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CBS faces backlash for new reality show about activism

Usher will host the CBS competition series ‘The Activist’ alongside Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Julianne Hough. Thomas Falcone / Courtesy of Usher/CBS


CBS faces backlash for new reality show about activism


CBS announced the forthcoming launch of its new competition series “The Activist” on Thursday, and Twitter fans were quick to express their displeasure with the idea.

The new five-week series is about six activists from across the world compete against one other to promote health, education, and environmental concerns (via missions, media stunts, digital campaigns, and community events). According to CBS, internet interaction, social data, and input from the show’s hosts, Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough, will be used to gauge their performance.

“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,” the release said.

The “activists” will compete until they meet with “world leaders” to ask for money during the G20 meeting. The “winner” will be the one who obtains the most funds.

After learning more about the show’s problematic cast and premise, a slew of suspicious Twitter users had a few questions. Specifically, who requested this? And why?

“Fighting for issues is tough enough without having to dance and sing for a bunch of millionaires while they decide who’s worthy of their crumbs,” Nabilah Islam, a former Georgia congressional candidate, tweeted. “Who ever thought this was a good idea should take a f— seat.”


Despite this, CBS promotes “The Activist” as a show that will “make you want to get up and change the world”.

Many people chastised the show for portraying generosity and activism as competitive and performative activities.

“While Gen-Z and many 21st Century activists 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,” activist Sofia Ongele, 20, told NBC News on Friday.

In April, Ongele claimed she was approached for a program with a similar idea, but she’s not sure if it was “The Activist.” She declined the offer because “activism is neither a game nor a competition,” she explained.

Raising awareness is an important component of the battle for a better society, but it has little influence on the systems and institutions that cause health and education inequities, as well as the environmental catastrophe. Experts find that sharing information on social media can precede or predict political action, but not replace it, as Teen Vogue contributor Mishma Nixon pointed out in a March essay about performative social media activism.

Activist and gamer @pleasantlytwstd tweeted, “Today in ‘Literally F— No One Asked For This.’ I want to know who ‘proposed’ the idea of making activism in to a competitive sport. Also: all three of these hosts could just open their purse to three charities,food shelters, or useful causes. Girl….”

The backlash comes as the discussion over the role of social media in activism continues, notably whether so-called “slacktivism” produces anything meaningful.

The initial backlash is expected, according to Adam Gismondi, director of impact at Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education, which performs nonpartisan research on college civic education and engagement.

“The marketing of this show amplifies the more cynical aspects of activism that some may see as performative,” Gismondi told NBC. “It emphasized the celebrity factor, it emphasized that it’s a competition and it made activism appear, in some ways, to be a zero-sum game.”

In fact, activism, according to Gismondi, is “hard, gritty work and not necessarily glamorous. It requires tenacity, perseverance and patience; it’s not easy to just put it in a box.”

“It crosses over with people of different communities, and it requires interdependent work among people — and the way they set up the show does not really square with that,” he added.

The procedure of getting money for movement work already feels like a dress rehearsal for life-or-death situations in the hopes that the affluent would be moved to donate. “Yeah it would be terrible to make activists satisfy an arbitrary set of metrics to please a disconnected set of wealthy people who control the funding,” climate reporter Kate Aronoff tweeted.

“In order to prevent global warming, you must first seek counsel from wise R&B singer Usher on how to create a killer TikTok that will garner enough online engagement to knock out your chief rival, that b— who wants to eradicate malaria,” joked Twitter user @Halalcoholism.

“the real winner of this show is the person who gets the studio to kill it before it airs,” quipped rapper Donwill.

The show seeks to “spread awareness about society’s most urgent issues while also giving every viewer the opportunity to be part of the solution,” according to Michael Rapino, CEO of Live Nation Entertainment, who made the announcement on Thursday.

This attempt to rank challenges reads like a reality television oppression olympics, a phrase recently described by Tashi Copeland of the Central Indiana Community Foundation as “a competition of determining the relative weight of overall oppression of individuals or groups.” On social media, activism already feels like parading the act of caring for one another in order to get attention or personal clout. These dynamics are basically antithetical to the true task of organizing, which relies on ever-increasing solidarity and community building to accomplish change.


Priyanka Chopra Jonas Regrets her Role in the Show, apologises


Priyanka Chopra Jonas responded to the outrage on Instagram with a statement about her role in CBS’ “The Activist.”

Chopra Jonas issued a statement apologizing for her participation in the show, saying she was “moved” by the backlash.

“The show got it wrong, and I’m sorry that my participation in it disappointed many of you,” the 39-year-old actress said on Instagram. “The intention was always to bring attention to the people behind the ideas and highlight the actions and impact of the causes they support tirelessly. I’m happy to know that in this new format, their stories will be the highlight, and I’m proud to collaborate with partners who have their ear to the ground and know when it’s time to hit pause and re-evaluate.”

“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 statement read. “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.”

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