Although the internet has provided space to discuss issues of social importance, it has also popularized a commodified form of social justice activism.
The language used by social justice activists is now being co-opted 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?
While celebrities using their platforms to talk about social issues is a good thing, one cannot help but 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.
Ask ourselves, when did corporations start taking stances on cultural and political movements? When it started to seem profitable to do so. Today, we see some companies put forth genuine efforts to give back to communities and to their consumers, while others put forth hollow advertising that supports social movements.
This practice merges consumer behavior with political or social goals. Whether challenging race relations, religious divisions, state brutality or questioning unattainable beauty norms, branding in our era has extended beyond a business model: It is now both reliant on and reflective of our most basic social and cultural relations.
The use of brands to “sell” dissent is not a new business strategy. Individual consumers act politically by purchasing particular brands over others in a competitive marketplace, where specific brands are attached to political aims and goals.
The proliferation of commodity activism, in other words, serves as a trenchant reminder that there is no “outside” to the logic of contemporary capitalism; social action may itself be shifting shape into a marketable commodity. They are corporate appropriations, an elaborate exercise in hypocrisy and artifice intended to fool the consumer and secure ever-larger profits.
Ultimately, capitalism and the desire for profit drive companies to ignore the need for social change; to drive change is to drive themselves out of business.
The internet is creating visual records of injustice that has always been there. Discourse is very important to understanding the way that things are structured; discourse shapes reality. We are individuals that interact with larger systems of power, and we constantly participate in systems of power.
If social justice becomes a mere trend, it is nothing but a tool for commodification—especially since diversity is the big word that is being thrown around recently. Commodification of activism may pacify us and make it even more difficult to identify oppressive structures or conditions.
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