Isabel Cardenas Andrade 
Illustration by Cristal Trujillo
16 April 2019

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”

— William Shakespeare, Macbeth.

Social media: a maelstrom of controversy and commentary erupting from the itching palms of smartphone users. Radiating hypnotic shades of blues, yellows, and pinks, the varying platforms glow in the faces of impressionable youth, spewing anything from complete nonsense to the innermost qualms of the human psyche. In an age of rapid technological development, the normative allure of digital engagement is an inescapable force, entrancing even the most detached individual—not just out of interest or curiosity, but out of necessity. It has become crucial to establish a presence online to preserve social relevance.

To the average individual, social media has transformed into the primary source of media and entertainment; older generations—allegedly above these trivialities—are not an exception. Bombarding our timelines with baby photos and nationalistic propaganda, this very demographic, whether they be our progressive aunts, drunk uncles, or blatantly homophobic grandmothers, are becoming increasingly reliant on social media platforms. 

Hence, a glance at a phone can quickly escalate into an infinite scroll— a sea of words sprinkled with skinny tea advertisements and promoted tweets exposing us to more information than ever before and, inversely, granting us more freedom than ever before. Resisting the urge to voice your opinions seems almost an impossible task; it grows increasingly harder to refrain from tweeting about the latest Game of Thrones episode or the newest Netflix Original.

In an age of polarized politics, moreover, taking a stance is inescapable. Every like and retweet are under the scrutiny of your peers, perpetually tethering you to social values and political ideology. Thus, this combination prompts the creation of a phenomenon arguably  predicted by Shakespeare himself: faux activism. Hollowed out versions of social movements with little to no substance, solely maintained by empty likes and retweets in the attempt to remain socially acceptable, relevant. With a plethora of social causes on the internet to jump on the bandwagon, the digital age has fostered the inherent human desire to fit in and inevitably, has delegitimized the effectiveness of social movements today.   

The Women’s March, for example— an emblem of third-wave feminism arising from the black hole that is the internet— has prevailed on a recurring basis. Embodied by an obnoxiously fluorescent pink pussy hat, this symbol of women’s empowerment in and of itself is, in reality, a warped depiction of the battle for women’s rights. The movement, littered with bright crocheted hats and a plethora of  “pussy power” posters and pins, has created the perfect formula for a movement that is exclusionary in nature.

Lacking the fundamental aspect that is intersectionality, participants— particularly white women— are culpable for the movement’s faults and inability to accomplish tangible change. Of course, the phenomenon that is “white feminism” has been countlessly discussed, stemming from centuries of white supremacy that has trickled down into a more socially accepted or rather, disguised form. At the root of phenomenon, however, lies a seed of complacency, tinged with selfishness. Participating  to advance one’s own place in society— not politically or institutionally but rather, socially— is a task done out of social and moral obligation rather than pure intent. And despite the efforts to repress this phenomenon, individuals and companies alike have quickly caught on.

Forever 21, Zara, even Dior have released articles of clothing, accessories, and prints reflective of the new wave of “activism.”  Retailing over $700, cotton Dior t-shirts pervade the runway, embellished with political statements including, “We should all be Feminists.” Whether this is truly advocacy or a blatant capitalization on the desire to fit in is up for interpretation, however it is clear that these companies have inevitably branded social movements as “trendy.” What results is a cyclical intensification of hollow social norms seeping their way into everyday life.

To discuss the faults of activism, one does not have to go as far as national movements; students at UC Berkeley are especially susceptible to the Faulkner-esque phenomenon. With Black Lives Matter hashtags in personal bios and the occasional call-out post online, Berkeley “activists” often walk away from their screens feeling fulfilled, accomplished. The problem is not that social media isn’t a viable method of advocacy and outreach, it is most certainly a powerful and accessible tool to disperse information to the masses. The problem lies, however, when it is normalized as the sole form of accomplishing change. Too many times students at Berkeley have walked nonchalantly past demonstrations on Upper Sproul, justifying their incompetence with midterms and homework. Too many times students at Berkeley have excused the ignorant actions of their friends and peers whilst retweeting “woke” tweets. Too many times students at Berkeley failed to show up for the communities they claim to represent and support. 

Perhaps this phenomenon is a plague in contemporary society or perhaps its what is what we all secretly desire— a thin veil of what is seemingly “activism” barely disguising a yearning to remain socially acceptable and relevant. Nonetheless, we are left with a society progressive in nature rather than conduct, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.