Tuesday, August 19, 2014

People Really Need to Reassess What's Enraging Them

The last two weeks have brought us additional unrest in the Middle East, the tragic suicide of Robin Williams, and unarmed black youth being gunned down in the street.

And the worst offender of all...

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Most of you should be familiar with this by now. I live in Massachusetts, a state where this ridiculous-looking trend really took off. So I was aware of it fairly early on. And I recall thinking, Why are people dumping ice water on heads? and likening it to a less-vile version of the "set yourself on fire" meme.

Several days later, I was passing by the TV, and NECN was covering the local angle. That's how I learned that dumping icy water on your head was more than just a trend--there was a cause behind it.

But curmudgeon that I am, I thought: Sure, people are dumping water on their heads. It's probably not raising any money. As if on cue, the talking heads on the magic TV box addressed that very question. The Ice Bucket Challenge was actually raising money. Donations were up by 200%.

And I was happy to hear that something appearing so idiotic was actually doing some good.

A few more days passed, and I began to see torrents of icy water splashing across my Facebook feed. Then... the unthinkable.

A high school friend nominated me.

Typically, I'm not a fan of trends. Because, you know, they're trendy. But knowing that this was actually raising money to help an incurable disease, I decided to go for it. Pour a large pan of ice-cold water on my head.

To the delight of my children.

During the week that followed, I noticed an interesting trend (at least on my Facebook feed.) The people participating in the Challenge were predominantly "sporty" people--and perhaps this is due, in part, to the fact that the Challenge has a sports-related origin. But I noticed a relative absence of the Challenge occurring among other loosely categorizeable groups. As someone who writes and loves scifi, for example (and has a general penchant for geekery), I noted that my nerdy compadres were staying dry.

And that's when I noticed the backlash.

Some of the "non-sporty" crowd were not only dissing the Challenge (and hey--that's right) but they were doing it vehemently. Angrily. And I found it completely bizarre.

These are some of the arguments against the challenge I came across:

  • "No one's going to tell me what to do!" (Sure.)
  • "It's stupid, and I'll bet donations aren't even affected." (Untrue.)
  • "No one's going to bully me." (Yes. I swear the word "bully" was used. Which really cheapens the word.)
  • "I can choose myself how and where I'm going to donate my money!" (Of course you can. And you know what? There is no ALS police monitoring Facebook to see who has and has not donated $100. Really. No one is going to rip you from your bed in the middle of the night.)
  • "There are more pressing issues and diseases than ALS." (I actually agree. But no one I know has ALS, either. Above, I mentioned several horrible things going on in the world right now. If you feel outraged that people are sending boatloads of cash for ALS research, send your own contribution to your cause of choice.)
  • "It's just another stupid viral campaign that ultimately will have no impact." (Again, I refer you to the facts. It has had a real impact. Granted, some viral marketing campaigns are pretty stupid, and don't have the impact this one has. [I'm looking at you, 'what color is your bra' Breast Cancer campaign. Which I was not a fan of, because of the way it adds to the public perception that breast cancer is a "female" disease.]
  • "I already gave money to this charity. Now I feel like I have to again!" (Um, if you feel that way, that's your choice. No one is "making" you feel anything.)
As I processed the backlash I saw come across my little corner of the Internet, the sporty/nonsporty divide again struck me. Maybe it's the sociology degree, but I couldn't help but view much of this criticism through a lens of high school. It's US versus THEM. If THEY are into something, then it's certainly not for US.

And I thought to myself, just wait until Neil Gaiman or Tom Hiddleston or Felicia Day or some other Geek God/Goddess gets in on this action. Then the tide will turn.

I present to you Exhibit A. And here's Exhibit B.--Nathan Fillion. BECAUSE NATHAN FILLION.

(I would like to point out, for the record, that, I mentioned Joss Whedon in my challenge. But I didn't actually tag him, because I was just being cute. But if he ends yup doing it, I'm still taking credit, y'all.)

So, I get it. We have our own subcultures, and the things we think are cool, partly because they are cool, and partly because other people think they're cool. And if you don't think something is a good idea for any reason, don't do it. But don't be so obnoxious about it. And try to have your facts straight.

And most of all, realize that these things are not zero-sum games. Just because the charity of your choice is not the one in the spotlight, it doesn't mean that the one in the spotlight is unworthy. I suggest turning your outrage into something useful, for something you agree with, instead of spouting anger across the Internet.

In the wise words of my ten-year old daughter, "Don't judge. Just love."

p.s. See how the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge started here


  1. Being one of the folks who posted an unhappy blog about the ice-bucket challenge, I figured I ought to respond. I am happy ALS is getting money, and I did post several links if someone wants to donate. (Though, there are other down sides, fiscally, that another friend of mine did point out this article, http://qz.com/249649/the-cold-hard-truth-about-the-ice-bucket-challenge/).

    But what I don't like is the "Do this or else" tone of the campaign, though. People nominated are offered an ultimatum in some form--I did learn the original was donate $25 and pour ice or donate $100--the challenge I got was "do this or donate $100." If you back out of a challenge like that, you look like a bad guy. "You can't even pour some ice over your head...?" And I don't think ultimatums are fair. What if I challenged one of my FB friends who, secretly, is going home crying about whether to pay electricity or get enough food for the family? I just publicly called them out to go donate money they do not have. I've been in that situation; it hurts. A lot.

    And depending on the tone and comments (more from some of those more sportsy-types, granted), the person who doesn't do the challenge gets publicly shamed. I was bullied in school for many years; I don't believe that this is devaluing the word. Public shaming and calling people out, depending on how its done, can still turn into bullying. Do I think most people are bullying? No. Have I seen it happen? Yes. Even if the friends drop it and don't call the person out, that initial shame for knowing you don't have the money still burns. A lot. Even moreso with the original challenge that demanded you to donate to something, whether or not you dumped ice on your head.

    It's a very classist challenge and mindset. I'm glad that money is being raised for charity, but I feel for the people who are quietly hiding because they are working two jobs and their 24 hours allows them to maybe feed their family and sneak in four hours of sleep--not add in a video because they know they certainly don't have $100 to spare. Charity should be done because someone really believes in the cause, not because their friends are daring them or shaming them to do so.

  2. People shouldn't be so annoyed or ignorant with this trend all because the "sporty" people are doing it. This trend is simply just a fun way of spreading awareness and it's doing a good job of doing so reading here that the charity donations for ALS has gone up 200%. I'm seeing these videos of the people I have as friends on my Facebook newsfeed and majority of them aren't donating. We're teenagers. What do you expect? People are not obligated to donate. They shouldn't feel bad if they don't have money for the people with ALS. Just like you said making that point to that argument that one might make. "Oh, now I feel like the bad guy." No one is making you feel like that. Like, if anything, give as much as you can or make the video AT LEAST to spread awareness. I think that just to go out of your way to donate at least something, whether it's $5 or $100, you can make a difference.. or just to spread awareness to others that are able to donate with or without the nomination could be what this charity needs. And what do you know! It's working.