It’s been hard to move on the internet or television the last few weeks without stumbling over a video of the great and the good or at least the self-publicist celebrities volunteering to have themselves splashed with ice and cold water in the name of a good cause. Motor-Neurone disease or ALS as it is called in places is a terrible affliction and one that should be near the top of diseases which science is fighting to find a cure for.
However is the current craze actually doing any good? It’s true that over $21 million or £12 million has been raised from the challenge which is fantastically good news. However, it must surely be a big disappointment given the large number of celebrities involved. Now I am the first to admit that I don’t really know and less still care about many of the people eagerly subjecting themselves to being iced on camera but a quick search in Wikipedia reveals there to be several hundred.
Whether it is former President George Bush Jnr, Gordon Ramsay, William Shatner or Jessica Alba, the chances are that several people who you’re vaguely a fan of have drenched themselves all in a good cause. Most of these people have millions if not tens or even hundreds of millions of followers and yet despite all the effort and non-stop publicity only £12 million or so has been raised.
Though many of these figures have donated money as well as getting splashed, many have been filmed getting iced without any mention of why it is happening. Some people have refused to be dunked, heaven forbid that the President of the United States hasn’t actually got something better to do. He is most likely able to save or take more lives with a quick signature than any amount of freezing cold ice could achieve.
Compared to other charitable events such as Live Aid or charity music releases or even the BBC’s annual Children In Need, the amount raised has been a pittance despite a lot of creative energy going in to it.
It follows on a trend of trying to make charity or fund-raising fun and trendy. Backpacking trips along the Andes where people can get themselves a free holiday which might cost themselves £3000 to organise themselves, so long as they can raise £4000 in donations. Cancer charities in the UK even had a campaign a few months ago to arrange tea-parties where they would send out cake mix and recipes and then people would make cakes and invite their friends round to make money. Aside from the fact that it involves a lot of time and effort to make very little money, cakes are generally considered bad for you and contain fats and sugars which are one of the major causes of cancer and heart disease.
I could decide to have a Pizza for charity. I won’t give any money but I can eat a delicious pizza and post photos on the internet and invite others to donate to charity and end famine in Africa. People might like seeing me enjoy my pizza, they might copy my toppings or even go so far as to eat a pizza themselves. We can all get ourselves pizza’d-out and stuff ourselves silly but the starving in Africa who won’t benefit at all by this might just ask why can’t they give £5 to charity instead of gorging themselves on food that we like doing anyway.
Why can’t people just admit that all we are doing are watching people getting soaked and not giving any money. Seriously, if everyone who voted for President Bush all gave $5 towards Motor-Neurone Disease / ALS the world would be a lot better place. Some things aren’t meant to be fun, saving lives is too serious a matter.
What bigger motivation do people need to give to charity? Science is on the edge of making major strides towards curing many major killer diseases. Barely a week goes by without some major breakthrough appearing on the news. Rather than take part in ineffective and self-publicising campaigns we should just pay up. It’s likely that in the next 30-50 years that many if not most forms of cancer, heart disease, Leukemia, Aids and other diseases will be outright cured. People in 60 years time won’t have to worry about them at least only as much as we have to worry about Polio if we have been vaccinated or the Plague if we haven’t. It is us who are alive now that can bring forward the dates of the cures. Giving to charity might just save your parents, friends, partners, children or even your own life a few decades down the line. Surely that is all we need to know and if this was given as much publicity as the bucket challenge, if those getting dunked and all the fans sharing the videos just paid to charity then it would make a difference.
The Ice Bucket Challenge isn’t real charity or even activism, it’s slacktivism. As Unicef recently put it on their recent posters“Like us on Facebook and we will vaccinate zero children against polio”
In fact charities themselves know this sort of thing doesn’t really work. Curing these diseases is an important though long-term goal, however when there is an urgent disaster such as an earthquake or tsunami, famine or war-zone they simply want cash donations and they blatantly ask for them. Building fake houses out of toy lego bricks won’t help any of the homeless in your country or in a war zone like Syria or Gaza but money will.
So yes, it is great that the ice bucket challenge is getting some donations to charity for a disease that struggles to get attention amongst more infamous conditions but it isn’t really working. No-one I personally know has given money to the challenge and to be honest I have avoided all the videos because it just seems a bit stupid to me. I did see one that came on exactly when I switched on the TV but that was it.
Rather than just watch other people do easy or fun things, partly for charity and partly just to look good why not just pay some money. It doesn’t have to be a lot, I spoke to a friend about this yesterday who whole-heartedly agreed and we both just paid £3 / £5 just because.
It can be best summarised by a paragraph in the Independent newspaper this week:
There’s no shortage of suffering in the world, and a lot of good causes out there, far more than we have the appetite or the spare cash for. Generosity is a finite resource, and whatever tiny part of it is used up by watching Ronaldo sat in his pants and name-checking his famous mates — but not the actual cause — is a waste of everyone’s goodwill.