New CBS reality tv competition The Activist is going to be filmed again, this time as a documentary, after all the backlash it received. Good fucking riddance.
In case you missed it, The Activist was announced as a new reality TV competition that would pit six activists head-to-head to “promote their causes”, like climate action or education. Their “success” would be “measured via online engagement, social metrics, and hosts’ input”, according to an email shared by Instagram content creator Kim Saira.
Unsurprisingly, the show received a lot of backlash.
black mirror writers room in shambles
— Ryan Hall (@EnbyRyan) September 9, 2021
For one thing, the selection of hosts — Usher, Priyanka Chopra, and Julianne Hough — is pretty awkward given the subject matter.
What’s wrong with this panel, you ask? Well, Julianne Hough previously committed blackface, and Priyanka Chopra has been heavily criticised for the way she tone-policed a Pakistani activist who called her out for “encouraging nuclear war”. Usher has been the subject of multiple lawsuits alleging he didn’t disclose to sexual partners that he had herpes (which he has denied having or spreading).
It seems like a weird choice for these people to host a show judging activism.
There’s also the fact that the show seems be measuring successful activism through online engagement – which reduces activism to just shares, likes and comments rather than a life-long, every day practice to create meaningful, material changes to make the world a better place.
that activist reality show is so fucking dystopian it’s truly amazing. what are they even gonna do? say “sorry your anti-genocide cause got booted off the show because you didn’t get enough likes”?
— Sino/Soviet – Split 7” EP (@xiugazing) September 10, 2021
they gonna be like “in my hands i have one photo, AIDS or Women’s Equality” pic.twitter.com/5L5WXWbvZG
— you (@bidetboii) September 9, 2021
Dear activist risking your life challenging war criminals, we are sorry to let you know that you didnt get enough “likes” to survive the completion! Usher didnt cry when you presented your tragedy either. So you can die in prison silently, or shouting in the Mediterranean.
— Zaina Erhaim (@ZainaErhaim) September 9, 2021
I find it ironic too, given that real activists are notoriously shadow-banned on social media for posting defiant content.
And of course, it seems the show gamifies activism – trivialising it into a commodity rather than something radical and abolitionist. Which obviously feels like a bit of an oxymoron.
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 organisations do on the ground, on a daily basis.
— Stephanie (@StephanieYeboah) September 9, 2021
The backlash to The Activist for its tone deaf, and frankly embarrassing, take on a practice so sacred was swift and severe, but not without positive results — because the show has now changed course to become a documentary instead.
“The Activist was designed to show a wide audience the passion, long hours, and ingenuity that activists put into changing the world, hopefully inspiring others to do the same. However, it has become apparent the format of the show as announced distracts from the vital work these incredible activists do in their communities every day. The push for global change is not a competition and requires a global effort,” CBS, Global Citizen and Live Nation announced in a joint statement, as per Variety.
“As a result, we are changing the format to remove the competitive element and reimagining the concept into a primetime documentary special (air date to be announced).
“It will showcase the tireless work of six activists and the impact they have advocating for causes they deeply believe in. Each activist will be awarded a cash grant for the organization of their choice, as was planned for the original show.”
“Activists and community leaders around the world work every day, often without fanfare, to advance protections for people, communities, and our planet. We hope that by showcasing their work we will inspire more people to become more involved in addressing the world’s most pressing issues. We look forward to highlighting the mission and lives of each of these incredible people,” the statement concluded.
Global Citizen released its own separate statement apologising for the show.
“Global activism centers on collaboration and cooperation, not competition. We apologize to the activists, hosts, and the larger activist community — we got it wrong.
“It is our responsibility to use this platform in the most effective way to realize change and elevate the incredible activists dedicating their lives to progress all around the world.”
I mean, they could just take whatever budget they were going to use to pay their hosts and fund activists’ causes, but okay I guess.