Opinion: What’s the #ALSchallenge really about?

Yesterday I was nominated by my roommate Tom to do the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. I found out by watching his video on Facebook, in which he took some creative freedom by dumping a cooking pot filled with freezing water on his head while standing in his tiny Fulton Hall shower to avoid making a mess. Briefly, before my friend drenched himself and one of his many Star Wars t-shirts, he took a moment to explain that he was nominated, by his cousin, to either donate $100 to an ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or “Lou Gherig’s Disease”) charity of his choice or dump a bucket of ice cold water on his head before going to his bell boy job. Spoiler: He chose the latter, and subsequently nominated me with the same choice, and only 24 hours to act on it.

So here I am, with about 7 hours left to complete my challenge and/or donation, deep in thought. We’ve all seen the videos on Facebook; it seems that everyone chooses to forego the donation and dump a bucket (or cooking pot) filled with cold water on their head to show all their friends. With that in mind I’m finding it hard to reconcile whether setting up my camera, at a flattering angle of course, to film myself doing the ice bucket challenge is a small step in the larger framework of raising awareness for a debilitating disease, or simply a narcissistic pat-on-the-back and an excuse to show myself “humbly” accepting the challenge, making sure that I’m dressed perfectly for the occasion and well-groomed while doing so.

My other option, of course, would be to donate $100 towards ALS research. I think many find this the more honorable option, but I also think some people see it as a cop-out. I subscribe to the YouTube channel Theneedledrop, which is a music review and recommendation channel run by a man named Anthony Fantano. He, after being nominated by a fellow music reviewer, chose not to do the challenge and instead give a donation to charity. In his 3-or-so minute video explaining why he chose the less popular option, he states that “viral internet activism” seems to focus more on the ridiculous stunt (pouring water on your head) than the cause supported by doing said stunt. The response to his video in the comments section, amidst the liberal use of horrible grammar and offensive language, had the general consensus that Anthony essentially “chickened out” by choosing to donate rather than do the challenge. If I choose to donate instead of doing the challenge, maybe I will have missed the point of this whole thing to begin with.

Regardless, Anthony’s argument begs the question: would any of us be so involved in raising awareness for ALS if it didn’t involve acting cute or funny in front of a camera and broadcasting it to all our friends? What if the challenge involved doing something a little more difficult than that? I don’t think we would do it. It may be a pessimistic point of view, and I can’t deny that this viral challenge has indeed raised awareness and money for ALS research (which is fantastic, and something that I hope continues beyond this challenge), but I just want to make sure that I’m not doing this stunt for me and my non-ALS-having Facebook friends. If I can’t keep ALS research the primary function of this experiment, I think I probably shouldn’t do the challenge at all.

But before I make my decision, I’d like to nominate everyone to think about why they’re doing the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. I hope you’re not only doing it because it’s fun, but because of how important it is to selflessly aid medical research. Seven hours left, time is ticking.

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