It’s over, consumption: celebrity culture and climate anxiety

We’re stuck in a cycle of production and consumption, and we’re getting sick of it

Greenwashing strategies from the world’s best marketing agencies have successfully commodified the environmental justice movement. Our culture has a shopping addiction, and it’s going to kill us.

Even those of us that are self-aware about this fact can have a difficult time denying manufactured desires. We have been trained to collectively consume both media and products before we could think for ourselves. Can we really be blamed for finding it a hard habit to kick?

Capitalism pushes the belief that if we cannot consume, we should aim to produce. Our society doesn’t exactly place a great value on simply “being.” The 21st century has brought forth the first period in creative history in which artists are creating “content” rather than their own “art.” It’s created an insular experience that focuses on aesthetics and a culture of fashion “micro-trends” that develop at increasingly rapid rates. And it’s become more and more difficult to source clothing in order to keep up with these rapidly changing trends. It’s hard to tell if the emergence of fast fashion retailers like Shein are a response to the problem or the source of it. We could easily blame influencers, but under late-stage capitalism, I can’t really blame anyone for taking a shot at joining the ranks of celebrity, C-list or otherwise.

We are far too aware that there is a divide between economic classes, and with the democratization of media and a “produce or consume” mindset, it’s not surprising that more and more people are choosing to seek power by producing content in the hopes of attaining at least a modicum of fame. Celebrity, or at least influence, seems to be the go-to escape plan from the collective paralysis we feel about our climate. 

What is it about our culture and celebrities? We are fascinated by them and appalled by their existence. They’re our inspiration and the evidence of our downfall. Celebrity is the aristocracy of the postmodern world. They represent something beyond the entertainment industry, the characters they play, or the stories they write. They represent the small part of the world’s most powerful population that is public to us. Rarely do they hide their material wealth because, unlike other members of the one per cent, they do not have the luxury of keeping their finances or their lives private. They are public figures, and to us, the dazzling glamour can make it difficult to recognize them as real people.

Our relationship to fame is one in which we transform individuals into God-like figures. This process has been democratized, and average citizens and politicians can often reach the ranks of the most famous elite. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a unique example of this practice of glorification. AOC has done a lot of great work in the United States political system, but with that said, why was she at the Met Gala?

The relationship between political figures and celebrity status is a sore topic in the newly post-Trump world. Why risk violating the principles upon which you were elected just to join the ranks of the rich and famous? The Met Gala is an event designed for the most elite population in the fashion world, an industry that famously is one of the greatest drivers of climate change. Why align yourself with an industry that is exacerbating the effects of climate change, when you yourself are advocating for climate reform?

The thing is, the climate crisis we have spent our whole lives anticipating is here. It’s already happening, and we still cannot take concrete action to prevent it from getting worse. This really isn’t our fault, we were born into this mess, but our leaders don’t seem to be doing a great job either. We’re living in a state of paralysis, caught between the desire for the life we were promised and the reality facing us all.

The stability and wellbeing of our planet hinges upon either the embrace or abandoning of capitalism, therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that economic instability impacts our ability to advocate for better. Climate anxiety is our collective nihilism pushing us to take action, but we continually find ourselves with little we can do. Our collective hopelessness about systemic change has pushed us to a point of ecological nihilism.

Ecological nihilism is the acceptance of the climate crisis, and that it will be the beginning of a societal collapse. It’s the final sign that we have moved from paralysis and fear to complacency. It might feel like the end of the world, but if there’s still a chance; we can’t look to celebrities or fiction for solutions.

Last Friday, there was another climate march here in Montreal, which demonstrates that people are still coming together to demand change. Community organizers are not demanding impossible change, it is the failure of our government that refuses to take reasonable action to combat the violence of the climate crisis. We cannot depend on government approval to take action against climate change. The power remains with the people, and it isn’t time to give up yet.


