The Rise of Performative Activism Has Reached Reality TV – But It’s Not So Bad | Arwa Mahdawi
All hail the activist industrial complex
Looks like the revolution will be televised after all: a new reality show called The Activist is coming to the United States next month. Produced by Global Citizen, it’s essentially a social justice version of The Apprentice or The Voice: six activists compete to promote their cases in front of a panel of famous judges. The winning team will travel to the G20 summit in Italy where, according to the press release, they will seek “invaluable funding and awareness for their causes”. According to the CEO of Live Nation Entertainment, the show is an “unprecedented example of how entertainment can change the world.”
Is it really? Because to me, it sounds more like the latest example of how “changing the world” turned into meaningless entertainment. This seems to me to be the inevitable result of the rise of performative activism and the proliferation of famous activists. And I’m not exactly the only one who doesn’t feel particularly authorized Where inspired by the premise of the activist. The news of the show was not very well received by a number of activists, who questioned how useful it is to pit cases against each other.
One of my main issues with the show – an opinion which, to be fair, is based solely on the press release – is the fact that it seems to sum up the viral activism you can have on the media. social. According to the press release, “the success of competing activists is measured by online engagement, social metrics, and contribution from hosts.” It’s an incredibly useless way of thinking about how you build effective movements. Alicia Garza, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, talks about it at length in her essential book The Purpose of Power. One of the main messages from Garza’s book is that there is no quick and easy way to build a “movement”. You can’t tweet and TikTok make your way to a better world, you have to get to work. It requires a grassroots organization; it takes the kind of work that doesn’t immediately make a great reality show.
Another thing I don’t really trust about the show is the panel of famous judges: Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Julianne Hough. What exactly qualifies them to advise activists on what an effective campaign looks like? Chopra Jones, in particular, has been the subject of much controversy. In 2019, she was criticized for tweeting her support for the Indian armed forces after carrying out airstrikes in Pakistan; at the time, she was the UNICEF ambassador for peace. The actress also hosted Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, at her lavish wedding in 2018. Modi is an unusual friend for someone who considers himself an authority on activism: his militant Hindu nationalism, for example. , has turned India into a very dangerous country. place to be a muslim. Modi also dismantled democracy in India: this year the Swedish V-Dem Institute, a research institute that produces an annual report on democracy, downgraded India’s classification as “the world’s largest democracy” to “electoral autocracy”. But all this probably doesn’t bother Chopra Jonas too much. In a 2019 interview, she said that she considered herself “as apolitical as I can be. I’d rather be a humanitarian. If you think humanitarianism can one day be apolitical, you don’t have to. consider it a humanitarian.
Perhaps the worst thing about The Activist, however, is the social justice capitalism he represents. Like feminism, activism has been consumed by the corporate world. He received a brilliant shine; had its revolutionary edges removed. Corporate feminism undermines structural change by focusing on individual empowerment. Social justice capitalism – or “woke-washing” – is similar. He peddles the convenient lie that you can change the world without fundamentally changing your ways. It separates the individual “causes” from the operating structures that underlie them. He claims that you can be a humanitarian while being non-political.
Anyway, all that being said, I don’t want to hit The Activist too much. Yes, that sounds a lot like tasteless clicktivism. Yes, it’s run by someone who thinks it’s cool to invite a bossy to their wedding. But you know? As creepy as it is, the series is also a sign of progress. While corporate activism is problematic, the fact that social justice has become mainstream and activism is an aspiration is ultimately something to celebrate.
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Do you think the California recall election is a mess? Boris Vishnevsky, a Russian politician who wishes to retain his seat in the Legislative Assembly in St. Petersburg, faces two rivals with the exact same name and facial hair as him. This is not a strange coincidence, it is an attempt to undermine it. Vishnevsky claims that the other two Boris Vishnevsky changed their names and appearances in order to confuse voters. It can be corrupted, but they definitely get points for creativity.
Arwa Mahdawi’s new book, Strong Female Lead, is available for pre-order.