We’ve all seen them by now: the countless videos of people – men, women, children, pets, even Legos – dumping containers of ice water over themselves, then challenging others to do the same or donate $100 to the ALS Association. This extreme proliferation and rapid viral sensation has garnered loads of enthusiastic endorsers but also a good number of blog posts and social commentaries denouncing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
In theory, the challenge exists to “support” ALS research and to “bring attention” to ALS itself and the ALS community. In practice, so say the complainers, the likelihood is that many (most?) people take little to no time to research or learn more about ALS, and they probably don’t donate any money to the cause, either – instead, they’re simply in it for the fun of making a fool out of oneself and watching others do the same. They note that the original Ice Bucket Challenge had nothing to do with ALS; it was just an opportunity for sports celebrities to watch their buddies be goofballs. More effort is taken to buy the ice than to spread the word. It’s a waste of water. It’s silly.
It may, in fact, be all of the above.
But when it comes right down to it, what on earth is wrong with that?
Summer is hardly known as a Serious Season; winter has claimed that title. No, summer is a time for wearing bathing suits that have seen better days and not caring that the entire neighborhood can see that you haven’t waxed. It’s a time for accidentally missing a spot on your thigh and winding up with a smarting sunburn that resembles the state of Florida. Summer is when grown adults willingly hurdle themselves down all manner of slippery surfaces and when we imbibe foods and drinks that are so startlingly blue they could be mistaken for windshield washer fluid. Socks with sandals become an embarrassing part of the landscape and ice cream becomes an official food group. In the summer, Having Fun becomes a mantra, the ultimate goal.
Seeing your fully clothed buddies dump ice water over their heads on purpose? That’s absurd. It’s ridiculous. It’s hilarious. It’s fun.
There’s also something to be said for a phenomenon that’s shared by celebrities and regular folks alike. Perhaps I’ve considered the Us Magazine “Stars – They’re Just Like Us!” pages a little too seriously, but I’m a sucker for famous people – the ones who usually seem to orbit an entirely different atmosphere – suddenly seeming completely down to earth. Yeah, yeah, I know that they’re people, too, and that their “celebrity” only exists because we, the peons, afford it to them; there’s not necessarily anything inherently special or admirable about them. Still, I’m unlikely to find myself on a movie set any time soon, nor to run out onto a field filled with adoring fans wearing t-shirts with my face emblazoned on them, nor to take the stage and be greeted by thousands of people cheering my name. Much of the time, the so-called stars do not seem “just like us.”
But when Ellen Degeneres tweets a group selfie from the Oscars and the ensuing fervor briefly shuts down Twitter, it feels like we’re all in on the joke. When Brad Pitt tosses a beer to Matthew McConaughey from a New Orleans balcony, it feels like we’re part of the family. And when all of these celebrities – from athletes to actors to performers to talk show hosts – are posting videos of themselves doused with ice water, it’s like sharing a collective secret. Momentarily, they really are just like us; we’re reminded that they’re human. Plus, it makes me laugh to see Jimmy Fallon and The Roots pour water over their heads. Why is that a problem?
Does the Ice Bucket Challenge waste water? Technically, yes. The liquid that is dumped out of those containers is not being used to do what water is usually prized for: providing essential nourishment to humans, animals, and plants or providing a way in which to wash bodies and clothes and everything else that gets dirty and needs cleaning. I can understand that glibly pouring water over one’s head instead of drinking it or watering crops with it or bathing in it may feel like a slap in the face to those in the world – of whom there are far, far too many – who lack access to clean water, who are facing dangerous droughts, or who have to conserve every drop of water they can find.
And yet… I still think that the Ice Bucket Challenge is okay. Realistically, the vast majority of the water that’s being splashed over people’s heads would (sadly) not make its way to those who desperately need it. If it were that easy, people in flooded New York could simply FedEx gallons of it to arid California and, bam! Problem solved. It just doesn’t work that way. It is, indeed, an incredible privilege to live in a place where we do have access to plentiful, clean water, and we shouldn’t take it for granted. Conserving water is important. But it’s also okay to sometimes use water for fun. People are griping and moaning about the Ice Bucket Challenge but I haven’t seen any movement behind closing down swimming pools or outlawing Slip n Slides. That meme of the child (who, presumably, lives someplace where water is scarce) questioning the Ice Bucket Challenge has made its way around social media, but there’s no similar meme denouncing squirt gun fights or water balloons. The Ice Bucket Challenge is an easy target, but really, I think people are just annoyed at the sheer volume of videos clogging their social media screens.
