The show’s original concept was dubbed ‘the worst idea ever.’
By Ashima Sethi
After CBS announced that they will be premiering a show titled The Activist this October, which will see six activists compete against each other in an Apprentice-style format, the cable network was met with intense backlash for many reasons.
According to the network, the show will feature activists who will “work to bring meaningful change to one of three urgent universal causes: health, education and the environment. The activists will compete in missions, media stunts, digital campaigns and community events aimed at garnering the attention of the world’s most powerful decision-makers, demanding action now.”
Some of the immediate problems that come from this is the fact that the contestants’ success does not stem from creating any real-world change and is rather measured by how much of a stir they create on social media, which puts the spotlight on the horrible trend of performative activism. How can we truly measure an activist’s success? It’s pretty clear that clout isn’t a criteria we should consider.
Another issue is having activists compete against each other to begin with. In order to determine who the ‘better activist’ is, the show is keeping the focus on the individuals competing rather than the very real, very pressing issues they’re advocating for. Many have taken to the internet to voice their anger at how the show has minimised the experiences of so many activists worldwide who have been jailed or killed simply for speaking up.
When we think of activists, we immediately think of the brave Palestinians taking to Twitter to chronicle their experiences under occupation, the youth in Hong Kong and Myanmar, the the BLM activists who were arrested with force in front of The Met Gala the other evening, individuals like Marsha P. Johnson who was a founding member of The Gay Liberation Front, and Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the face for speaking out about education for girls.
The act of rising up, fighting for the marginalised, isn’t something anyone does because they want to, it’s something they do because they have to. Having a show that makes this act a fun little competition is simply insulting.
When the show was announced, CBS also released information about the hosts who had signed on, which comprised of singer Usher, dancer Julianne Hough, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas. The trio would decide which ‘lucky’ individual would go on to attend the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy, to meet with global leaders and fundraise for their cause. Because nothing says heartwarming like having three multimillionaires decide if your life’s work is worth anything!
Beyond just the show’s many problems, the hosts themselves were deemed unfit by many netizens. Some brought up that in 2013, Hough was in the tabloids for using blackface for a Halloween costume where she dressed as a character from Orange is the New Black. Furthermore, Chopra Jonas has been in the news several times for being tone deaf. Not only has she previously promoted skin lightening creams and openly supported Indian airstrikes despite her role as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, but she infamously shut down a Pakistani activist during a heated exchange by taking the mic from her and telling her “Girl, don’t yell. Don’t embarrass yourself.”
How she’s expected to deal with six activists on the show when she can’t deal with one in real life is beyond me.
Janice Gassam Asare wrote for Forbes, “In a world and a society that will commodify and capitalise off of any and every thing, are we really surprised that being “woke” and caring about our fellow humans has now become performative and profitable?” In a similar vein, writer and activist Stephanie Yeboah tweeted: “This is truly horrific, lol. A reality competition show on who can be the next Insta-activist? It’s performative at best, and kinda makes light of the hard work a lot of grassroots organizations do on the ground, on a daily basis. Gross.”
Here are some other mentions from netizens around the world.
The first contest on The Activist is a CEO lmao
The reason dystopian stories can be uncanny is that we know that they can be real. They just often precede reality. Such obscene shows make total sense in a disconnected, elite world where activists are nothing more than enterpreneurs-to-be. It’s dehumanising.
like yea using activism as a competition where it is funneled into social media influence is absolutely abhorrent and completely dilutes the importance and impacts of organizing and grassroots efforts but also remember when priyanka chopra asked an activist if she was done venting
Anyway…rumours are the producers were so taken aback by the backlash that they are considering rebranding the show as a documentary series that will showcase the journey of six activists, removing the ‘competitive’ element all together and giving all contestants a cash grant. We’ll find out soon for sure.