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ITNTW: Is there a limit to activism?

From the Gaza crisis to climate change impacts, activists voice their advocacy for injustice and nowadays not all of them use commonplace acts such as petitions or rallies. This week in the news we encountered the UNESCO World Heritage site ‘Stonehenge’ being vandalised to draw attention to climate change and here in Australia, an activist heckled Jewish comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, by crying “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. 


But how far can we take activism and is there really a limit to it?


During Jerry Seinfeld’s recent show at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, an anti-Israel heckler interrupted his performance. Seinfeld, known for his quick wit, handled the situation by mocking the protester, earning cheers from the audience. The comedian’s response included sarcastic remarks about the appropriateness of the venue for political discussions and the heckler’s approach to solving world issues.

We discussed the positions that celebrities can take in such events and how they connect with their audience through activism. On the other hand, this incident has several implications, particularly in terms of public discourse, activism and the role of celebrities in political debates. It is important to highlight the role of grassroots activism that is ignited from civilians that do not hold the media power celebrities do. 


Amplified voice in the media

Such interruptions at large events can lead to increased media coverage. The heckler’s actions and Seinfeld’s response have been widely reported, drawing attention not just to the comedian’s tour but also to the political issue at hand​. We have seen the same outcome with protests around issues of climate change and animal rights as well with Stone Hedge being coloured in orange colour powder and King Charles’ first official portrait vandalised by activists.


Polarising the views

This form of activism can be polarising. While it succeeds in garnering attention, it can also provoke negative reactions. Disrupting a performance may be seen as disrespectful or inappropriate, potentially alienating some who might otherwise be sympathetic to the cause.

The effectiveness of such actions depends on public perception. If the activist’s message is overshadowed by negative reactions to their methods, the overall impact might be counterproductive. Eventually, if it stimulates constructive dialogue, it can advance the cause.


A dialogue of activism

With increasing activism amongst the normal citizens, celebrities are not the only ones taking the stand. This two sided conversation between artists and their audience has become a reason for them to push each other to think more and act. Consequently, this is an initiative to push the politicians to go back and revisit their decisions. Artists like Banksy or Ai Weiwei use their art to provoke thought and discussion on social and political issues like government surveillance and consumerism. The heckler’s interruption of Seinfeld’s performance aimed to draw attention to a political issue by disrupting the event, forcing the audience to confront the issue even if only for a brief moment. 


Brief but not so sustained

In the case of disruptions and vandalism, if not followed by further action, the message might be lost amid the constant current of news and information. To further elaborate and focus on artists’ stance, if the action is made with a deeper message and as an independent act (not as a populistic way of using the issue) it can have a lasting impact, remaining in public consciousness and continuing to provoke thought long after its initial creation. 

Increasingly, cultural events are becoming arenas for political expression. This trend reflects broader societal shifts where entertainment and politics are intertwined, raising questions about the appropriateness and effectiveness of such activism. There is no universal solution to how a cultural event can react and prepare itself in addressing such issues but we can make sense of the idea that activism for voicing injustice cannot stay in a predetermined framework and it is alive by breaking the borders.


Written by Hamed Ebrahimi, PR Consultant

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