Full Stop : CBS The Activist Is Harming The Real Work Of Activists

cbs the activist
CBS The Activist is an upcoming competition series where six activists go head-to-head to promote their causes; and it faced massive backlash. 
CBS is launching celebrity filled reality tv show “The Activist”.  The series is scheduled to be premiered on October 22nd with Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough set to co-host. Tell me one thing : how this competition show could paint a wrong idea on what activism is all about.

RELEVANT SUSTAINABLE GOALS 

GAMIFICATION OF ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE IS UTTERLY INSENSITIVE   

The internet was rightly pissed when CBS announced their upcoming reality show, “the Activist.” The Activist is a competition series featuring six inspiring activists teamed with three high-profile public figures working together to bring meaningful change to one of three vitally important world causes: health, education, and the environment. The ultimate winner will be measured via online engagement, social metrics, and hosts’ input, with one goal: to create impactful movements that amplify their message, drive action, and advance them to the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy. During the G20 Summit, they will meet with world leaders in the hope of securing funding and awareness for their causes.
While it sounds noble and innovative, many activists and change makers working with grassroots communities on the ground are worry (*cough* pissed *cough*)  and the conversation is steeped in performative activism, white savour syndrome, and interconnected oppression.
 
Taking into account how many activists and genuine social justice people around the world have been exploited,  mistreated, assaulted, abused, and even killed throughout the times, the entire is definitely insulting and insensitive. It is a slap in the face to people who do work on the ground and sincerely make change in community. Their passionate works don’t need competition. 

REALITY TV VS REALITY 

Michael Rapino, CEO at Live Nation Entertainment said: “The Activist 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. 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.” (source : deadline.com)
 
The truth is, the team behind the series seems so removed from reality. The idea of activism is not a ‘game’ and, when done properly, it is not and should not be performative or something related to win/lose. Beyond that, the idea that the activists are working ‘against’ each other is so damaging and dangerous, upholding the very oppression they are seeking to fight against. This series is a Hunger Games but for social activism. A competition show with activists going against each other for resources.
The truth is, activism is tough, gritty work and far from glamorous. It requires tenacity, perseverance and patience; hence it’s completely impossible to just put it in a box. Pitting against each others definitely not what we need right now. 
How about Digital campaigns and online engagement ?   
While activists, change makers, social entrepreneurs  and grassroots organizations leverage the power of social media to make their movements known, social media does not, cannot and should not determine the success of any issue, or any human being at all. Moreover, it is a common secret that may activists and social justices organisations are being shadow banned, trolled when they specifically speak out certain topics such as white supremacy, BIPOC, queer, etc. You can read more about shadow banning here.  

CHANGING COURSE AFTER CRITICISM  

After receiving major backlash from online activists, social justcie communities and general public, CBS and Global Citizen decided to pull and change the competition format of the show. The show will be reworked as a more straightforward documentary special, removing the competitive element and reimagining the concept into a primetime documentary special (air date to be announced). Via joint statement, 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. 
But the question remains :  
How do they choose the six activists?  Why only six?  Are the cash grants equal?
 
My guess, it’s going to end up being decided entirely on social media following and marketability. 

THE DANGER OF COMPETITIVE ACTIVISM IN ASIA PACIFIC  

While we in Asia might not have full access to the series without the privilege of VPN, the series still has substantial consequences to the ingenuity and dedication change makers, social entrepreneurs, and social justice people put into their work around Asia.
 
Trivialize activism surely in some ways equal to a zero-sum game, and it is harming the actual work of social justice and passionate change-makers around the globe, including Asia. The truth is, genuine work of activism crosses over with people of different communities and requires interdependent work among people — and the way they set up the show does not square with that. 
 
The Asia-Pacific region accounts for about 60% of the earth’s population. As a whole, the region has its unique challenges and opportunity for social justice and activism work. The vast regional diversity, productive capacities, socio-economic development, and demographic, political, and cultural aspects need to be considered when organizations/individuals want to address the issue via competitive activism.
 
A competition format, like The Activist, would entirely paint the wrong picture and easily downplay the heterogeneous Asia – Pacific region. The push for positive change is not a competition and requires a global effort. Interconnected and intersectional efforts.
 
While competition seemed to many forward-thinking businesses like an excellent idea, it creates a monoculture, reinforces biases, and stall innovation. Instead, collaboration, in which each brings their differences and uniqueness to the table as an asset, makes us work better for more comprehensive goals.
 
People, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships are all overall with each other, are codependent on each other to be achieved, and are therefore intersectionality related and should be approached as such. You cannot eradicate poverty (SDG 1) without addressing the decent Work and economic growth (SDG 8), which can’t be achieved without the implications of sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11) which is directly tied to climate action(SDG 13) which is has extreme implications for both  life Below water (SDG 14) and life on land (SDG 15) which cannot be achieved without partnership for the Goals (SDG17), upon which all the goals are connected to. The overlaps and the realities of all  social justice and environment issues are tied to, hinged on, have implications for, and are only achievable through addressing one another – that is at the heart of intersectionality and arguably sustainability broadly. Collaboration isn’t an option it is the only viable avenue.
After all, if we were to make a show about activism and social justice, it shouldn’t be a competition. It should be about everyone of us standing up to social injustices in our own communities. A show that’s an open platform for under-voiced organisations to share their mission, introduce their community/programs and raise money—amplified by celebrity presence and wide-band distribution. No competition. Just spotlight. Until then, I personally cancel this show before it starts.
 
That’s a start, at least.
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