Ice Bucket Challenge annoys, works

ALS fundraising campaign taps into the best and worst of our selfie culture

I really want to hate the Ice Bucket Challenge.

It’s annoying. It’s invasive. It’s absolutely everywhere. And the participants on my social-media feeds are the exact types of people one would expect—celebrity gawkers, former sorority girls, politicians—and that I don’t generally like to begin with.

I’m overcome with the desire to say, “Stop being narcissistic! Stop giving in to another dumb viral marketing campaign! Stop thinking you’re helping anyone!”

If you’ve been lucky enough to escape the swaths of Ice Bucket Challenge videos, here is what they look like: Someone has a bucket full of ice water. They say they’ve accepted the Ice Bucket Challenge and issue said challenge to someone else. The challenge? Donate $100 to the ALS Association (ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) or film a video of themselves dumping ice on their heads within 24 hours.

Mark Zuckerberg. Taylor Swift. Mayor Kevin Johnson. Sutter Brown. Even my sacred world of chefs has fallen to peer pressure: René Redzepi of arguably the world’s best restaurant, Noma in Denmark, had at least a dozen of his cooks shower him one-by-one.

When I first saw these videos, my mind immediately flashed to Kony 2012 and the condemnations of slacktivism that followed. The act of pouring ice on your head does nothing to benefit ALS patients. Same to clicking “like” on Facebook or retweeting on Twitter. It lightens the issue and distracts from the terrible reality of the disease.

But unlike Kony 2012—and despite the obvious flaw in the challenge’s logic—there are some tangible, remarkable results from the Ice Bucket Challenge. People are dumping ice on their heads and donating money. At press time, the ALS Association reported raising about $80 million since late July compared to about $2.5 million in the same period last year.

Why is the challenge so successful? It taps into our selfie-addicted culture, desire to seem like good Samaritans and competitive nature all at once. And, as with all successful campaigns, this one found its way to the right people: famous people.

I generally think raising awareness is important, though I doubt most participants are much more “aware” about ALS than they were pre-Ice. Still, the money is pouring in. It’s working.

I can’t reasonably hate the Ice Bucket Challenge.