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Attractivism: A Society Obsessed with Appearances

Updated: Nov 10, 2019

Illustration by Savi Swiggard

Public image is an important aspect of our lives and culture. From celebrities to politicians, there is an underlying theme: what looks good is good. This concept can help or hurt us, and it lends itself to new forms of political and social activism. “Attractivism” is a newer word, notably used by former Harry Potter star Evanna Lynch, and is used to describe activism through positivity and interest. Rather than being an aggressive activist, attractivism is about being engaging, interesting, positive and, most importantly, eyecatching.

Attractivism is gaining speed in multiple ways. Celebrities are likely the main source of modern attractivism; those who are famous for their appearances in movies, tv shows or concert stages use their public image to gain attention for issues they care about. Figures like Laverne Cox and Taylor Swift have used their popularity and visibility in the media to speak about oppression and social issues. This theme has morphed as social media has become a prominent way for consumers to get their news and world updates, and more and more activists turn to new ways of promoting the issues they care about.

Following the nationwide internet joke about raiding Area 51, activists and celebrities jumped onto Snapchat and other social media platforms to promote a similar raid of what users are calling ICE “concentration camps,” the facilities where undocumented immigrants are being held. While people did go to the outskirts of Area 51, no major news has come about storming ICE detention centers. It raises the question of how effective attractivism actually is in solving the problems it wants to solve. While it may have been a great way of raising awareness for the ICE detention centers, there was no action.

Attention with no effect seems to be a prevailing theme for attractivism. Numerous politicians have run on campaigns surrounding positivity, forward-thinking and their young perspective. While this was a successful campaign strategy for politicians like former U.S. President Barack Obama and current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, these leaders have received criticism for not being quite as forward-thinking as their promises. The one big plus for these politicians, aside from raising awareness or making substantial progress, has been their public image. Many have forgotten Obama’s failures in foreign military crisis and his poor immigration policies due to his charismatic and positive approach to politics being so refreshing. It is also easier to praise Obama’s performance in the office compared to his less-charismatic successor. Currently, Trudeau is starting to feel the heat from Canadians demanding genuine progress. Japan’s new environment minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, emphasizes that the fight against climate change has to be “fun,” “cool” and “sexy.” Koizumi is widely popular in his home country for being charismatic and convincing, but Japan’s lack of presence at the UN climate change summit, in addition to the country’s plans for more coal power plants, puts Koizumi’s words at odds with the direction the nation is taking.

Attractivism seems to be working when one looks at only the appearances and hashtags, but there is a lack of depth to it. Critics of activist movements have begun to turn away from protests and speeches, saying that activists should be more polite and less demanding like the attractivists. While attractivism does not appear to accomplish its own goals, typical activism is losing ground as politics favor the form of activism that doesn’t contradict politicians’ agendas. Activists now have to pick between hashtags and protests. Choosing hashtags lessens the likelihood of change, but choosing protests paints a target on oneself. Moving forward, changing the status quo may need a new look.

By Savi Swiggard, Associate Editor


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