The Activist implodes

POSTED: September 24, 2021

The American television network CBS had an award-winningly bad idea and decided to pursue it. They announced a reality TV game-show called The Activist. explains the format of the show:

Hosted by Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough, the show was going to be about competitors facing off in challenges that promote the causes they care about. They were going to have to fight to win the opportunity to attend the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy. There, they were going to be able to meet world leaders and discuss their ideas with changemakers.

On the show, the activists’ “success” was going to be measured by things like social media metrics, online engagement, and commentary from the hosts, according to Deadline. The Activist is even produced by Global Citizen, a movement that is aiming to end “extreme poverty” by 2030.

To the surprise of nobody except CBS this soon produced a lot of strong reactions. “Tone deaf” might count as the politest. From The Guardian earlier this week:

Producers have billed it as an exciting new twist on reality television: an X-Factor style competition between campaigners that will give them the chance to lobby world leaders at the G20.

But The Activist, a show announced last week by the American network CBS, has already learned to its cost that people power can be unpredictable, ruthless and highly effective.

Amid a storm of protest that the show’s concept is a “dystopian” celebration of “Insta-activism”, one of the celebrities lined up to judge the contest has admitted that the show “missed the mark” and that she is not qualified for her role on it – not least because she once wore blackface for Halloween.

Two days ago CBS and Global Citizen issued a joint statement. They said that “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.”

Well spotted, those people.

Global Citizen also put out a separate statement that said “Global activism centers on collaboration and cooperation, not competition. We apologize to the activists, hosts, and the larger activist community — we got it wrong.”

The end result of this brouhaha: CBS said that “we are changing the format to remove the competitive element and reimagining the concept into a primetime documentary special (air date to be announced). Six activists will be featured on the revamped show, and will automatically be given a cash grant to the organization of their choice rather than compete for a prize money.”

Julianne Hough, the judge who apologised for once dressing up in blackface, had it right when she said on Instagram that “I heard you say that the show was performative, promoted pseudo-activism over real activism, felt tone-deaf … and that the hosts weren’t qualified to assess activism, because we are celebrities and not activists. I also heard you say that trying to value one cause over another, felt like the Oppression Olympics, and totally missed and disrespected the many activists who have been killed, assaulted and faced various abuses fighting for their causes. I do not claim to be an activist and wholeheartedly agree that the judging aspect of the show missed the mark, and furthermore, that I am not qualified to act as a judge.”