Is the ALS Bucket Challenge a waste of time?

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.

George Bush

George Bush taking the Ice Bucket Challenge

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.

Unicef-Likes dont save lives

Giving to charity involves giving. Not watching or sharing or liking.

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.

Cancer Donation

In the UK text BEAT to 70099 to donate £3 to Cancer UK as I did or give to ANY other charity.

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.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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12 Responses to Is the ALS Bucket Challenge a waste of time?

  1. merrildsmith says:

    I think there are so many charities and worthy causes that some organizations use something like the ALS Ice Bucket challenge to bring publicity to their particular cause. I did do an ice bucket challenge and video–and I publicly stated that I am donating for that cause and named other organizations I’m also donating to. Most of the people I know who have done the challenge have donated. I admit it’s kind of silly, but if you donate anyway and raise some awareness, then perhaps it serves some small purpose.
    BTW, there’s a great video of Patrick Stewart’s–it shows him writing a check. Then he raises an ice bucket, but he puts ice into a glass, and then pours himself a drink.


    • I’m sure it is very good that you did it, especially as a non-celebrity person (well celebrity to me and a few others!!). I’ve only read of several in the newspapers that don’t give any mentions as to why or the fact that you can avoid the ice bucket by paying $100 which I’m not sure people appreciate.

      I just saw Sir Patrick with his video, I think he has the best approach!


  2. Rosemarie says:

    I agree with you, Stephen. It is silly. Perhaps the publicity does serve a purpose for some people. Amazingly some have said that they never heard of ALS until the ice bucket challenge.


    • I was reading that the vast majority of people hadn’t heard of ALS until the last few months. I’m amazed, I remember learning of it as a child in the 1980’s when Professor Stephen Hawking first came to prominence with Motor Neurone disease. Apparently he does a lot of charity work for the condition but obviously some z-lister getting iced is more appealing to the headline writers in the modern age.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. heikoworld says:

    I do not wish to sound like a misery here, but I have to ask, what is going to be said when someone dies from these dousing`s of ice and water. I have been in the US and seen many but, one day there will be an out cry when someone is killed with a good dose of iced water on a hot sunny day.
    It will happen to the least likely person who has not thought out the implications of the water ice dousing.
    I like the above comment from “merrildsmith” of Patrick Stewart writing his check and putting ice in his glass and pouring himself a drink. Cheers.


    • I was just thinking that. We’ve all heard of people who suffered from heart failure when suffering a major temperature drop. It could easily happen to an older person with an unknown medical condition. Sir Patrick is a classy chap!


  4. msauthorette says:

    I’m glad to see someone else shares my thoughts on this subject.


  5. sarij says:

    I have to disagree. The challenge certainly got my group of friend’s attention. We took part in the game and gave to charity. It even prompted one of my friends to donate blood to the Red Cross. Sometimes people get too caught up in their own lives to give much thought to others. This viral challenge has changed that. The amount of money ALA has raised is staggering. Yes, it would be nice if we all gave more often but the reality is, sometimes it takes something like this to get people to open their hearts and wallets.


  6. Hi Stephen,
    This is not a comment on your post (thought provoking though it is). I just wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the Quintet of Radiance award – I love your blogs as they are always so thoughtful and thought-provoking and clearly well researched. Check out my post…r-me-and-simon
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Amy Reese says:

    This is days after the date of your post here, but I read this morning that this ice bucket challenge has raised over $80 million. So,I guess it has worked! People love seeing people drenched with ice water. My only complaint is that millions don’t have fresh drinking water,and that California, among other places, is in a severe drought. It’s hard to see the water wasted, since it is so scarce. I added you to my reader list on Tessa. I’m sorry about that, Stephen. You’ve been a great supporter of my story. Thanks so much! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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