Sunday, August 17, 2014

Soaked and Left Feeling Cold

I was given 24 hours to take the ALS Ice Water Bucket Challenge. And I didn’t do it.

How does one criticize a movement without criticizing those swept up in it? How dare I get pissy and party-pooperish about a movement that has helped raise raise more than $13,000,000 for ALS research? Why did every additional video I watched of a friend or acquaintance having a lot of fun and dousing themselves -- or letting themselves be doused -- leave me feeling queasier, more uncomfortable, more uncertain to the aim and purpose of the newest viral charity craze?

For many of us, this concept jumped the shark at roughly the fourth time we saw someone post it on social media, but it will continue to find legs on our social media streams.

Whoever at the ALS thought of this gimmick -- and let’s be very clear: it’s a gimmick, albeit a brilliant one -- has hit the viral one-hit wonder of his or her lifetime. ALS should put a statue of this person on their front lawn, the fundraising version of Nick Saban.

If you did this challenge, if you doused yourself, and filmed it, and challenged your friends, and gave money to ALS, then I mean no disrespect to you. When I claim I don’t care for Vera Bradley or GM vehicles, it’s not intended as a judgment of those who do. I love sweater vests, but someone can disapprove or even detest sweater vests without it being an attack on me personally.

But this whole challenge has left me feeling… icky. It reminds me of the emails everyone sent around trying to get the cookie recipe, or the one about Bill Gates sharing his fortune, or the one promising trips to Disney World. It’s only a few degrees away from an email from Nigeria, or Sally Struthers telling me that my dollar a day will feed this child I see on my screen.

The Ice Water Bucket Challenge is, at its core, Chain Mail Meets Charity for the Selfie Generation. All you have to do is pay a charity $25 to clear your conscience for all of the self-indulgent filmmaking. Look at me! Look at me! I’m totes doing something good for a bigger cause, or else I wouldn’t ever demand that you look at me! (At least not until my next selfie!)

I’m half surprised I didn’t get a challenge that threatened me: those who fail to do the challenge within 24 hours die of Ebola! An angel dies every time someone fails to take the challenge!

What’s worse than being a curmudgeon about a seismically-successful concept for charitable giving? Is there anything in the world, short of kicking babies or circumcising puppies, that is more assholish than griping about a gimmick that broke fundraising records? Maybe not. But I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. I either participate -- not because I believe it’s a good idea or the charity to which I really prefer giving my limited charitable funds, but solely from peer pressure; or I don’t, at which point I’m an insensitive, no-fun schlub.

And that, dear reader, is precisely why I am against the Ice Water Bucket Challenge. I don't like putting people in either/or win/lose scenarios "for a good cause." It’s an altar call that puts the uncertain 14-year-old girl in that most awkward of places when the rest of the congregation rushes up for the healing touch of the preacher. It’s the bong passed around at the high school party. It's branding fraternity letters into flesh.

As a kid, adults drowned us in lessons about being mindful of peer pressure, that it was dangerous and powerful, that we had to think for ourselves. Yet here we are, a huge portion of our entire culture, jumping on an ice water bandwagon, either for the chance to make everyone watch us get wet, or for the sole purpose of not knowing how to say “No Thanks, Not Interested.” Either way, it seems sort of sketchy.

A part of me fears and envisions that breast cancer research will soon run an Ice Water Bucket Challenge that doubles as a wet T-shirt contest. “Douse the Ta-tas 2 Save the Ta-tas” or something equally prurient disguised as “for the greater good.”

I feel certain a race to the bottom has only just begun in the world of charities. How much can we charge people that will give them sufficient excuse and motivation to post their own Fear Factor moments on Facebook or Instagram?

Eat a live worm and only pay United Way $15 instead of $40!
Roll down a hill in your underwear and only pay PETA $23 instead of $50!
Swallow 30 hardboiled eggs and only pay The Innocence Project $100 instead of $400!
(They'll call that last one The Cool Hand Luke Challenge, natch.)

We regularly brag that the US is the most generous country in the world, but that is misleading. Measured per capita, we are #14. If I believed gimmicks like the Ice Water Bucket Challenge were the secret to moving us into the Top 10, I’d be all about it, but there’s plenty of reason to fear that such gimmicks will not help, and in fact might hurt, what, how and why we give.

Go ahead. Get wet. I will laugh with you and try to celebrate your kindness. But please respect my need to be a conscientious objector. I’ll stay dry this time around, thanks.

1 comment:

troutking said...

I'm with you on the dry sidelines. I don't like peer pressure or conformity, no matter how worthy the cause.