Like everyone else in Massachusetts, and now, increasingly, around the country, I have been watching as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has spread, all the while progressing through the usual coping mechanisms – denial, anger, acceptance, and so on. It would be hard not to get pulled in at this point, particularly if you scroll through your Facebook or Vine feed for more than five seconds. Here’s a video of an old high school friend pouring a bucket of water on his tits, there’s one of your boss getting his dad shorts soaked, one from your ex (looking good!), one from your cousin, and Ethel Damn Kennedy and so on. My wife was particularly entranced. I kept walking in on her surreptitiously watching another video and it was like I caught her looking at porn. Actually, now that I think of it, a lot of these videos, with their horrible production values and stilted dialogue, sort of remind me of amateur porn, only with a bigger money shot at the end.
But by now everyone from Justin Timberlake, to Jimmy Fallon and the Roots, to governors like Chris Christie , Martha Stewart, Lance Bass, and pro sports teams have gotten on board as well. (The rapidly spreading challenge, in case you’re not aware, became popularized in New England when a former Boston College athlete Pete Frates, who himself suffers from the neurodegenerative disease, began the push for awareness.)
Good cause aside, like with most things that go viral like this, being a contrary asshole, I initially thought to myself: Well, this is all pretty stupid. You’d probably have done a better job getting people to choose the donate money option if you had branded it the Boiling Water Challenge, I joked.
But then I started noticing the backlash almost started drowning out the videos themselves. Pouring water on your head won’t cure ALS, read one cranky post. If you really want to help just donate the money, read dozens of other posts and tweets that came across my feed from the type of Very Serious Concerned Citizens that sprout up in the shade of any online movement like mushrooms. And yes, donating money to researching a disease is the primary goal here. But if there’s anything that’s become easier to do than actually participate in an internet-driven cause du jour of late, it’s complain about why taking part in it is pointless. #Slacktivism doesn’t do anything, the smuggest person you know is probably saying somewhere in a comment thread right now, which is a really helpful attitude to have, because everyone knows that pointing out problems and getting everyone to talk about them has never had an impact on any sort of change in the world.
The difference here with ALS is, unlike, say, stopping a war in a far off country, or ending world hunger, or whatever other crushing problem that we seem hopeless against, there is actually a very simple thing you can do: give them your damn money. And, according to ALS organizations, the meme seems to have actually had a significantly positive impact on donations.
Challenge accepted or not, donations have been pouring in. According to The ALS Association spokeswoman Carrie Munk, the organization has collected $1.35 million from July 29 to Aug. 11. That’s not counting donations to chapter offices around the country, Munk said. During the same time period last year, donations totaled $22,000.
“The monetary contributions are amazing but there is so much value to the visibility that this is generating,” Munk said. “It’s unquantifiable.” via
Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find a single person who hasn’t at least hard of ALS by this point, and when it comes to diseases like this about which a lot still has to be learned, that’s never a bad thing.
Still, all of that doesn’t mean that I was necessarily eager to take part in the gag myself. I had been feeling the pressure coming for a few days now, knowing full well that most of my friends probably were avoiding nominating me because they figured I wouldn’t do it, but also being surprised that none of them did it specifically in order to troll me. Then, the young son of some dear friends of mine called my name, and it hit me in the only spot I can’t be as cynical as I want to be: making a kid laugh.
Goddamn wiener kid.
So, here it is, my contribution to the cause (along with a monetary donation here). Not willing to completely just play along, I had to do some sort of spin on it, via narcissism, to make mine stand out, so I decided to use a couple of Dunkin Donuts large iced coffee instead. It seemed appropriate given the movement’s Boston roots. I can’t believe Dunkins hasn’t already thought of this by now. Someone over there in the marketing department has some explaining to do.