The Commodification of Activism

Technology has taken over: the internet has become instrumental in the way information is accessed, distributed and consumed. Living in a connected world has both negative and positive effects in the ways humans interact and communicate with each other. One of positive effects is that it has provided a platform for social activism through social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. Information that would have never been accessible is now attainable with a click of a button. On the other hand the internet has also provided space for cyber-attacks, bullying, and insidious markets such as sex trafficking.

I am more interested in the effects that the internet has had on activism, and what we consider activism. Facebook has become a platform in which people can talk about issues related to Black Lives Matter, the 2016 presidential election, immigration issues, police brutality and other contemporary topics. This phenomenon is a result of globalization, the movement of people, ideas, finance and cultures.

Although the internet has provided space to discuss these issues, it has also popularized social justice activism. The language used by social justice activists is now being coopted by different organizations to market to certain populations and expansions. Social justice seems to have become a commodity. What does that mean for the future of resistance and organizing against structures of power? Many celebrities like Beyoncé, Colin Kaepernick, and Kanye West have used their platform to talk about racial inequality. Although I am ecstatic that they are starting to use their class status for the betterment of society, I cannot help be a little suspicious. Even though we glorify these artists, they are still a part of the power structure.

The “Activist Celebrity” becomes a site of commodification, it seems as if social consciousness has become something that not just these celebrities can commodify, but so too can their sponsors. The genocide waged against black people has been happening for decades. The internet is creating visual records of injustice that has always been there. Many theorists, such as Foucault, talk about how discourse is very important to understanding the way that things are structure; discourse shapes reality. We are individuals that interact with larger systems of power. As someone that has been trained to think through a very Marxist lens, I am constantly aware on how I am participating in systems of power.

Due to the fact that social justice is becoming a trend I fear that it could become a tool for commodification—especially since diversity is the big word that is being thrown around recently. My fear is that the commodification of activism may pacify us and make it even more difficult to identify oppressive structures or conditions. We now live in a world were anything or anyone can go viral. This has already been happening in the music industry, where people can get famous off of videos with low production values if they have talent. This has provided exposure to artists that would have never gotten the spotlight if they didn’t have a record deal. In the activist community you have seen the rise of social commentators like Gazi Kodzo. Now that activism has become a hot topic, where do we go from here?

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