This new Usher, Priyanka Chopra, Julianne Hough activism reality show is not sitting right with people

‘The Activist’ is facing harsh backlash for seeming like a 'Hunger Games' for activism.
September 10, 2021 12:02 p.m. EST
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Activism, but make it a competition reality show? That's the initial idea behind The Activist, a new series that CBS announced this week, and people are definitely not on board.

As announced in a press release, the new series is hosted by Usher and co-hosted by Priyanka Chopra and Julianne Hough. Over the course of five episodes, six activists are tasked with coming up with new ideas to help promote change in health, education and the environment. Sounds okay so far, right?

Here’s the rub: the activists need to go head-to-head like they’re on Survivor or something.

“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,” reads the release.

“The competing activists’ success is measured via online engagement, social metrics and hosts’ input. The hosts will guide the activists through their journey, with plenty of surprises from high-profile public figures.”

The series is currently scheduled to begin on October 22 and culminates at the G20 summit in Rome. There, the activists will supposedly gain access to world leaders and potentially secure funding and awareness for their respective causes. For some reason, it all wraps with a musical performance.

While Global Citizen, who is teaming with CBS and Live Nation on the project, believes The Activist will, “Inspire real change as the series progresses from the United States to Rome for the Activists’ final challenge at the G20,” there are many people who quickly jumped online to express disappointment in the overall idea and concept. 

The entire idea feels so surreal and gross to some people that they even compared it to a real-life episode of Black Mirror, the unsettling anthology TV series that makes you think about how technology harms society. 

Canadian activist Naomi Klein joined the Twitter commentary too. “I'm confused: Is this an advanced Marxist critique to expose how competition for money and attention pits activists against each other + undermines deep change? Or just the end of the world?,” she wrote.

A critical debate also ensued, with some writers pointing out that making a show and encouraging people to watch others call for change can set a dangerous precedent of complacency, and that viewers will feel absolved of responsibility because the problems are seemingly being taken care of.

“If media can convince us that others are tackling the most pressing issues of our time, if we can watch them try to solve said issues from the comfort of our homes, if we can turn access to basic human rights into a competition with winners and losers, then it dissolves individuals from responsibility,” wrote Ayisha Siddiqa for Bad Activist Collective, likening the new show to The Hunger Games.

“The commodification of revolutionary work is deliberate. It is done purposely to dilute the anger, frustration, and the very real pain of poverty and hopelessness,” Siddiqa continued. “It is done to romanticize the individual and to separate us. And to suggest that violent and broken systems, which have been caused by capitalism, can be solved by capitalism.”

Clearly, the people organizing this show didn’t take any of that into consideration when they started piecing the series together.

“[It] will spread awareness about society’s most urgent issues while also giving every viewer the opportunity to be part of the solution – an unprecedented example of how entertainment can change the world,” said Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino in the release.

“Combining competition and compassion, these essential causes will take center stage, as the show proves that there are no issues we can’t solve when we work together and demand change.”

“Companies like CBS and their shareholders think we are too incompetent to notice that they’ve run out of things to sell. So now they’re selling our pain back to us,” Siddiqa explained. “Quite frankly, there shouldn’t even be a need for activists, let alone an Oppression Olympics for activists. Because everyone should be an activist; everyone should care.”

It’s been less than 24 hours since The Activist was announced. So far at time of press no one involved with the show has responded to the many, many criticisms. 

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