I guess it was only a matter of time before the chain reaction of a do-good movement came under attack by naysayers.
Like the Starbucks customer number 458 who abruptly sabotaged a drive-through Starbucks pay-it-forward line in Florida that had gone on for 10 hours because it had become “ridiculous and cheesy,” now the otherwise heart-warming Ice Bucket Challenge is under siege.
In case you’ve been living under a rock lately, the Ice Bucket Challenge has spawned unprecedented giving to fund research for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The idea is to dump a bucket of cold ice water on your head and then challenge others to do the same or opt out by giving a donation to an ALS charity. (A majority do both.)
Anyone and everyone is doing it. Eighty-six-year-old Ethel Kennedy did it and then challenged President Obama. (He politely declined and wrote a check instead.) George W. Bush was sufficiently doused, as was Sarah Palin, though she was taken by surprise. LeBron did it. So did Kobe, ditto NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Several football teams got wet. So did the U.S. Ryder Cup team. The last few days brought a flood of the uber famous: Taylor Swift, Gisele Bundchen, Justin Bieber, Bill Gates, Victoria Beckham, even Anna Wintour’s famous bob went limp.
As of this writing, the ALS association says a whopping $88.5 million has been raised. Of that, $79.7 million was raised between July 29 and August 25 — compared with $2.5 million during the same period last year.
For an underfunded, orphan disease that deteriorates the spinal cord and muscles eventually leading to total paralysis all while the mind is crystal clear, why would anyone object to raising money for research? Considering there is no cure and the single FDA-approved treatment extends survival by only a few months, in God’s name, why wouldn’t you want to help?
Writing for Time magazine, Sarah Miller says the Ice Bucket Challenge “is disrespectful to the literally millions of people in the world who are, as I type and you read, in actual physical pain. To then post that experience in public forum is essentially subtle form of bragging. ‘My life is so without trauma that I find creating moments of trauma exhilarating, and hilarious.’ ... I shudder to think about what we look like dumping freezing cold water over our heads while so much of the world at this time is plunged into acute suffering over which they have no control.”
A Boston Globe writer contends: “Those issuing challenges are not only telling others what cause to support but also saying that if they don’t, they must suffer a penalty. Threats to compel giving? It seems the opposite of what it really means to be charitable.”
Others have called the challenge “narcissitic slacktivism,” as if we were all feeling good about our charitable selves without getting our hands dirty. Others took issue with wasting water while many areas are experiencing historic drought. (The ALS Association urged members to repurpose the water for later use. Or take the Matt Damon approach: use toilet water. ) PETA protested ALS researchers’ use of animal testing. Not to be outdone, several archdioceses are discouraging Catholics from participating because some ALS research involves embryonic stem cells.
In place of the challenge, many suggest, simply and quietly, sending the ALS charity of your choice a check.
Like that’s going to happen. Even for those of us touched personally by ALS, it takes something like the bucket challenge, frankly, to put up or shut up.
George Moran was my brother Rob’s close friend from high school and college. He was handsome, brilliant, funny, and all us girls had crushes on him. George went on to become a child psychoanalyst; he was named director of the esteemed Anna Freud Centre in London in 1987. He died in 1992 from ALS. He was 41 and left behind a wife and a young daughter. His passing deeply affected my brother.
And yet, it took me seeing a friend on Facebook (thanks, Julie!) bravely taking the challenge in George’s honor for me to actually go online and make a donation.
It’s not that complicated. A fun, albeit silly, way to raise money for a good cause has gone viral. People helping people. What in the world could be wrong with that?