Graphic by James Fay


How Kony 2012 brought out the worst in social media

Graphic by Sean Kershaw

To all the hashtag warriors out there who helped make Kony 2012 the most viral video in history: you’re sending the wrong message.

Not only did you share a video that was misleading and rife with inaccuracies, you also set a dangerous precedent. You made it alright for slacktivism, and clicktivism, to be acceptable. You missed the point of social media and its incredible potential.

Both of these philosophical concepts are derogatory for a reason. They describe Internet users who would rather perform a series of feel-good measures with no end result, rather than being truly proactive and making an effort to contribute to an important cause.

The prime example of slacktivism is the recent Kony 2012 campaign, lead by the NGO Invisible Children. Their goal was to raise awareness of Joseph Kony, the leader of a dwindling Ugandan guerrilla group. They were successful: their YouTube video has so far been watched more than 82 million times.

But how did they think they were making a difference by producing this video? Furthermore, how did they think you and I, with no military resources at our disposal, could in any way help their cause?

Osama bin Laden didn’t need the Internet to make his videos viral; he released them himself, and media outlets around the world broadcast them without hesitation. He was, by all accounts, one of the world’s most infamous people, right up until his death last year. He and Kony were both on the run, both protected by various bodyguards, and both backed by funds you and I don’t know about. Was bin Laden caught because of his notoriety, or because social media users raised awareness of the terrorist activities he was planning? Of course not.

So, Joseph Kony is a household name. Now what?

According to Invisible Children’s 30-minute collage of emotional YouTube clips, the only way you and I can affect Kony’s capture is by purchasing an “action kit”: wearing a bracelet and putting up posters on April 20. You could donate to IC, but that money would likely go towards producing another shiny video full of bells and whistles and you would actually be helping the corrupt Ugandan military, which IC publicly supports. Kony left Uganda several years ago, so what’s the point?

The key is using social media effectively. It’s shocking to see how seriously advanced our society’s attention deficit disorder is because just two months ago, we were given a perfect example of how to effectively use social media in order to bring about change: the protests against the SOPA and PIPA bills in the United States. Although I can recognize the irony here of a “lack of effort” (the Internet-wide blackout that helped shelve the bills happened because Internet users stopped going to influential websites), this was a real example of cause and effect by way of social media.

Can you imagine the effectiveness of the current protests against tuition strikes if their efforts were focused entirely online? “Hey Jean, what’s the deal, eh? I don’t want to pay higher tuition fees. #angry.” Thankfully, students have taken to the streets and just like traditional grassroots activism, it’s all about being proactive, which includes getting off your comfortable chair and marching the streets to create change.

We’re setting a bad example for future generations with Kony 2012. While social media can be used effectively for certain causes (the Arab Spring protests is another example), it’s important to realize that it cannot be used for others. Coordination was the key for the Arab Spring and anti-SOPA campaigns, but it did not exist with Kony; there isn’t really anything else you can do besides click and share a link. You can’t congregate in a public place and share your discontent for Kony (unless you and your friends are willing to fly to Africa and look for him yourself).

This was the first real instance in our history where slacktivism was truly showcased. We need to reverse this dangerous trend and make sure that we deal with the next cause differently. With video production costs decreasing at an alarming rate, we need to educate people to show them the real potential social media has, as opposed to encouraging slacktivism and the habit of Facebook status-changing.

This is a new event for our generation: we’ve been thrust into uncharted waters, an environment where the barriers of participation have been lowered, and it’s suddenly become very easy to feel like we’re taking part in something big that will create change. We need to figure out when to pick our battles, so to speak.

In 2010, the Red Cross managed to raise more than $5 million in two days, via text message, following the Haiti earthquake. That happened largely because of social media and that’s a cause we have to support.

The Red Cross donations went to Haiti ― the Kony video will remain in cyberspace forever, while the man himself remains free somewhere in central Africa.

But at least you have a shiny new bracelet, right?

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