Aaron R. Davis
With the explosion of terrorism the world has seen this week—both in Ferguson, Missouri and in Syria — a number of armchair critics took to the Internet to decry the real evil tearing America apart: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and its goddamn viral videos.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral this summer and is currently taking over your Facebook feed. The idea is that you make a video of yourself pouring a bucket of ice water over your head and challenging others to do it in order to raise awareness for research into curing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gherig’s Disease). You donate, or you donate a lesser amount and do the Ice Bucket Challenge and then challenge others to do it, or, hell, some people are making the donation and doing the challenge. It’s as much a part of the social media zeitgeist right now as Dancing Groot and arguments over whether or not Taylor Swift’s new video is racist. (It isn’t.)
So, as naturally happens when anything gains popularity, there are a lot of naysayers out saying nay about it and just generally missing the point of this whole thing.
And I’m sick of it.
I’m sick of the criticisms I keep seeing, because they’re all so empty and easily dismissed.
“It’s silly!” Yeah? So what? So are Looney Tunes, but we all love those because they make us laugh and feel good.
“California has a drought!” I guess you missed a lot of the videos where people talked about used bathwater and urged others to respect California’s water conservation regulations.
“It’s just useless slacktivism!” Not really. At the very least, people are raising awareness. At the best, they’re making donations and raising money. (Five times the amount ALS research usually gets in donations, apparently.) Calling this slacktivism is like saying that someone who walks for breast cancer is “just taking a stroll.”
“This isn’t helping anybody!” Have you seen any of the videos where people struggling with ALS have thanked people for bringing attention to the disease? I saw one where a man was in tears because of the hope and joy he felt at the whole endeavor. (Also, the aforementioned money example is pretty much concrete evidence that it is helping.)
“Other causes deserve attention, too!” This one bugs me, because, yeah, of course they do. But I feel revulsion in my stomach anytime someone brings this up and says things like “imagine if all of that money went to AIDS or cancer research.” As if donating to ALS research is just a waste of money. It’s like these critics are just saying that people who die of ALS — and yes, it does kill people — are somehow of less value than people who die of other, more prominent diseases.
When I brought this up with a friend who made that case, his response was a flippant and defensive “Everyone dies, can’t cure that.” And now I never want to talk to him ever again. Yes, when my sister was dying of cancer, that would have been a comforting thought: “Whelp, everyone dies, can’t cure that, oh, well, what’s on TV tonight?”
I don’t understand how people can show so little compassion.
And that’s really the problem I have with the criticisms against the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and how viral and visible it is: it all comes down to a lack of compassion.
When someone says “It’s just useless slacktivism!” what they’re really saying is “Stop indirectly making me feel bad for not caring about this!” When people say “This isn’t helping anybody!” they’re saying “Stop challenging my perceived notions of powerlessness!” When they say “Other causes deserve attention, too!” they’re really saying “I get bugged when people feel good about themselves!”
The people who are criticizing this whole thing are really just arguing annoyed that people feel good about themselves, because there will always be people who just can’t stand it when other people are happy and receiving attention and spreading hope. Most people grow out of that in childhood, but some never do. They never complete that step in maturation where you realize just how few things in life require your comment. Complaining about something that you can easily ignore but that makes others happy is childish; and when it’s something that promotes research into eradicating a disease that kills people, you start to sound like you just don’t care if people die—especially if it’s clogging up your precious Facebook feed.
The thing is, it’s been a shitty summer. We’re going to bomb Iraq again. Militarized police violence has been on the rise, culminating in a massive human rights crisis in Ferguson. There’s a very polarizing war in Gaza. A journalist was beheaded by ISIL. Robin Williams killed himself, losing his lifelong battle with depression. There are droughts, storms, floods, wildfires, and this unbearable climate change-affected heat. Tensions are high, the summer is hot, death is depressing, and the violence is astonishing.
I’d say that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge spreading so quickly has less to do with jumping on a bandwagon and being popular than it does with just doing something good in a world that can be daunting. As one person, you’re powerless to stop global climate change or end a war or regulate the police. But you do have the power to make a person smile, to raise awareness for their cause, to donate to efforts to relieve people of disease, and to make yourself feel good in the process.
This epidemic of kindness is alleviating tensions at a time when it’s really needed.
If that annoys you, fine. No one’s forcing you to like it. But stop trying to counter the bravery of optimism with your selfish animosity, because you’re just making yourself look like you don’t care how many people ALS kills.
Keep that to yourself.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org