If one sentence could sum up the popular sentiment towards celebrities last year, it might be “Open your purse”.
In the face of the pandemic-induced lockdown and protests against racial injustice, the American glitter has started to act … bizarrely. Performative gestures abounded (lots of awkward chants and serious speeches) but they all fell flat, crushed under the weight of all the money celebrities could give to the cause if they stopped talking and … well , you know.
And yet, it seems the entertainment industry has found a new way to make activism all around itself.
Usher, Priyanka Chopra and Julianne Hough are expected to co-host Activist this autumn. The five-week reality series will find six activists collaborating with three “prominent public figures,” Deadline reports, as they vie for a spot at the G20 summit in Rome.
You don’t know John Mulaney
Global Citizen, an international non-profit organization working to end extreme poverty, produces the series with Live Nation. Activists will compete against each other to promote causes in one of three areas: health, education and the environment. Online engagement, social measures, and the show’s hosts will determine the success of these efforts, and ultimately the winner will be the group that receives the “greatest engagement.”
And because even fundraising needs a bit of zhuzh, Deadline reports that the finale will also include musical performances “by some of the world’s most passionate artists.” Presumably, the winner will also receive a round of applause from Chopra.
In a statement, Live Nation Entertainment CEO Michael Rapino swears that “Activist will raise awareness of society’s most pressing problems while empowering every viewer to be a part of the solution, an unprecedented example of how entertainment can change the world.
As optimistic as the executives of Live Nation, Global Citizen and CBS seem to be about this new project, however, Activist seems likely to resurface the tensions that emerged last year between performative “activism” and real commitment to change.
It all started with this “Imagine” video from the start of the lockdown, in which ultra-wealthy A-listers filmed themselves in their mansions slaughtering a song written by a millionaire urging people to be less materialistic. (Inspirational!) There was also that puzzling “I Take Responsibility” post, in which a swarm of white celebrities put on their best serious voices (and turtlenecks) to speak out against racism and urge others to do the same. And let’s not even talk about “Blackout Tuesday”.
Activist Initially raises the same question as these efforts: If the creators of the series are genuinely concerned about poverty in the world, why not simply donate the funds that would have been used to create and distribute this series?
It could be argued that celebrity advocacy can shape public sentiment and raise awareness of issues that otherwise might not receive such attention. Still, it’s fair to wonder if the entertainment industry is really equipped to lend a hand. If the executives of CBS or any other network or studio care about poverty, they might start by paying their own support staff a living wage. Then again, this would require, as we mentioned earlier, to actually open their purse.
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