I never thought I’d hear about a television show that highlighted activists who strive to make the world a better place – and find myself totally disgusted. But if a fake millionaire TV host can become president, and people will take medical advice from untrained and uneducated social media personalities, I guess anything is possible.
As part of their fall TV line-up, CBS announced a new reality series called The Activist. Six people would work with famous people to “bring meaningful change to one of three vitally important world causes: health, education, and environment.” Those with the most successful campaigns would head to the G20 Summit where a winner would be named.
Is this modern-day activism?
It sounds like an okay idea – in theory. However, given we’re living in a time of a global pandemic, social injustice, political upheaval, and the repeal of women’s rights both reproductively and in total, one has to wonder what CBS’s suits were thinking.
Activism is not a competition. Activism is altruistic. It’s about improving the world without remuneration or the need to take down others with the same goal. Competition is the opposite. It’s about maximizing oneself such that everyone else is minimized.
Of course, money makes the world go round. Activism even requires it. But measuring and monetizing the efforts of those trying to improve that world, is degrading.
Certainly, CBS poured a lot of coin into the project with good intentions. However, even some Hollywood celebrities questioned spending that money on production instead of just donating it to the causes, themselves.
The competition would then be judged by three celebrity hosts and social media. In a touch of irony, social media also blew up over CBS’s choice of hosts. Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Julianne Hough, and Usher: a Bollywood actress who has been very vocal in India’s tumultuous politics (But what does politics have to do with activism, anyway?); a Dancing with the Stars judge who wore blackface for Halloween (So you know she’ll be right in there judging education and social change!); and a singer.
Okay, yes, Usher is hardly offensive. However, he does bring up the biggest issue: They may attach their names to various organizations, but what do the rich and famous in their rarified bubbles know about the boots-to-the-ground work of philanthropy and activism?
And then there’s the social media aspect of the judging process. Where do I begin? Because if the last five years has taught us anything, it’s how well social media spreads the truth and brings people together in a positive way.
Lastly, some of the actual activists who were vetted by producers to “compete” on the show were left feeling like abject failures. Sure, they dedicated their lives to social causes and world issues, not to mention inspiring millions and changing lives. But did they look pretty on camera? Did they have commercial appeal? (Apparently, CBS did not believe that the world was not ready for another Greta Thunberg character.)
Fortunately, in light of the backlash, CBS has “listened” and “re-tooled” The Activist. It will now be one “very special night” focusing the campaigns of six individuals changing the world. Yet, I still fear for the future of tomorrow’s activists.