure, in which the peasants acted as the higher ups for the duration of the festivities. The flipped order, of course, strikes a chord with Russel's inverted pyramid, and eerily suggests a larger charade into which we are playing. As for the child sacrifices, Kony 2012 is a story about going after a brutal warlord who abducts children, but in this pursuit, Invisible Children specifically targets largely unknown children for a transformative rise into greatness. To which group of invisible children is he referring? As a musical actor whose career didn't quite take off, is Russel the invisible child now given the stage (seen prominently in the Fourth Estate Trailer?) And here we see yet another synchronistic opposition, in which ultimately the young minds of those incorporated into the Kony campaign are swept up and sacrificed, not simply to save those children sacrificed by Kony, but as an offering to the structures of a deep power. When Anthropologist Ayesha Nibbe spoke to a group of young Kony 2012 campaign supporters about Ugandan history withheld from the film, she was shocked to discover that though they were unfamiliar with many facts that ran contrary to their understanding, they would none the less continue to cling to an organization which served their personal needs, rather than an authentic form of humanitarian transformation. This represents the type of invisible hold engendered by sacrifices to the well streams of power.
And although I find the connections between Kony 2012 and magical ritual to be compelling, I also recognize the speculation that is involved in the specifics of an apparent connection to Saturn. None the less, Russel, who identifies himself as Christian, is without a doubt using a form of occult practice in a type of magical working for very specific ends. He is channeling a simplified and false narrative through a collection of carefully placed symbols and imagery, drawn intuitively from a vast, and now electronically connected, cross-cultural milieu. Words like "clever marketing," or "PR" are simply masks for Russel's own obscurantism, which calls, in truth, not for an upending of the current order, but the descent of a voo doo practicing mad man to facilitate concurrent rise of a visionary Christian millenialist through, perhaps temporary, technological coronation. The rise and fall of these characters calls to mind the intersecting up and down points of the hexagram.
While it's possible Russel and his cadre could make headway into the halls of power, they cannot succeed in the apparent goals of pyramid inversion. This narrative serves merely as a form of magical misdirection, to render invisible the need to gather resources for self aggrandizement. And this, I believe, plays directly into Russel's inner demons, which are not so uncommon: the need to do something meaningful, to feel empowered and capable and accepted, while working within the confines of a corrupt power structure, trying to maintain sanity, continuity, and sanctity. His so called psychotic break, which stunned the nation after his video became so popular so fast, was another facet to the dichotomy of what is seen and what is hidden. Here we saw a reflexive and viceral enactment of revealing the hidden, breaking down social boundaries even as he had called for a massive shift in the social fabric. Russel was manifesting the symptoms of his own internal divisions in a world that had at first appeared accepting of his message, and which had then abruptly turned against it. These were the powerful currents that Russel was channeling, and ultimately the things that were not visible to him, or that he purposefully hid and hid from, which became the raw material for a psychic backlash. When Russel addressed the conservative Christian school Liberty University in regards to his take on "hypocritical Christians" needing to get active, his millinarian colored speech invoked a call to being like Christ, and not outright drawing religious lines in the sand. While one might applaud his tolerance for others, one can also observe the crafting of a secret, conflicted persona, ultimately steeped in both metaphysical elevation and severe judgement for those whose actions stray from unspoken doctrine.
Russel's recent film, MOVE, an answer to his critics, lacks the symbolic sophistication of Kony 2012. Perhaps it is a drying up of funding, a retreat of creative powers, the need to meet a deadline, or a slight chastening from Russel's public meltdown, which makes this latest installment look less like a work of magical propaganda. None the less, Russel assures us in the film that the "experiment" continues. That same image of Power shown early on also flashes briefly within the new film. It is clear he is there to reclaim a fallen mantle, if not as an individual, then perhaps as an apparently humbled member of a group. If this be true, Russel will in all likelihood, unfortunately, forge ahead with plans of conjuring manhunts with the likes of AFRICOM and the Lords of Empire. Given a long history of failed US interventionism and human rights abuses, it is not a future a sane person would envy or support, but the mesmerizing powers of the media and the clear talents and passions of Invisible Children will likely ensure it is a sacrifice that will continue to get backing. In this unfolding illusionist's drama, in the words Sverker Finnström, from his work KONY 2012, Military Humanitarianism,
and the Magic of Occult Economies: "the “good guys” on the actual battlefields are not necessarily characterized as such because they are truly good, but rather by decree, and because they are recruited to and allied with the apparently morally sanctified side."
For the Romans, Saturn was god of agriculture and the harvest, requiring sacrifice for good returns, and to Western civilization, Africa is widely viewed as the womb of humanity, having borne the fruit of mankind. Now a deepening geopolitical interest for resource hungry nations like the US and China has placed countries in Africa in the role of increased exploitation. Under Obama, in the midst of continued undeclared, illegal wars and drone strikes, military deployment to African countries continue. What sort of harvest will this strange and violent bouquet of offerings bring?