Monday

December 22nd, 2014

Our Wacky World

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge the new selfie?

Reg Henry

By Reg Henry

Published August 22, 2014

Boston Red Sox get in on the act
Not to put a damper on ice buckets, but...

If you are on Facebook — and if you are not, let me just observe how well that speaks of you — a strange phenomenon has undoubtedly come to your attention. Many of your friends and relations are pouring cold water over their heads.

This is good in many ways. Who hasn't wanted to pour cold water on their friends and relations on occasion? Now they are doing it themselves to save you the trouble. But, as always, the temptation to pour more cold water on a good practice seems irresistible to those of us in the curmudgeon community.

What is going on before our social media eyes is the so-called Ice Bucket Challenge on behalf of the ALS Association, which has raised buckets of money thereby. As of Tuesday, according to a press release, this method has raised $22.9 million for the association, which translates to 453,210 donors.

A number of explanations for the challenge have been offered. It seems to have evolved from people flooding themselves for fun to goofing off for a charitable purpose. Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball captain who is an ALS patient, is prominently credited for promoting the challenge as a way to raise donations to help others with the disease.

The point is that some professional marketing genius in a fancy suit did not think up the idea; it appears to have just sort of happened spontaneously. The ALS Association was as surprised as anyone to discover that it was suddenly Christmas in July (and August).

As well as the great flow of cold cash, the other windfall is recognition for ALS, a cruelly progressive neurodegenerative disease for which no cure exists.

Merritt Holland Spier, the executive director of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the association, reckons that until the buckets came out, half the nation didn't know what the disease was. She marvels at the fact this transformative moment in public awareness is happening 75 years after Lou Gehrig, the Yankees great, was diagnosed with ALS and made it known to the world.

It would take a very disagreeable sort of person to raise objections to any of this — and I know just the man for the job. Me. I am a dry sort of character and, when it comes to the Ice Bucket Challenge, I fully intend to remain dry.

As mentioned above, I think the ALS Association is the champion of a great cause and its good fortune is not to be begrudged. I get it: Just as it's an ill wind that doesn't blow somebody some good, it is a chill water that doesn't do some cause some good. And if people want to pour ice water on themselves, fine — just don't involve me in their damp ambitions.

When it comes to public enthusiasms, I am the sort of person who refuses to do "the wave" at the ballpark. It seems to me that it is an insult to the game to be so bored by the action that you have to throw your arms in the air in rhythm with thousands of others similarly in need of distraction. Besides, what does the smell of 30,000 exposed armpits do to the concentration of the pitcher and batter? It is not helpful. Lou Gehrig would have agreed with me on this.

True, with the nation steaming with various problems and frustrations this summer, an excuse for people to pour ice water on their heads is obviously tempting — and maybe helpful to public morale.

But to disagreeable me it is the "selfie" culture gone awry. It provides the chance for people to make a little speech before they douse themselves and show how brave they are. But, hey, it's only cold water. It's not going to kill anyone and we know what's going to happen: The challenge-takers are going to get wet. Big deal! I have a shower every morning and I spare everybody the sight.

Notwithstanding the large donations, I suspect some people are all bucket and no checkbook. According to one version of the challenge, you pay only $10 if you get wet and $100 if you are challenged and refuse. Some people surely pay the bigger amount no matter what. But human nature being what it is, some people can be depended upon to show off for nothing.

If anyone is going to do it, do not use a kiddie-sized bucket, as I saw one of my sisters-in-law do. And don't bother challenging me, Janie, just because I called you out. I am staying dry.

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Reg Henry is deputy editorial-page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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