So the latest odd crazy/fad to spread through the internet like a wildfire is this little old thing known as the Ice Bucket Challenge, and it’s a thing that perplexes me deeply, though not for the usual reasons that internet fads do, but more the fact that to me the whole thing seems a bit arse-about-face. For the benefit of those reading who’ve never heard about it (which given both its popularity and this blog’s obscurity is unlikely, but whatever) the premise is to challenge someone to either dump a bucket of ice water over their head and donate an amount to charity or forfeit the bucket and donate even more to charity. After the deed is done, so to speak, you nominate friends/colleagues/randomers to do the same.
In its original incarnation the charity in question was the ALS Association in America (a charity dedicated to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) but this has changed as it spread across the globe, and now includes organisations like it’s UK equivalent, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, and others such as Macmillan Cancer Support and others. It started with just celebrities doing it online and it has spread, and spread and spread and spread. Indeed it went from random celebrity thing to something done over social media by ordinary people to pretty much mainstream. I’ve seen friends and colleagues do it, and its even reached areas such as national sports television. Truly the world has gone ice bucket crazy. Which is not a phrase I thought I’d apply to a situation such as this.
Now, despite its more than noble intention, something about this whole thing doesn’t sit entirely right with me. Now, I’m not against doing something silly for charity, hell I come from a country that’s practically institutionalised the notion between Children in Need every year and Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day every two years taking up a whole day on national television. But just reread that first paragraph about how it works. Do something and donate X or don’t and donate more. Am I alone in thinking that seems a bit wrong? Traditionally the way doing something silly for charity works is you club together with friends, relatives, colleagues and anyone nearby at the time to sponsor you to do it thus making more for the recipient charity. The concept of doing the silly thing to get out of giving a certain amount comes across as both overly harsh and kind of smug about it, especially when the celebrities do it.
There is also an element of confusion as to what the whole thing is about. Like many thinks based around the internet, the Chinese Whispers effect (for lack of a better word) takes effect. There has been, in my area of observation alone, confusion over what charity it’s meant to support, whether doing it means paying less or nothing at all, or even if it’s for charity at all. This hasn’t been helped by a number of the celebrity videos, and indeed those made by regular folk, tends to omit key points even when they do know what it’s for, and very little consensus exists as to how much information should be given beyond “Now You Do It.” This sort of mass movement should, by logic, thrive upon good communication, yet time and time again these sort of well meaning yet poorly directed mass goings on on the internet fall down at this point and becomes an aimless mess.
Celebrity involvement in charity means has always been something of a bone of contention to me, specifically when they’re trying to promote other people to give up money. The Ice Bucket Challenge exhibits a curious version of this. While it started in celebrity circles, it never specifically had the said celebrities promote or nominate anyone from the rest of humanity. It just kind of happened organically as far as I can make out. But still, the problems mentioned above are endemic to the celeb version. Evidently many simply omit the charity aspects from their videos, which adds to the air of smugness. The only two celebs that I’ve encountered that have both made a point of the charity aspect and the fact they could do much better just donating their own money were Patrick Stewart and Charlie Sheen (the latter of which did a money bucket chalkenge which was very entertaining). And then there’s the little issue where a number of political “celebs” (Well, elected representatives, but celeb equally applies) doing the challenge over in the US have been discovered to be people who have voted to cut health funding in a rather nasty bout of political hypocrisy.
Perhaps the most bizarre element of this challenge is the strange sense of obligation that accompanies the nominations, although this is more an issue with the “nomination culture” than this specific example. I’ve heard people talk about being nominated as if it were their sacred duty to carry out this act of public humiliation lest ye be cast out for not doing it. While Peer Pressure has always been a thing, I just don’t understand the mindset that judges someone negatively for picking what is, in this case, the far more noble option. Again, I feel that this adds the smugness of the concept, where somehow doing the silly thing and avoiding giving more.
Now despite the above nine hundred or so words, as I said at the beginning, the whole endeavour is noble in intent just poorly executed. To borrow a phrase “Its heart is in the right place even if its head isn’t.” Motor neurone disease is a terrible thing, and research into it is indeed a worthy cause, however I just don’t think the Ice Bucket Challenge as it stands is the best way to support it. If you really want to support the cause, and that feeling is greater than the need to act silly in front of your peers, then you can donate directly to the ALS Association in the US Here and the Motor Neurone Disease Association in the UK Here. At least that doesn’t have the strangeness attached that I’ve talked about here.
Until next time, guys…
–Yes, I’ve already been nominated and took the forfeit so don’t try
—The ALS Association Donation Page (US)
—The MNDA Donation Page (UK)
A lot of what you say here makes sense. I had my own go at tackling this issue: