Brass Eye was not just a funny show, it was an important social experiment that proved one fact: never trust the media.
With seeming ease, Chris Morris convinced a string of celebrities to speak out against fictional injustices, such as the dance drug that could make you vomit up your own pelvis, or the depressed elephant who stuck its head up its rectum in a suicide bid.
Any of the show's victims could have been spared their blushes if they had done some research or even applied a basic amount of common sense, but they were all in too much of a hurry to hop on the bandwagon to worry about trivial things like facts.
Of course, Brass Eye was made in a different time, back when the Web was still on v1.0 and social networking was mainly done in pubs. Before Twitter, before Facebook, before below-the-line comments on everything. If Chris Morris was making Brass Eye today, the celebrities would be tweeting about his causes while he was still interviewing them. Before the episode had even been broadcast, we would be seeing #BanCake and #LegaliseCake trending on Twitter.
Yesterday, the Kony 2012 campaign didn't so much go viral as become an epidemic, with 18 million views and counting. A very moving and convincing 30-minute documentary about a deeply disturbing situation, it only took a few hours to achieve it's goal of making Joseph Kony the most talked about man in the world .
And almost immediately the backlash began. Rumours spread quickly about the filmmakers: they're pocketing the donation money, they support dodgy Ugandan militias, they're just film school students with delusions of grandeur. So say the cynics.
Now, this article isn't trying to establish who's right and wrong. Already, everyone seems to have
firmly made up their mind and I have no intention of challenging that. But it's interesting to look at how people arrived at those decisions. Most of the recent support for the campaign is based on an emotive YouTube video. On the other hand, one of the most frequently cited sources questioning the campaign was this Tumblr, by an author who himself admits "I'm a second-year Political Science student, not an expert".
On the fringes of reason, the normal conspiracies are already including this in their dialogue. Here's a forum-level discussion about how this is the US trying to get Uganda's oil and someone on Yahoo! Answers tries to link it to The Illuminati. Nobody seems to be denouncing it as a Zionist plot yet, but give them time.
Perhaps yesterday something amazing did happen and did 18 million+ people suddenly became experts on African politics. Maybe even the celebrity sponsors of the movement, such as Rihanna and Justin Beiber, really have taken the time to become au fait with the intricacies of Uganda's internal conjflicts. Or maybe, just maybe, a large portion of those people did exactly the same thing as the celebrities on Brass Eye: they parroted an opinon without really looking into it, just because it sounded about right.
At least this is a good cause though, right? Well, maybe, but remember the Brass Eye special on paedophilia. That was a comment on the real-life fury whipped up by the News Of The World and taught us an important lesson: we all want our kids to be safe, but unthinking mobs eventually end up burning down the houses of paediatricians, which probably does kids more harm in the long run.
The Arab Spring and the Occupy movement have shown that there's an enormous global appetite for change and that social media can turn this into tangible action. Which is wonderful. Hopefully history will look back on these times as a turning point in human development. But remember that there are people out there looking to manipulate this incredible new resource.
Even if this hasn't given Chris Morris the concept for the next special episode of Brass Eye, every viral marketing agency will be closely observing this phenomenon and wondering how they can leverage the #Kony2012 effect for the benefit of their clients.
Hopefully this campaign will have an effect and help to remove a very real and very dangerous man. But the next time the social media bandwagon goes tearing after a noble goal, let's not all fling ourselves on it. Stop. Remember Phil Collins staring straight into the camera and saying, "I'm talking Nonce Sense". Find out more about the issue and then, by all means, take whatever action seems right to you.
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