The fact of the matter is, the world isn’t fair and equal. That sucks, but it’s true. I’m not – at all – saying that it isn’t our job to try to make the world a better place or to do our part to help others (to the contrary, I believe the very opposite), but just about everything somebody does can offend somebody else. Those never-ending Instagram photos of the burger and fries you’re about to inhale or the special meal your honey prepared for you or that brunch buffet the size of Delaware? Rude; there are millions of hungry people in this world. Loudly celebrating with a keg and a margarita? Insensitive to alcoholics. Laughingly declaring that you conceived your baby just by looking at your man? Hurtful to people who struggle with infertility. Posting that picture of your kids with the cast of Ringling Brothers? Terrifying to people who are deathly afraid of clowns. Hell, now that I think of it, the Ice Bucket Challenge is particularly offensive to my family because if my own children submerged themselves in a vat of ice water, they could freakin’ die. SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE.
This is the closest my children will come to dumping freezing water on their heads. The last time they attempted doing so, it didn’t go well.
So, yeah, it’s technically wasting water, and I can understand why that may annoy people from a conservation angle – but, given the joy and the fun that the challenge is spreading, I don’t think it’s fair to call it a “waste.” Anything that makes people laugh and momentarily forget the other troubles in their lives cannot be entirely wasteful.
Which brings us to the whole But You’re Not Actually Learning About ALS So You’re Missing The Point thing. I agree: most people who take the Ice Bucket Challenge probably aren’t educating themselves about ALS. They’re not learning what it is, how it affects its sufferers and their families, how debilitating and devastating it is – they’re just in it for the fun. But, you know what? It doesn’t matter, because the Ice Bucket Challenge is working. Yes, most people aren’t educating themselves about ALS, but some people are. Some people are Googling it or reading articles about it or watching videos about the courageous gentleman who inspired this whole viral craze. And even better? People are donating money to ALS Association. Not just a little bit of money – tons of money. Millions of dollars. 15.6 million dollars (as of August 18), to be precise.
Does every person who learns about the Ice Bucket Challenge donate to the cause? Um, no; if they did, each one of us would have forked over some cash. Does everyone who douses themselves in icy water give money? No. Would it be incredible if they did – would it be even more amazing if, instead of opting to submerse themselves, they gave the requisite $100? Of course. But millions of dollars is nothing to sneeze at.
The whole point of this iteration of the Ice Bucket Challenge was to raise awareness and funding for the ALS Association. I think it’s damn fair to say that it worked.
Clearly, the American people love to watch their fellow humans – celebrity and non-celebrity alike – make asses out of themselves. Equally clearly, the American people are an incredibly generous bunch. If there’s any issue I take with the Ice Bucket Challenge, it’s that it seems something of a shame that only ALS is benefiting from the public’s benevolence. I have absolutely no problem with the ALS Association benefiting from this internet sensation but, now that they’ve done so well, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could pay it forward and collectively choose another deserving organization? Wouldn’t it be something if millions more dollars could be donated to another cause, then another, and another, quite literally sharing the wealth?
Having not yet been challenged to complete the Ice Bucket Challenge, I’d been simultaneously celebrating my not having to soak myself while also lamenting the lack of an opportunity to donate to the ALS Association. But then I realized that if the goal of this latest viral trend is to raise money and awareness, there’s no reason to wait to be challenged to donate. And, given my earlier lament, there’s also no reason not to donate to other needy organizations.
So, I have. This afternoon, I donated to the ALS Association as well as the following organizations, all of which are particularly important to me:
– The National MS Society/Bike MS, because MS sucks
– Project Stealth, which is revolutionizing cancer research
– NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Health), because we need to seriously overhaul our approach to mental illness and how it’s perceived and treated
– Shatterproof, because addiction is no joke and protecting our children from it is super important
– The Water Project, because although dumping ice water over your head is fun, helping everyone have access to safe water is even cooler (pun totally intended)
Bottom line: the Ice Bucket Challenge is working, big time. If you’re annoyed with so much of your social media being devoted to friends and strangers participating in this phenomenon, then don’t watch their videos. Yeah, it’s technically wasting water, but I’m okay with that in this particular instance. Perhaps most of all, it’s brought joy and laughter to hundreds of thousands (millions?) of us at a time when, frankly, we could use it. Between ISIS terrorizing religious minorities in Iraq, the Israelis and Palestinians going at it, Amish girls being kidnapped, the killing of Michael Brown and subsequent protests and riots, the death of Robin Williams, and the Yankees’ sub-par performance (in Jeter’s last year – c’mon, guys!), we all could use a little levity.
Quite honestly, the Ice Bucket Challenge is one of my favorite things that’s happened this summer. Seeing so many people come together for such a good cause is pretty damn awesome.
And seeing people hilariously humiliate themselves is pretty great, too.
* Note: as of the writing of this post, I had not yet been tagged in – or taken – the Ice Bucket Challenge. When I went to add the link to Facebook, I learned that I’ve been challenged by my brother (the twerp). In the interest of being a good sport, I’ll be sure to complete the challenge within the specified timeframe, so stay tuned (and I’ll definitely be tagging others, so look out, folks). In the interest of continuing to support original mission of the challenge, I’ll also make an additional donation to the ALSA. Summertime fun FTW!