Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why I Will Not Do The Ice Bucket Challenge

The Ice Bucket Challenge has finally (unfortunately) made it to my social circles, with relatives and coworkers challenging each other.  Of course, there are varying reactions to this, with lots of people over-zealously keeping tabs on their friends' and families' involvement and others writing scathing hate pieces about how much they think the Ice Bucket Challenge sucks.

I'll be honest: I don't actually buy a great number of the reasons people have for hating it, although many of these pieces have really great points within them.  For instance, I admittedly roll my eyes when people talk about the challenge as wasting water; although technically accurate, the Ice Bucket Challenge alone will never even make a dent in water consumption that's even remotely comparable to, for instance, bottled water companies.  And the challenge very well may be a massive distraction (especially when you consider the number of politicians out there making Ice Bucket videos who repeatedly vote to cut ALS research), but the hate leveled at it really doesn't help.

Still, it's just a matter of time before somebody--despite likely knowing I have already committed to rejecting any challenge that does come my way--is going to challenge me.  Really a "no" should more than suffice, but as I know that people don't think this way I would like to explain what about the way this is set up really bugs me.  In many ways, it has to do with the way online awareness campaigns are run in general.

You probably will find it familiar if you use Facebook, especially if the friends you keep on the site are of a wide, indiscriminate variety like mine can feel like sometimes.  Among my relatives, a favorite is those fucking Jesus posts about how "90% won't post this but I'm not afraid to stand up for my belief in God" shame posts.  These make me extremely uncomfortable.  They exist as a group shaming tactic and do very little to help any sort of real cause.

Now, the Ice Bucket Challenge isn't exactly the same, and it has helped contribute to a lot of money being donated for ALS.  To call it "do-nothing activism" is unfair.  The problem with it is that it relies on the invasiveness of a non-consensual ultimatum to force conformity through shame.  To simplify, you're socially forcing somebody to play a game they might not be willing to play.

In this regard it's similar to practical jokes.  Practical jokes are wonderful... when you consent to playing the game and the joker has a good sense of boundaries and common courtesy.  And as somebody who has worked at multiple summer camps--where pranks are a regular occurrence--I have witnessed some huge lapses in judgment in which somebody was embarrassed to the point of tears, had property physically destroyed, or was tricked into doing something against their religious or ethical beliefs, all in the name of temporary humor.

But that doesn't have anything to do with the Ice Bucket Challenge, right?  I mean, the choice is between donate money to a worthy cause or do something silly on camera.  No biggie!

The thing is, we don't know if it's a biggie or not.  Personally, there are plenty of organizations out there that are widely considered to be excellent, worthy causes that I don't want to support (or in the past was uninterested in supporting).  And my refusal to support these has led to some subtle but very painful instances of public shame.  Practically every year I've had somebody argue with me over my refusal to support the Salvation Army, lots of campaigns center around supporting deeply problematic organizations like Autism Speaks, and when I was still an animal rights activist there were multiple times when I was practically forced to contribute time or money to organizations that fund animal testing, especially in events like team fundraising competitions in my college dorms.

That said, for me the real problem is this forced ultimatum in which people are being "challenged" to support something they may or may not actually support, whether through "awareness" or through monetary aid they might not have the actual means to generate.

And no, I'm not going to go troll all your Ice Bucket videos.  I even helped somebody film one (because he wanted to and I happened to be there).  What I won't contribute to, though, is the culture of public shaming surrounding this kind of campaign.