The world may be overrun with selfies, Snapchat confessionals and so, so many pictures of brunch, but what if the social media elite used their #blessed cachet for actual social change? What if oversharing could be put towards doing good? Enter comedian couple June Diane Raphael (“Grace and Frankie,” “Bride Wars”) and husband Paul Scheer (“The League”) who seek to make a difference in this world, one Instagram at a time.
In response to the first 100 days of President Trump’s administration the comedic duo and their cofounders rounded up a collection of celebrity friends and artists to launch The Big 100 initiative. This massive social media-driven project aims to inspire Americans to take simple progressive action each of the first 100 until April 30 — and potentially beyond. And also, to bring a little levity to the process of positive action.
Acutely aware that the media landscape is already rife with plenty of overly earnest, celebrity-faced public service announcements, The Big 100 introduced itself on Funny or Die with a video punching Scheer right in the middle of an overly-righteous, activist speech. The founding mission was clear: “We are done with celebrity PSAs and we are done complaining about the state of the world,” said the woman who threw the punch. “It is 2017, it’s time to start doing.”
The Big 100 lampoons the celebrity social media culture with good deeds and laughs. The slogans that populate their feed include gems such as, “When they go low, we go do stuff and hashtag it,” and “Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what you can Instagram yourself doing for your country.”
The first action kicked off with a Kardashian-esque video starring Raphael’s bare back. Exposed for the camera she asks in an alluring voice, “The sexiest part of a woman’s body? Is her feet. For marching you pervs.” It was encouragement for followers to head out to the Women’s March, which the actress attended in Washington D.C. with her toddler in tow.
“Gloria Steinem said it was a day that would change us forever, and I really felt that,” Raphael said by phone, the day after returning home to Los Angeles. “I walked away feeling like maybe this was an opportunity – not just at the march itself, but in the conversations that have followed in the days ahead.”
“I believe there is and must be space for these often embarrassing and painful discussions.”
While some of collaborator’s names are well-known— including Seth Rogen, Mayim Bialik, Sarah Silverman and Brooklyn Decker — the project’s genesis didn’t come from celebrity connections, but rather, social media happenstance. Raphael met The Big 100 collaborators, advertising creative directors Jera Mehrdad and Julia Markiewicz, at a post-election community meeting born from a secret Facebook group.
“Our first meeting almost felt like a therapy session – we were all heartbroken, nursing our wounds, and trying to figure out what to do,” said Raphael.
But they soon came to the same realization as the Carrie Fisher quote immortalized by Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes last month. “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”
And then they took it one step further. They wanted to turn art into action. “Bite-sized action” in particular, as Scheer puts it. “I was really buoyed by President Obama’s speech about being a good citizen,” he said over the phone. “We want to help funnel any feelings of helplessness into productivity.”
Each day’s action, comes with a face and a cause. In the case of “Last Man On Earth” actress-comic Kristen Schaal, it is registering for midterm elections.
“Social media is what brings us together, but it also happens behind closed doors. This project uses Instagram to get us outside and start practicing what we preach,” Schaal explained via email.
“Happy Endings” actress Casey Wilson showed up on the Instagram feed with a mascara tear-stained face, with the caption, “ I'm crying bc teachers spend, on average, $600 a year of their own money buying class supplies.” Her cause: Adopt-A-Classroom.
Not all of the “actions” include celebs gags. Some aim for support of organizations through artistry. Lettering wizard Lisa Congdon came out with a short video focused on fighting bullying; Andy Rementer, whose illustrations have been seen on MTV and The New Yorker, came out with a gif in support of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“A social media-based campaign can help sustain momentum before, during, and after offline events,” said Rementer. “That’s important, especially in these challenging times.”
So far the momentum has spawned over 200 handwritten postcards sent out to state representatives, glitter glue-covered Valentines constructed for women and children at local shelters, an uptick at attendance at local government meetings, restocked “free libraries,” and increased call volume for volunteer opportunities and donations to the non-profits, like Tree People LA which was promoted by “The Big Bang”’s Melissa Rauch.
Of course, the celebrity element can yield detractors, among them, America’s Commander In Chief. “Celebs hurt cause badly,” he tweeted in response to performers at the Women’s March.
But from an academic perspective, it’s a positive. “Awareness is a crucial first step towards any sort of positive action and change,” said Dr. Nooshin Valizadeh, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. “So when celebrities are able to use their presence to spread awareness and be a voice for those who are disenfranchised, that’s incredibly important.”
Valizadeh name checks Beyoncé whose inclusion of Black Lives Matter imagery in her “Formation” video was a tipping point in awareness for the movement in a way that typical scholarly reports couldn’t have achieved.
As for Raphael isn’t worried about any critical tweets that might be forthcoming from the President.
“I completely reject the idea that any citizen doesn’t have a voice and a right to speak up about what they believe in,” she said.
As for any particular citizens on her wish list to participate? “I feel like a grandma saying this, but I would really love to get an awesome YouTube celebrity involved,” she said. “The celebrities talking to 15-year-olds, the people who will be voting in the next election.”
In other words: “I’m not after George Clooney, I want Michelle Phan.”