Catabolic Woke Capitalism
Just when you thought that the world could not become more similar to a parody of Black Mirror, reality imposes itself. The Columbia Broadcasting System, proud producer of Big Brother, is soon to air its new TV reality show, called The Activist.
The show is framed as a competition series, in which people working for the right kind of cause team up with high-profile public figures. Together, they strive to “bring meaninful change” in favor of a “vitally important” world cause, which can be related to health, the environment or education. In short, an exercise in lacrimogenic marketing, with the revolutionary addition of social-media gamification.
Because, of course, although the challenges that each activist-celebrity team will have to face remain to be seen, their success will have a clear measurement system via on-line engagement and social media metrics. It’s a Brave New World of mass emotional manipulation!
The idea is to build enough momentum so that the cause of choice is brought to the G20 Summit, which will take place in Rome at the end of October. For those that need reminding, the G20 was created in 1999 as a direct response to several 1990s economic crises fueled by capital flight and globalization: the Mexican peso crisis of 1994, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the 1998 Russian financial crisis, and the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management in the autumn of the same year.
The “Group of 20” was conceived as a forum between the governors of central banks and the finance ministers of the world’s most important economies. Its current members are, in alphabetic order: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, which has a representative as an organization. Spain (triste España sin ventura!) does not qualify as a member but also shows up as a permanent guest. Notable exclusions are Switzerland, Iran, Thailand and Nigeria, for diverse reasons which require needless digressions.
All the consulting, advising and coordinating the ministers and bankers did was apparently not enough to stop the 2008 meltdown. Naturally, the group decided to amp-up its relevance by becoming a forum at the Head of State level, a suggestion put forward by the United States. It also widened its scope, now aspiring to improve coordination on the “main global issues”: precisely what contestants and potential viewers of The Activist are into.
Michael Rapino, CEO at the co-producer Live Nation Entertainment, summarizes the concept perfectly:
“The Activist will spread awareness about society’s most urgent issues while also giving every viewer the opportunity to be part of the solution – an unprecedented example of how entertainment can change the world. Combining competition and compassion, these essential causes will take center stage, as the show proves that there are no issues we can’t solve when we work together and demand change.”
The causes that the contestants will fight for have not been disclosed yet, but apparently they will be pitched to viewers, to further emphasize the idea that regular TV-watchers can now save the world from the comfort of their own home/pod -presumably while enjoying some tasty bug snacks. Supposedly, they are issues in desperate need of visibility, which seems counterintuitive if they are to depend on how appealing they are to Western audiences.
The comments on news sites reporting the show’s near debut are mostly disparaging, and some quite vocal about it. A certain puritanical scruple, perhaps an inherited reflex, makes viewers wary of the commodization of charity. Thankfully, we’re not talking about charity but about activism, which was commoditized since its inception.
Activism was always a performance, but the explicitness of it all is, in this case, delicious. The concept of virtue signaling is taken to a lucrative new level. The collective attention of the audience, by now a regular victim of emotional blackmailing, is swallowed by the cause du jour, which becomes further cannibalized by the producers.
Helping the poor can be done by any worker-bugman without much effort, as The Activist tries to prove. Getting rich while doing it is only in the capacity of some of the lucky executives who run philanthropic NGOs or adopt Social Justice branding. Capitalizing on the capitalization of social causes, however? That takes genius.
Maybe Woke Capital will finally perish by devouring itself, like Ungoliant, the Spider from Tolkienian lore. One can only hope. After all, it’s a common fate of revolutions to consume their progeny. For us, in the meantime, the all-too-common adagio rings true: It’s all so tiresome.