If summer is the ‘Silly Season’, the frivolity reached new heights this year with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Initially, it was amusing to watch videos of friends and celebrities dousing themselves with icy buckets of water for a worthy cause. It was charming to see Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Justin Timberlake spending their summers goofing around. Then it was entertaining to see the many mishaps and drenching disasters. More recently, though, these clips and images have become so ubiquitous and – dare I say it – tedious that the gimmick now prompts more scorn than sympathy.
While we applaud the inventiveness of the fundraising campaign and its ability to raise awareness of Lou Gehrig’s disease (donations have topped US$41.8mil), it’s now reached a point where people seem more interested in attracting online attention than appealing for contributions. The trend highlights an essential flaw in the concept. The Ice Bucket Challenge was supposed to be a guilt-inducing penalty for those who didn’t donate. Given the choice to either pledge money or endure a chilly soaking, it was thought – perhaps naively – that folks would opt to cough up the cash. Instead, the concept played into the look-at-me narcissism of social media. Facebook news feeds are clogged with a stream of videos featuring ordinary folk and superstars jumping on the Ice Bucket bandwagon.
While it’s easy to dismiss the stunt as a harmless slice of summer fun, it does set a troubling precedent. It’s reasonable to assume other charities will now look to this campaign to replicate its success. If a cold shower doesn’t compel folks to donate, will a hot wax? What other physical challenges will be issued to guilt others into giving? The idea of threatening people to donate seems at odds with the concept of charity.
When President Obama was issued the challenge, he wisely chose to make a donation rather than make a spectacle of himself. Let’s hope others start to follow his lead.
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