In a video shared on Facebook yesterday, Jackass star Steve-O dumped a trashcan full of ice water on his head and then asked, “Did that raise any awareness at all?” The Internet lashed back — and not just because criticism of a stunt feels ironic coming a guy who's made millions hurting himself on camera.
Unless you’ve been lost in the wilderness for the last month, pretty much everyone on your Facebook feed — plus a ton of notables and celebrities — have been drenched with freezing cold water to raise awareness for ALS (more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease). The basic idea is this: Either give a $100 or dump a bucket of water on your head as penance. The person who gets soaked and posts a video depicting it then challenges three other people to do the same themselves — or donate $100 to a charity of choice (in this case the ALS Association).
And here’s the thing: It worked. The ALS Association has raised $11 million dollars more than it did at this time last year — and more than eight times as much as it usually does.
Enter Steve-O. In his Facebook post this morning (that went viral and ended up on the front page of Reddit), the stuntman explained his comments. The video of him dumping ice on his head is fun (if unremarkable, given what you’ve seen him do elsewhere), but his post is even better. He writes:
“The fact that not more than fifteen million dollars has been raised is a tragedy. It's tragic because I don't think many of those celebrities even bothered to mention how or where to donate money for ALS research. Most of them just poured water over their heads and named three random people, without including any 'call to action' which actually benefits victims of ALS at all.”
Steve-O goes on to say that he donated $1,000 himself after becoming further educated on the disease and the campaign, and implies that others should consider putting their money where their mouth is and do the same.
A little bit of background: The Ice Bucket Challenge didn’t start as an ALS fundraiser. It became associated with it after Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player who suffers from the disease himself, managed to steer a more general fundraising campaign to focus on Lou Gehrig’s. Frates forged a partnership with the ALS Association, who helped him promote the cause and tie awareness directly to the organization, and the rest is viral history.
While the ALS Association has released press release upon press release sharing how grateful and overwhelmed they are by the incoming charitable donations, it’s definitely true that we could be doing more — should be doing more, if you agree with Steve-O — and that Internet activism in general could use some serious retooling.
Internet activism is often a pretty lazy way of showing that you give a damn about something, and often not followed up with an real-life action (which, ya know, is the very basis of activism). Sure, lots of people have made donations to the ALS Association, which develops research on the disease and resources for the people who suffer from it. (A little more background: ALS affects about 30,000 Americans and people who have the disease tend to live for about two to five years following their diagnosis).
Looking at my own Facebook feed this morning, I counted 22 people taking ice baths on the Internet, ostensibly in support of a disease that doesn’t have a cure and is killing people every day… and I can’t help but wonder if they actually made a donation after toweling off. Because, if they didn’t, then all that’s happening is a virtual wet T-shirt conference — and the Ice Bucket Challenge is just another Internet campaign that won’t translate to real-life impact.