Ice Bucket Challenge: When Narcissism and Philanthropy Collide

If you’re friends with white people from the USA on Facebook, you’re probably privy to the Ice Bucket Challenge, a social-media form of celebrated charity-donation avoidance. The cause here is ALS(Lou Gehrig’s Disease), notably, drumming up awareness and money to combat it. According to the ALS narrative, this thing kicked off when Peter Frates(who has lived with ALS for 2 years) volunteered some friends to be doused with cold water. (It actually began when a bunch of pro-athletes started daring their pro-athlete friends to film themselves doing things for no reason. Then Matt Lauer and Martha Stewart got involved, for charities of their choice. But if the ALS wants to co-opt it, that’s fine.)

So this thing went viral in the way that things typically go viral. Celebrity involvement, media attention, and critical mass via social media certainly helped. And it doesn’t hurt that the “challenge” is easy and user friendly in a way that anyone can join in.

Now, you’re probably asking “How does dumping water on your head generate money?”. Well,if you fail to respond to the challenge, you have to…DONATE MONEY.

Let me rephrase that: If you lose the challenge, you have to donate money.

Let me say that another way: All of the people you see on Facebook having a grand, ol’ time dumping water on their heads are doing so to avoid donating to charity. This is a social media sensation now.

So here’s the good: according to Barbara Newhouse, the ALS National President, donations have reached around $2 million since the Challenge began(compared with around $14 grand this time last year). That’s a rock-solid monetary statistic that suggests a correlation between the Ice Bucket Challenge and donations. And a quick look on Facebook and Twitter will confirm that, at the very least, the Challenge is gaining traction in the Twittersphere. All fine and good, right? Well…

1. This is a “Challenge” in the loosest sense

In terms of difficulty, the Ice Bucket Challenge has gotta be the most pampered shit ever. Like, a stuffy rich white lady in the 1920’s who speaks in a fake British accent MIGHT be like, “Ooooohoooh!!! The water is so cool! How delightfully wicked!!! I can’t wait to get the colored messenger boy to deliver my challenge to Belinda!!!”

Lady who thinks The Challenge is “just brilliant and naughty”.

It’s the middle of the fucking summer. There’s nothing challenging about being doused with cold water when it’s above 90 degrees outside.  Oh, what’s that? It’s slightly TOO REFRESHING for a half a second!  The horror!  Fuck off.  That’s not a challenge. That’s a bootleg water park. That’s something you did anyway if you grew up without a pool.

Suggested alternatives: Use pigs blood. For the mess-conscious, do this during a time of year when, to achieve comfort, you have to do more than simply STAND STILL AND WAIT FOR YOUR BLOOD FLOW TO WARM YOU!!!

2. Vanity-Forward Marketing

I realize this craze was more lightning in a bottle and social-media facilitated wildfire than it was anything that was planned by a marketing firm. And I can totally get behind that. As far as people who participate, on an individual level, I don’t really have any beef with them per se. But taking in the complete picture of this thing has some things that just don’t jive with me.

For starters, the visibility of people completing the challenge seems to be as ubiquitous, if not moreso than, the cause itself. In other words, the people that you’re likely to see through a casual scroll on your newsfeed are people dumping water on their heads.  No one’s really providing any information about the disease or any sources where one so inclined might inform themselves in these videos. Maybe a viewer takes the initiative to inform themselves, maybe they don’t. But say they do, the people who donate are entirely eliminated from the “fun”. What it amounts to is a social media circle jerk occurring amongst friends, which is fine. I’m guilty of as much social-media fuckery as anyone. Except the Ice Bucket Challenge seems to be done with this self-satisfied pretense of doing good work. The priorities seem weirdly skewed. The people getting the most social media visibility seem to be doing the least of substance for the charity(but I’m sure the people who sell bagged ice are grateful for the boon in business, however). I have to wonder how much of the motivation here comes from an honest and philanthropical place and how much of it is just to get “likes” on Facebook. And if it was honest and philanthropical, why not just donate? There’s currently no viral video sensation that celebrates the quietly noble, altruistic act of donating money.

Army of smiling people avoiding charity.

Here’s a guy who donated to ALS.

Maybe that’s been intended from the inception here. Maybe someone figured out that you can’t really rely on altruism anymore. Since people are giving less of a shit, you need to tie your charitable motivations to something less charitable and more self-serving. Relying on our need to be seen and “liked” is something that big corporations have already begun exploiting and the Ice Bucket Challenge is kind of a brilliant example of it taking root with philanthropy. Money and attention driven by narcissism is better than no money or attention at all, I guess. But about the water…

3. Looking at it globally…

Not to pretentiously make those of you who participated feel like huge, cankerous, globally clueless dicks or anything, but here are some statistics about people without access to safe drinking water around the world:

Latin America: 32 million

Central Asia: 196 million

East Asia: 200 million

Africa: 345 million

Is it a moral and rhetorical cheap shot on my part to bring up the lack of safe water in lesser developed regions as a counter to an innocuous social-media trend? I don’t know. Maybe. But after all of this self-satisfied back-patting going on as a result of this thing, I feel it warrants reminding: that water that you’re pouring on the ground to get “Likes” on Facebook was clean and safe(Yes, even if you’re from New Jersey).  You’re kind of coming across like a clueless wanker of privilege at best and a flippant asshole at worst.

4. The State That Produces 80% of Our Food is Experiencing a Historic Drought

Not just a “Oh, well it’s probably common for the region! Who cares? I’m gonna go jack off in the mirror now brb…” drought, but a serious fucking three-year drought. California has been in an official State of Emergency since January. Last year, was the driest the state has been since record keeping began in 1895. On July 29th, just when this Ice Bucket Challenge was getting started, a mandatory water regulation measure was put into effect. Even a strong El Nino for an entire season would likely be inconsequential to reversing the damage. We’re talking Dust-Bowl type shit.

“Why should I care?” you’re probably saying, as you belch and play with your distended, hair-speckled belly button. Well, like 80% of our food(veggies, fruits, nuts, meat, fish, and dairy) comes from California. That’s an average. Some crops from California account for a greater percentage(99% of almonds, for example), some account for less(70% of lettuce). We may not have our livelihoods as intimately tied to the weather as Californian farmers do, but their struggles have already begun to affect food prices nationwide. It’s only going to get worse and it’s going to result in a true cost-of-living/comfort-of-life change for the country as a whole.

Here are some pictures of affected parts of California:

Coyote Hills Regional Park

Lexington Reservoir

Some gorgeous photography there, especially if you’re a fan of films about post-apocalyptic wastelands, if you can get past the part where those landscapes are supposed to be filled with rivers, reservoirs, cropfields, or green national parks.

While it’s unlikely that the water you’re wasting would influence the drought very much anyway, it doesn’t change the fact that you guys are acting like greedy, gluttonous medieval kings celebrating in slow motion before their kingdom falls. Only instead of greasy turkey legs and flagons of wine, you’re doing it with water that would be better used by other people.

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