published Thursday, August 28th, 2014

In Tune: Ice bucket challenge misses the mark

  • photo
    Beryl Lipton, left, douses Matt Lee during the ice bucket challenge at Boston's Copley Square, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014 to raise funds and awareness for ALS. The idea is: pay up for charity or get doused. The fund-raising phenomenon is catching on fast, propelled by popular videos of the dunkers and the dunked _ including famous athletes and entertainers _ posted on social media sites. And the challenges are raising tens of thousands of dollars and immeasurable awareness for causes from ALS to breast cancer to a camp for kids who’ve lost a father to war.
    Photo by Associated Press

Call me heartless, but I’m feeling pretty hot and bothered about the ice bucket challenge videos clogging up my Facebook newsfeed lately.

Ostensibly, these voluntary cold showers are being endured in the name of eradicating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — an often fatal neurodegenerative condition better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Once you’ve been called out in someone else’s video, you “must” either donate to ALS research or film yourself getting doused and issue a challenge of your own.

Think of it like a well-intentioned hybrid of “Jackass” daredevilism and a chain letter.

Thanks to hundreds of celebrities who have been splashed, the campaign has gone viral. On their own, Charlie Sheen’s and Bill Gates’ videos have been seen 26 million times, which is about 180 times as many people as are estimated to have the disease worldwide, according to the ALS Association.

The ALSA has received more than $88 million in donations since the videos began circulating, but here’s why I’m irked by this campaign.

1. Curing ALS seems like almost an afterthought in most of the videos. It just happened to be the lucky condition that was attached to a funny stunt that captured the Internet’s attention. We could all just as easily be inundated with “spray paint your boss’s car or donate to multiple sclerosis research” clips.

2. The participants exude a smug sense of me-too fraternity in what amounts to a glorified meme. Go back and watch the videos of celebrities taking the challenge, and you’ll find that they often neglect to describe what ALS is or why it’s worth eradicating, both of which strike me as salient points to address. It seems like they’re just doing it because Ben Folds and Lil Wayne did, and it would be embarrassing to be left out of their conversation at the next cocktail party.

3. The challenge can only spread awareness of ALS if people decide not to donate. If you opt to be doused, you earn the right to create yet another video that can be used to shame your friends and family. But if you write a check and — you know — actually contribute to the cause, the message stops there. If the first batch of call-outs had been generous, there would be no phenomenon.

So when my brother issued the challenge to me this morning, I refused, even though I would love to see Lou Gehrig’s disease eradicated. (In my defense, I’d already donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital earlier in the week.)

What do you think? Am I all-right or all-wet, so to speak? Email your thoughts to me.

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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