Picture a reality television series where contestants vie to be the wokest activist, one-upping each other with political correctness to be championed with a crown of social justice. (In this case, the prize also included a trip to the G20). Picture a performative jungle gym built to please an ailing society whose cities are replete with violence. Picture a nation losing its sense of entertainment.
You’re picturing “The Activist,” a television show that was set to air until last week.
“The Activist,” which CBS unveiled in September, was a show built For Such A Time As This—until CBS scrapped it. In an era where Hollywood more and more resembles a propagandistic tool fueled by the decadence of the ruling class, the “competition series” came as no surprise.
It was predictable and timely. Hosted by Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough, the CBS show was explicitly premised on performative activism. Having been deemed politically correct, contestants were set to compete at “bring[ing] meaningful change to one of three urgent universal causes: health, education and the environment,” according to a CBS press release.
Contestants, tasked with appearing virtuous for a reward, were supposed to be judged on the basis of digital plaudits, as well as in some capacity by the input from the celebrity judges with little credibility on the question of “justice.” Through “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 activists were set to be appraised by the online mob that relishes in rendering such judgments—as if what America needs right now is more morally bankrupt people from the laptop class enforcing and defining virtue.
Contestants, however, were not going to be judged according to their contributions to society, such as, say, the amount of money raised for a given cause. Forget reasonable metrics for understanding the success of giving back to the community. The community, to CBS, consists of the laptop mob.
Social media engagement and the political inclinations of three Hollywood elites, on the contrary, would have determined which “activist” was ultimately the most effective. So, if Usher and a bunch of Too Online teenagers considered that a contestant was the most social justice-minded, so be it. CBS, then, defined “activism” and its accompanying virtues in unvirtuous terms, relative to the judgment of an immoral crowd.
To ensure maximum performativity, the winners of “The Activist” were set to be flown to the G20 Summit in Rome. Contestants would have met with world leaders and raised money for their cause—hustling the ruling class into accepting activism as an opportunity to bolster likes and retweets.
Here’s where this already absurd saga went sideways. Critics sounded off in revulsion at the show. Washington Post columnist Michele L. Norris described “The Activist” as a show of people who would “crash an international conference and try to shake down world leaders for cash” while crafting “an unhelpful distraction from the real work going on and the real challenges we face.” Makena Kelly of The Verge claimed “The Activist” suggests “doomscrolling equals activism.”
“The very idea of blending reality TV capitalism, serious global issues and shilling for retweets into some sort of competitive woke-off is striking many as a rather dubious concept,” wrote James Hibberd of The Hollywood Reporter.
According to CBS, the new series would have “ma[d]e you want to get up and change the world.” Nonetheless, it seems CBS never believed its own mission. On Thursday, CBS caved and announced “The Activist” would be retooled as a documentary. It will no longer premiere in October and a new date has not been announced. “We got it wrong,” the company said.
CBS and producers of the show, Global Citizen and Live Nation, acknowledged in a statement to Deadline that “The push for global change is not a competition and requires a global effort.” The groups also said “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.”
Surely, it is good that “The Activist” will not premiere. But what does it say that CBS—a legacy media establishment—caved so easily amid the disturbance of its allied media personnel and critics, whereas other institutions are unwilling to look inward?
Why did CBS cave? Was it a moral reckoning? A realization the show was illogical?
Or perhaps it has to do with something else—something that cuts to the core of the culturally fragmented state of America right now. Certainly, when the mob fires off on both sides, a subject’s defense mechanism grows weary. Saving face becomes a necessity. The threat of cancel culture lingers in the rear window.
“The Activist” was reliant on appeasing the insufferable laptop class, but nothing could be more ironic than CBS’s move to change course. The show may be replaced by a documentary or docu-series or whatever CBS ends up running. So be it. But the situation speaks volumes to the state of America, and the disconnect between those running the show and those in attendance.