There’s a lot to be said about internet slacktivism in general (none of it good), but I have to give the ice bucket challenge credit for coming up with a way to make it even more obnoxious, narcissistic, and privileged — while simultaneously milking some actual positive effect from the phenomenon!
If you’re not familiar, the ice bucket challenge is basically a chain letter fundraiser with a YouTube tie-in: Someone “challenges” you to either dump a bucket of water over your head or donate $100 to the ALS Association, and if you take the challenge, you film the ice-dump and then pass the challenge along to someone else, who gets the same choices. (In some versions people who take the ice bath also donate $10, but that part often gets omitted, or at least not mentioned in the videos.)
And here’s the thing — it’s working. The ALS Association announced on August 16 that it had raised over $10 million in “ice bucket donations” this month alone, much of it from over 220,000 first-time ALS Association donors.
That’s a lot of money for a good cause. We can mostly be glad about that, although I’ll always have reservations about charitable giving being seen as a socially acceptable alternative to properly funding research and health services.
But “the Ice Bucket Challenge,” people, really?
Don’t let’s kid ourselves about anyone actually minding the idea of an ice bath so much that they’d pay $100 to get out of it. We’re not talking about immersion here; we’re talking about five to ten seconds of cold stuff sluicing over you and then you’re done. You can only make a “challenge” out of that if you already live an incredibly comfortable life (and have both water and the power to freeze it to waste).
The appeal of the meme is clear and ugly. It’s a way to be the center of attention and get kudos for Doing A Good Thing (and, as an added bonus, by doing the ice water challenge you don’t have to actually spend that pesky $100). All the awareness-raising! None of the personal inconvenience! And everyone watches your video!
I am comfortable balancing in my head the simultaneous realities where it is a good thing that the ALS Association is getting more donations, and yet it is a bad thing that the Ice Bucket Challenge exists and is popular. I suggest you do the same.
Because come on, now. Ice Bucket Challenge. Jesus.