The Ice Bucket Challenge, and Why Your Meme Isn’t Funny

If you’re on social media, or watch the news, or live within reasonable proximity to another human being, chances are you’ve heard of The Ice Bucket Challenge.

For those of you who haven’t, it’s an awareness campaign for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Several variations of the challenge have been circulating, but the gist is that if someone challenges you, you are given two options: donate $100 to the cause, or film yourself pouring a bucket of ice water over your head. 

The challenge has gone viral on social media, extending to professional athletes, celebrities, and politicians. The campaign has raised over $15.6 million in less than three weeks, compared to $1.8 million over the same period last year.

But of course, as night follows day, it has also generated its share of skepticism – since it seems most people would rather do the challenge than the more arguably beneficial option of donating. The term “slacktivism” has been thrown around a lot.

The meme factory started churning out its usual…




And my personal favorite:


I understand the temptation to criticize, I do. The challenge is a little annoying in its own right, and it’s gone so damn viral that there are probably more people participating in your newsfeed than not at this point. Posting a witty quip that makes the general populous look superficial and cheap, while simultaneously making you look like the altruistic voice of reason is downright tantalizing. (…And sure, it does seem a little silly that so many are ready to dump ice water over their heads before contributing to the actual cause.)

But what I think people are forgetting is that it’s an awareness campaign. Ideally, yes, it will equate to more dollars in the bank… but first and foremost, it was an attempt to bring an issue to light, which has had almost no exposure in the last century (hence the fact that it’s still best known as the disease that killed a professional baseball player in 1939).

And while pouring water over your head might not cure anybody, it will certainly get some attention. Then, by challenging someone else (three people, actually), you are exponentially increasing the impact of this effort. They will each either donate, or bring awareness to three more.

This is the power of a human network, and it’s working.

Did you even know what ALS was a month ago? Probably not. But now? It’s on the forefront of everyone’s minds, every social platform, and the subject of all kinds of media attention. That $15 million came from 307,000 new donors, who had never been involved with the organization at all before.

Not to mention the irony that those who criticize this act as “slacktivism” are, in essence, slacktivist hypocrites. You care just enough to criticize others… for not caring enough. But your advocacy apparently stops just shy of actually doing anything. The same can’t be said for those who voluntarily took an ice bath for a cause.

Ultimately, slacktivism or not, it’s doing a world of good and that should be all that matters.

So, those of you posting shaming memes: Take a deep breath, carefully climb off of your high horse, and let the people tip their ice buckets in peace.

5 thoughts on “The Ice Bucket Challenge, and Why Your Meme Isn’t Funny

    1. This is only giving a false inflated public ego to a disease that has had only one approved drug with all funding combined. And what about other deadly diseases pushed to background.. Sounds like harm to me. Get off your high horse..

      1. Hi Thali, thanks for your comment. This topic is definitely worthy of examination, and you (and the rest of the internet) are certainly entitled to your opinion. But here’s my problem with your argument:

        1. A “false inflated public ego”? We’re not talking about Johnny Manziel here, we’re talking about a disease. One of the most common neuromuscular diseases worldwide – with 15 new cases being diagnosed every day, and 70% of people dying within 5 years of diagnosis. I’m having trouble understanding what is ‘false’ or ‘inflated’ about wanting to bring attention to this.

        2. “Only one approved drug with all funding combined”? First of all, that ‘one approved drug’ didn’t spring up until 1995 – almost 60 years into funding and research. Cures aren’t discovered overnight, and I think it’s absurd to say “Sorry, with all the funding you’ve received combined, you’ve still only come up with one drug so therefore you don’t deserve any more money.”

        3. “What about other deadly diseases being pushed to background…” Are there people taking money from other causes and giving them to this one? If so, that comment makes perfect sense. Otherwise, no, I’d have to argue that people donating money and attention to ALS has absolutely no effect whatsoever on other deadly diseases. No one is making the case that ALS is the only disease worthy of attention, and I doubt a single dollar raised came from someone who said “Well I was GOING to donate this to cancer research, but NOW thanks to this ice bucket challenge, I’m going to give it to ALS instead.” The point of the campaign was to bring people from inaction to action. Not to sway people from one cause to another or push other diseases into the background. If anything, hopefully this campaign is generating interest in helping on a more macro scale.

        4. “Sounds like harm to me.” Ultimately, this is my biggest issue with all of the ice bucket challenge’s opponents right now. Because no, I’m sorry, none of your points above equate to HARM. Whatever problems you have with the campaign, or whatever other causes you think deserve more attention, the net result of this viral sensation is still a positive gain for the ALS Association and those suffering from it. If you feel passionately enough about another disease, or world hunger or any other cause… go do something about it. Don’t lazily scoff at those participating in this one and think that counts as activism. That’s my whole point.

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