Yes, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a cruel disease. Yes, the ice bucket challenge has piqued awareness of the disease. Yes, the ice bucket challenge has raised over $50 million in a month for the ALS Association. But I can’t stand it. I can’t stand my social media streams overrun with videos of people dumping buckets of water on themselves under the guise of philanthropy.
I admit the main driver behind my hatred of the ice bucket challenge is jealousy. I’m jealous that the act of videotaping silliness has garnered so much attention and money for a cause that is, while most certainly worthwhile, not inflammatory bowel disease. It’s selfish for me to say, but I wish that IBD charities could have bottled lightning like the creators of the ice bucket challenge have. I wish that public figures and the public at large were rushing to spread awareness of this horrible disease, and flooding the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and Crohn’s and Colitis Canada with monetary contributions. But that’s not happening because, hey, there’s no procedure for videotaping your stupidity, and more importantly, no mechanism for drawing more people into the stupidity with the concept of nominations.
My distaste for this social media/fundraising phenomenon is largely born out my frustration that IBD remains a fringe cause and has yet to receive the sort of media and public attention that ALS has as a result of so many malleable wet people. However, there’s more nourishing my ire than just jealousy.
The link between ice and ALS is weak, at best
I’ve read that one of the reasons behind the act of dumping cold water on yourself as a way to raise ALS awareness is that the immediate shock of the frigid fluid is meant to illustrate how ALS patients can feel paralysis. Spare me such absurdity. To suggest that the transitory jolt of icy water hitting your bare body is anything like the degenerative and non-reversible atrophy of your muscles is an insult to ALS patients. It whitewashes the true misery that the disease can create, which again, does a disservice to ALS patients and caregivers.
It’s a waste of water
I know, I know, the amount of water squandered by the legions of ice bucket nominees isn’t that big a deal, considering how much water gets spent on other areas of life. But that’s not reason enough to be so frivolous with water, especially considering there’s a drought in California, the city of Detroit is once again going to cut water to residents who haven’t paid their utility bills, and a recent algae bloom turned tap water toxic in Toledo. Not to mention the various other water shortages in areas all over the world. Water is a vital substance, and it could be put to much better use than soaking people.
There’s an element of coercion
I’ve never before seen a fundraiser use duress the way the ice bucket challenge has – do this dumb thing in the next 24 hours or you’ll be out $100. The challenge usually includes the stipulation that the required donation will be reduced to $10 if you complete the challenge. Essentially, you’re being told that you have to donate to charity. Either $10 or $100, but either way, you gotta pony up. If you don’t donate or dump the water, your ethics will come into question. I’m sure that more than a few people were driven to complete the challenge out of fear that their peers would see them in a less positive light if they didn’t.
When has a charity ever told you that you had to donate to them? Never, in all likelihood, because charities don’t work that way. They ask for donations, and if you decline, they’ll relent and maybe ask again at a later date. They’ll never publicly tag you in a tweet or Facebook post and ask what happened to the donation someone else signed you up for. They’ll never say you must give, because they know that giving to charity is a choice, not a requirement. Times are hard, and some people can’t swing the money, so why make them feel bad if they can’t or don’t want to? It’s their money, and it should be their choice as to where they want to donate it, if at all.
It reflects narcissism, not selflessness
Don’t kid yourself; people aren’t participating in the ice bucket challenge solely, or even primarily, because they feel the need to help sick people. They’re doing it for notoriety. They’re doing it to make videos of themselves, to show themselves to the world, to garner likes and shares and retweets for themselves. The ice bucket challenge has capitalized on our shallow, celebrity-obsessed culture.
If athletes, celebrities, and politicians had not become involved in the ice bucket challenge it may never have spread, or at least, wouldn’t have spread to the extent it has. Public figures who have completed the challenge have, like all the average citizens, done so out of self-interest; celebrities and athletes garner more adoration from their fans, politicians garner more votes. People watch celebrities partaking in the challenge, think it must be a worthwhile endeavour, and ape the act in a feeble attempt to be like them.
The cause has been lost in a mess of inanity normally confined to old episodes of America’s Funniest Home Videos. As people play themselves up and smile for the camera, then heroically hoist and empty a bucket of cold water, any sign of sympathy for ALS patients is nowhere to be seen. The ice bucket challenge continues to devolve into mere fodder for bored internet users, with more and more “ice bucket challenge fails” and “this is the best ice bucket challenger ever!” posts being generated by the day.
It hurts other charities
Intended or not, the ice bucket challenge is an excellent example of successful viral marketing. Intended or not, the mechanism of nominations was a stroke of genius in terms of the campaign’s ability to maintain momentum. For charities, however, that’s all bad news. It signals a shift away from earning donations through compassion, and towards the need to fuel people’s egos to draw out contributions.
How terrible it is that shoveling shits and giggles to the masses is now required for it to gain any awareness of a serious cause. Using the cause closest to me as an example, what does the IBD community have to do to gain awareness and monetary donations? A punch in the stomach challenge? An overdose on laxatives challenge?
Charities, medical or otherwise, can no longer rely on people’s humanity. Before working to make the needy feel better, they must first work to make potential donors feel good about themselves. That’s so backward and depressing.
Money can’t be the be-all and end-all
I’m not upset that money has been raised for ALS initiatives, but I’m upset about how it’s been raised: childishly, ignorantly, and egotistically. One of the common defence lines for the ice bucket challenge is that it’s raised so much money, so what’s the difference how that money was raised? Is that it? The ends justify the means? It shouldn’t be that way. People should bear witness to suffering and feel a desire to help, not hastily hand over money under the superficial guidelines of an internet dare.
It’s horrifying and saddening that the image of a wheelchair-bound human being who has lost the ability to speak, to swallow food, and to live without pain, doesn’t stir hearts and pry open wallets as much as the image of cold water falling on an actor.
If you’ve stuck with me all the way down here, thank you. Perhaps at this point you’re wondering how I’d react if the ice bucket challenge, with all its success, was done to benefit IBD instead of ALS. Well, I’m sure I’d be happy that the acronym of my disease was making more rounds in the public sphere, and I’d be happy that money was headed to IBD charities. However, I’d still be upset at the frivolousness of the campaign, its lack of educative ability, and the wider, more worrying signals it sends out about our society.
Our humanity is being replaced with infinitesimal attention spans, a desire for banal amusement, and morality that comes into effect only when it serves our vanity. It doesn’t matter how much money has been raised.
Image via Skeptoid