The latest sign that we live in the worst possible timeline came in the form of the announcement of a new CBS reality television series called, disturbingly, The Activist. Deadline reports that the Global Citizen series will feature “six inspiring activists teamed with three high-profile public figures” who will be competing to “bring meaningful change to one of three vitally important world causes: health, education, and environment.” The series—which is being hosted by the truly inexplicable and deeply unqualified trio of Julianne “wore blackface in 2013" Hough, Priyanka “wants to be Prime Minister of India” Chopra Jonas, and Usher—is set to premiere on Friday, October 22nd.
On the series, these so-called activists will compete in challenges to “promote their causes,” the winners of which will be measured by “online engagement, social metrics, and hosts’ input.” As a social media manager, I can’t even imagine how one would “win” at something as abstract as “promoting a cause”—but I also wouldn’t expect anything less from a series with a concept this performative and self-promotional.
For the finale of this hellish competition, the so-called activists will have the opportunity to attend the G20 summit (lol) where they will meet with world leaders to fundraise for their cause (lol), and the winner will be the team that receives the largest financial commitment (lol). Because, as everyone knows, the real end goal of all meaningful activism is to accumulate massive amounts of money from world leaders who definitely aren’t at all responsible for the very systems of oppression that actual activists are organizing to dismantle!
“The Activist is a first-of-its-kind competition series that will inspire real change, as the series progresses from the United States to Rome for the Activists’ final challenge at the G20,” said Global Citizen CEO and co-founder Hugh Evans. “The audience will see the Activists’ passion and commitment for their causes tested as they petition world leaders to take urgent action to resolve the interconnected crises we face.”
The creation of this series feels like the inevitable outcome of the recent rise of a celebrity class of “activists” who appear to be more concerned with achieving fame and wealth for themselves than with actually organizing on behalf of the people and communities they claim to love so dearly. *cough* Shaun King *cough*.
It also seems likely that shows like The Activist will actually make it even more difficult for real activists to force change and possibly even put them at greater risk of experiencing state violence by further perpetuating a false dichotomy between “good” (aka non-disruptive) activism and “bad” (aka property damaging-causing) activism. Especially because these narratives can empower law enforcement to continue to publicly and shamelessly enact violence against organizers who reject sanitized corporation-approved “activism.”
I’d like to think that anyone with two brain cells to rub together can understand that the type of radical organizing that has the potential to actually create meaningful change does not occur with the endorsement of any corporation. Still, it’s appalling to watch a billion-dollar media conglomerate that likely already profits off a variety of the very exploitative labor practices that many organizers are actively fighting against attempt to generate further profit by selling consumers a neatly packaged and respectable form of so-called activism.