If you thought crorepati celebrities appealing to the salaried class to contribute to Covid ‘fundraisers’ equivalent to change in their wallets was the most ridiculous thing on the planet, let me introduce you to the upcoming US show ‘The Activist’, which is set to air on CBS in October, and in the US will stream on Paramount+. It has been made by Global Citizen, the website that is changing the world by making people sign petitions to attend a concert — remember Coldplay Mumbai, 2016?
Popstar Usher, dancer Julianne Hough and our very own Desi Girl actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas will co-host this show set to make millions from an audience who will clearly hate-watch it. Just like we hate-watched Indian Matchmaking on Netflix.
According to a report in Deadline, six ‘inspiring’ activists divided in three teams, each led by one of the aforementioned hosts, will go head-to-head to promote one of their own causes. The three categories that have been selected are: health, education, and environment. You’ve to basically choose if you want to rid the world of hunger or want the government to focus on managing the climate catastrophe better. You see, content creators, show producers and companies alike hate millennial and Get Z wokeness but still want to pander to it.
“The three teams have one ultimate goal: to create impactful movements that amplify their message, drive action, and advance them to the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy. There, they will meet with world leaders in the hope of securing funding and awareness for their causes,” the Deadline report notes.
Hey, we all agree those who came up with ‘The Activist’ were on the very legal marijuana during lockdown in the United States. But while I am embedding some delicious memes and savage takes on the absurd concept, let’s try to understand why these inconceivable concepts get produced at such high budgets.
Will activists against global warming win more likes than activists against incarceration? Who can do better on Tiktok and reels? Watch all this in the all new black-mirror-episode-but-for-real. https://t.co/4bpIDRo3IO
— Sohini Chattopadhyay (@popeyed) September 10, 2021
The reason dystopian stories can be uncanny is that we know that they can be real. They just often precede reality.
Such obscene shows make total sense in a disconnected, elite world where activists are nothing more than enterpreneurs-to-be. It’s dehumanising. https://t.co/HYKdVw82uS
— joey ayoub #AbolishKafala (@joeyayoub) September 10, 2021
this is such a natural conclusion to the social media trends of our time that i admire how complete an interpretation it is of its animating logic. like watching a fire consume kindling. nothing could be simpler, such clean cause and effect. https://t.co/NQKth6LhpQ
— Ayesha A. Siddiqi (@AyeshaASiddiqi) September 10, 2021
No respect for a new world
Such shows come primarily from two places: Disrespect and misunderstanding. Hunger for TRPs aside.
This is a changed world, and many writers in film and television industries are finding it difficult to not only connect with their audiences, but they also hate us now. They think millennials and Gen Z are too righteous, and demand political correctness from every line that they write.
Their lives have been made difficult because they have to be much more sensitive about the content they roll out — there’s a difference between a bad idea and a bigoted script. One such story was of a protest date in the Netflix anthology Feels Like Ishq, which reduced activism to fluff.
See, as controversial as it sounds, social media has made ‘activism’ rather easy. In younger social circles today, awareness about a certain social cause is a must. Everyone is raging about one thing or another online, judging each other’s activism. Today, the likeability of actors, singers, dancers and influencers has become incumbent on the kind of activism they’re doing. It’s what differentiates a cool actor from an uncool one, and since most actors are shy of giving political takes (like Priyanka Chopra), they all want to sound like Unicef.
Today we know our celebrities and leaders more intimately than we ever did earlier, so we demand more from them, we demand more from our literature and content. For content creators to hold malice against their audience for such demands will not take them far.
These writers who hate our generation still want to please us and cater to our demands, and so shows like The Activist are conceived and produced also from a place of misunderstanding. It’s a caricaturish depiction of today’s world, but the struggle to connect with the younger ‘woke’ audience is palpable at the same time.
You’ll see the effect of the changed climate the most in new American shows. All of them are trying to either act woke or integrate their own wokeness in their scripts. There’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which in its last two seasons became particularly sensitive to the political climate in the country, and has shown its characters struggling with and confronting the problems plaguing the police system in the US. There’s The Chair, which has a nuanced take on ‘cancel culture’. Sometimes these things work, sometimes they don’t. The recent Netflix movie Moxy had nothing Moxy about it, it was a movie with the kind of story that woke millennials and Gen Z want to listen to, and was a rather lazy script.
There’s also the urgent need for the growing number of streaming sites to keep churning out content, because the point is not to make one great show that 100 people are watching, it’s to make 100 shows getting traction from five people each. And nobody mass produces quality products.
The hate this show will attract, and has already attracted, isn’t something Global Citizen and CBS PR teams would have missed. But they also know that any publicity is good publicity, and hate-watching is literally getting sub-par shows like Indian Matchmaking Emmy nominations. Don’t forget Too Hot To Handle. Making shows that promote hate-watching is the new way to earn money.
In my eyes, the formula is pretty simple: Make what people like and you’re just another show, make a show people will hate with all their heart and you’re a raging Twitter trend, the butt of all the memes in the current meme cycle, and playing on every screen while people ‘Netflix and Chill’.
Why do you think Netflix has so much money riding on shows like Indian Matchmaking, Too Hot To Handle, Sexy Beasts, Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives? They’re the new Roadies and Splitsvilla, except not just teenagers, 30-year-old office goers are also watching it on their commute.
Great scripts come seldom, but bad come every day. This line by Amy Fleming in Science Focus captures it best: “Outrage has become the defining emotion of the 21st Century, worn righteously, as a finger-pointing badge of honour”. A recent study by Cambridge has also found that angry people are more likely to go viral on social media. And on their backs rides bad TV.
So streaming sites will go on to make even more provocative, angering, ridiculous shows and scripts because all they want is your outrage. They’re thirsty for your bad publicity. They want you to sit in front of the TV, a packet of Lays in your hands, and cringe and grind your teeth and sigh in frustration as you watch the show you want to righteously hate.
It’s like eating really, really spicy noodles. You’ll go on eating even if your lips are swollen red because of the spice. I guarantee that’s what will happen with The Activist. The social media activist in all of us will awaken.
Views are personal.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.