MTV Casting Call: Seeking Eco-Stereotypes


MTV has been doing outreach with some blogs to find environmental activists for its True Life reality show.
Apparently, though, they’re not interested in profiling people doing the quiet, hard work of creating change and winning hearts and minds. They only want to feature the small group of activists who regularly carry out confrontational, radical stunts.
Here’s the casting call from MTV:

True Life: I’m Stopping Global Warming
Are you an activist involved in a fight to protect your local environment in some way? Maybe you’re taking legal action against a polluter in your area? Perhaps you’re challenging your local government to become more green? If your eco-activism is helping to stop global warming, we’d love to hear your story.
If you appear to be between the ages of 17 and 28, and are an eco-activist, email us at: with all of the details of your story.
Please be sure to include your name, location, phone number and a photo, if possible.

Seems pretty inclusive, right? Well, my good friend Josh Tulkin works for Chesapeake Climate Action Network and has dedicated his life to stopping global warming. He spends his days raising awareness of climate change among citizens of Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, and organizing them to demand substantial policy changes. josh_square.jpg
A mutual friend nominated Josh, but MTV responded that they were looking for someone more “on the front lines.” For me, Josh embodies the qualities of an eco-activist making change in his community. In my view, there is no one who is more “on the front lines” than he is.
After our friend sought clarification, the MTV recruiter responded:

“It sounds like Josh is active by being a speaker and spreading the word. What MTV wants is someone who is going to climb up a smoke stack and stick a banner up there for a couple of days and get there [sic] voices heard.”

Olivia Zaleski, a blogger at TreeHugger, investigated. Here’s what she heard:

“”We want to inspire kids and students to take action,” said MTV’s casting researcher. “We’re looking for those kids sleeping in the woods so the endangered forest doesn’t get cut down.”

“When asked for examples of “inspiring eco-activists,” MTV described those who might chain themselves to a company’s headquarters, or make a pile of dead animals to illustrate what “catalogues do to nature.””

I’m copying below a letter that I sent to the MTV casting agent. If it moves you, feel free to copy as much as you’d like and send it to

To Whom It May Concern:
I was extremely disappointed to learn that MTV’s casting call for eco-activists on True Life was intended solely for the small minority of activists engaged in confrontational direct action. While I appreciate your effort to engage young people in activism on climate change, I fear this casting call will produce a sensationalized and unrepresentative picture of today’s environmental movement that will hurt more than it will help.
The vast majority of environmentalists are not angry, confrontational, or outside of the mainstream, which seems to be the image you hope to capture. Many are involved in business, engineering, research, and design, just to name a few of the many fields where environmental activism is making a difference. Most environmentalists do their part simply by making smart choices as consumers and educating each other. And the environmentalists who are actively working to change corporate and government policies usually prefer quiet consensus-building to militant demonstrations.
The current casting call makes MTV seem more interested in reinforcing stereotypes than documenting the hard work that many are doing to create change. True, these stereotypes may inspire some young people to action. Confrontational activism, however, will seem both inaccessible and outside of the mainstream to most American viewers. If spotlighted on MTV, it will serve to demonstrate that environmental concerns are disconnected from and indifferent to the concerns of Main Street America. For those of us working to weave environmental values further into the fabric of the United States, that would be a tragedy.
I do not doubt your good intentions. I am well aware of MTV’s longstanding commitment to civic involvement and action on climate change. For that reason, I hope you will immediately reconsider your concept for eco-activism on True Life in the service of our shared goals.
Scott T. Paul

— Scott Paul


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