Everyone’s Baffled By ‘The Activist’, A Reality Show That Turns Activism Into A Competition

Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough are banding together to find America's Next Top Activist™️.

The activist memes backlash CBS reality show

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If the world couldn’t get Black Mirror enough, CBS announced that they have turned activism into a reality TV series.

The Activist focuses on six activists, who go head-to-head in challenges over five weeks to “bring meaningful change to one of three urgent universal causes: health, education, and the environment”, accordingly to Deadline. 

“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.”

In a truly dystopian move, success in these challenges is measured by social engagement, and, for reason unknown, the show is hosted by Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough.

But if that wasn’t already horrific enough, those competing don’t even win prize money to put towards their cause at the end of the show. Instead, the “winner” of The Activist simply earns the opportunity to attend the G20 Summit to “meet with world leaders in the hope of securing funding and awareness for their causes”.

Oh, that and a bunch of famous singers end up performing at the show finale. That’s it.

What’s Wrong With The Activist? 

Now, it’s obvious that there’s a lot of things wrong with The Activist. 

For one, the fact that CBS decided to hire three celebrity “hosts” is disappointing when they’ve each likely been given a high-paying salary that could’ve easily just been put towards the important causes the show is trying to draw attention to.

But even more concerning, the judges who have been chosen aren’t exactly activism specialists. In case you’ve forgotten, Priyanka Chopra Jonas got called out for “encouraging nuclear war” after tweeting her support for the Indian Armed Forces in 2019. That same year, when an activist spoke up about that very same humanitarian crisis, Chopra Jonas told the activist that she was just “venting”.

Meanwhile, Usher famously tried to pay strippers in “UshBucks” to promote his Vegas residency earlier this year and Julianne Hough landed in hot water after she did blackface for Halloween in 2013. So the three aren’t exactly the most suitable celebrity mentors in the field of activism.

When it comes to the premise of the show itself, trivialising activism with silly social media challenges is quite insensitive when real activists often get killed for advocating for their causes around the world. For example, last year alone, 227 people were killed while trying to protect environment and land rights, according to the BBC. 

So to make a bunch of activists compete in what’s basically set up to be TikTok viral bait and “Yas Queen, Slay” slogans is quite gross. Plus, focusing on people only from a performative social media lens works to erase those who are actually doing impactful work at a grassroots level.

Take Rachel Sumekh, one of the contestants on The Activist, for example. Sumekh is not only a literal CEO, but her company Swipe Out Hunger — which simply acts as the middleman for students to share around their extra meal allowances — makes $500,000 annually and gives Sumekh a $84,000 personal salary already.

Beyond this, Clover Hogan, a 21-year-old climate activist from the UK, shared her traumatic experience of interviewing for the show earlier this year on Twitter.

After being contacted by someone “looking for passionate activists who are actively engaged in making an impact in the areas of environment, health, education, and reducing world hunger”, Hogan shared her disappointment in how evasive the producers were being about what the purpose of the show actually was.

“They spoke about bringing activists together to solve global challenges. Yet every question I asked received an evasive answer – what’s the purpose? How are they finding activists? Is it about collaboration? How are they platforming folks who have been historically excluded?” Hogan tweeted.

“I wish I’d taken the evasiveness for the giant red flag it was. But this person kept emphasising what a brilliant opportunity it would be to put eco-anxiety on the agenda.”

After having a second interview in the hopes of some of these questions being answered, Hogan noted that she was forced to answer questions over and over again until they got the perfect tear-filled take.

“At the end, he revealed that this would be a competition show with activists going against each other for resources. I remember thinking I was in a Black Mirror episode,” she continued. “When the call ended, I cried & called my mum. The whole time, I was made to feel as if I was failing a test.”

“The weeks following, I tried to block the experience from my mind… only to receive an email that I’d been successful (yay me) w/ an invitation to meet the whole production team,” Hogan ended her thread. “I politely declined. & declined again, when told to reconsider as ‘this is such a huge opportunity’.”

The Activist Backlash, Response And Memes

As expected, the reception to a reality show that literally turns activism into one big social media game wasn’t exactly received positively. People criticised CBS for the show concept, the choice in hosts, the selected contestants — really anything and everything about the impending program.

In response, Global Citizen — the advocacy organization working to end extreme poverty that is behind The Activist — released a statement to set the record straight about what the show is actually trying to do.

The Activist spotlights individuals who’ve made it their life’s work to change the world for the better, as well as the incredible and often challenging work they do on the ground in their communities,” a spokesperson for the group told Deadline. “This is not a reality show to trivialize activism. On the contrary, our aim is to support activists everywhere, show the ingenuity and dedication they put into their work, and amplify their causes to an even wider audience.”

But the statement was too little too late, and the internet had already burst out the memes to try to cope with the horrifyingly dystopian nightmare that The Activist is set to be:

Ah, it’s really no surprise that Black Mirror stopped pumping out episodes with the real world perfectly filling in the gaps like this.

The Activist is set to air on CBS on October 22. It will be available to stream on Paramount+, if that’s something you’d like to subject yourself to.