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  • Shriya Garg

CBS: The Activist

The popular television network CBS is planning to produce a reality show called “The Activist” in which six activists from around the world attempt to bring “meaningful change” to critical issues in health, education, or the environment. These individuals will compete against each other in various assignments, media acts, and digital campaigns to draw the attention of influential world leaders. However, the competitors’ victory will be measured by the amount of social media engagement they receive, as well as the opinions of the show’s three celebrity co-hosts: Usher and actresses Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Julianne Ho. The problem here lies in intent: as with all too many popular causes, the primary concern among these activists lies not in actually addressing a real-world problem but in performance that draws attention to them.

Indeed, this CBS program threatens to produce several negative outcomes. The contestants, who are picked randomly, only strive for popularity and have no way of proving if they are actual activists. By turning the concept into something glamorous and dramatic, it is ruining the meaning of actual activism, which emerges from deep concern and can entail substantial risk to people involved.

Moreover, the participants are only aiming for who can win the most money rather than researching ways to remedy their cause and concentrating on their individual role in contributing to it. This type of system encourages viewers to only help when there is something to be gained from it; any good activist would work hard to change a community or the world by staying dedicated and influencing other people to believe in the cause, regardless of what they get out of it.

Apart from these concerns, the majority of the money available will be spent producing the show, paying the hosts, and paying for the marketing of creating each campaign.

Given the priorities, the stated purpose of the show will surely be lost. If an idea catches the interest of multiple individuals, that would be good, right? Even so, that might not be the case. When a season is finished, people might forget about an issue just because it isn’t “trendy” or think that the issue is resolved. This will either cause other organizations to stop receiving support or cause the “losing” topics in the show to not receive much attention.

Not only does this show have bad intentions, but the hosts themselves aren’t fit for being called “activists”. In the past, Priyanka Chopra has encouraged skin lightening creams, effectively promoting both colorism and racism; bleaching your skin to appear fairer gives false conceptions of what the “beauty standard” is. Additionally, she has tweeted “#IndianArmedForces” during a time in which Pakistan and India were at war. She later disregarded a Pakistani woman who spoke out on her struggles in the crossfire of both countries.

However, she isn’t the only person on the show who has made bad decisions. Julianne Ho has dressed up as Crazy Eyes from the show Orange is the New Black, making her skin darker to match the character. Wearing blackface is highly offensive and racist considering how white performers in the mid-19th century mimicked enslaved Africans in negative ways.

To make matters even worse, Usher passed a rude comment about T-Pain’s career which caused him to go through a four-year depression. Mental health is a significant part of one’s well-being and shouldn’t be taken lightly. If the hosts aren't activists themselves (or do not even model decent behavior), should they be allowed to have a say in which struggle is most “deserving” of people’s time and effort?

Caring about important world issues has become performative and marketable. If the objective of this program is to be genuine, it should be reevaluated and improved. How will this show help to fix the failing educational, health, and environmental systems? Why should it be a contest? We should remove barriers in the world for future generations by using platforms in the right ways, not by using world issues to further personal agendas.


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