© Anthony Quintano

The Media Reader : Ice Bucket Challenge

Typically in social media, people practice peer reading or peer sharing which almost always comes with the view or a heading from the person who is doing the sharing. A restricted mind will always find it difficult to jump over the perception thrust on the viewer by his peers or the medium.I hope this piece is one in a list of many(by me) which focus on how some news or event in mass media is misconstrued by its readers either because of lack of rationale or excess of emotional outcry.

In July 2014, an online challenge began spreading like wildfire through mass media. Suddenly every other social entities and non-entities were dumping a bucket of ice /cold water ( dollar bills — in Charlie Sheen’s case) over their heads and posting it online and challenging their friends to do the same. I am of course talking about the Ice bucket challenge. I first came to know of the challenge when i saw, Novak Djokovic pouring ice water over his head and posting it online to challenge 3 additional people.

MRI Image consistent with diagnosis of ALS | © Frank Gaillard

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease is a degenerative motor neuron disease (MND), a disease of the motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. After nearly 80 years of scientific research, we are no closer to a positive treatment of this disease than we were 75 years ago when Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with it. The average life expectancy after diagnosis ranges from 2–4 years with deteriorating life quality; though with some extreme statistical outliers like Prof. Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with the disease in the early 60s at age of 18.

The Ice bucket challenge addresses 2 things

  1. Raising awareness of the disease
  2. Raising funds
© Joep Bos-Coenraad

However, the ice bucket challenge faced lots of criticism. The criticisms were

  1. Why waste a bucket of water? (Especially by Indians who Never Waste any water — Holi must be a foreign import)
  2. There are loads of other deadly diseases and rarer diseases. Why just focus on ALS?
  3. The ALS foundation works with stem cell research and animal research. The research is proven to be futile for over a century. Why waste more money?

I find the earlier two criticisms particularly disheartening. An average urban Indian from western Maharashtra uses from 5–10 buckets of water daily on most of the 365 days of a year with some days exceeding this number substantially. This criticism also comes from people who during times of impending droughts have played the famous Indian color festival with gusto. Someone will ask why the bucket ice/water? Can’t we just spread the awareness without the ice. We can. But not any comparable rates to what we witnessed these last few months. The chief reason for the viral success of this challenge is not the severity and tragedy of the disease but the meme itself. People enjoy dumping themselves in ice water and challenging others to do so. Period. In addition to this when someone understands the challenge for what it is, I am pretty sure the reason only encourages already excited people. We need potentially virulent memes, otherwise the noble causes will never be realized to the scale they otherwise can be.

I agree that there are plenty of other terminal diseases which need attention too. But most of the common terminal diseases like Cancer, AIDS already have reasonable footage and awareness associated to them. It is estimated that ALS is responsible for nearly two deaths per hundred thousand annually yet it has obviously failed to create impact contagious but much lesser diseases make. Despite being a known disease for decades, ALS patients still faces marginalization, especially in benefits, insurance and employer policies. Owing to a lack of prerequisite, the otherwise available help is, at times denied to ALS patients on grounds of technicality. The Ice bucket challenge has managed to do something unprecedented.

Lets throw in some figures.

During this period, other charities like Cancer also have managed to increase their tally of collections substantially; so the point that ALS was hogging the funds from other diseases is a ludicrous suggestion.

Whether or not the money raised from the Ice-Bucket Challenge will make likely to accelerate the process of finding ALS cure (Point#3) is beyond the scope of amateurish blogging.

In India, a similarly named challenge called the “Rice bucket challenge” also took off in a second half of 2014. In this challenge instead of “wasting” a bucket of H2O, people donated a bucket full of rice to the needy and challenged their friends and so on. The rice bucket challenge has certainly done some good in the country like India but the false binary comparison of these 2 challenges is completely spurious as one challenge tackles awareness raising of a fatal disease while the other tries tackling poverty and hunger. I have no intention of belittling the problem of poverty and hunger, but when does 1 time donated food solve the problem of long-term hunger. It just takes up the approach of loving the poor in a manner reminiscent of Mother Teresa but does nothing whatsoever to ensure that the poor cease to remain hungry. Last but not the least i would like to note that even this challenge used the name and fame of the ice bucket challenge become something substantial in-spite of being reactionary in nature. The poor have been starving for centuries in India.

The habit of prejudging information and trends can be deeply inconsistent and problematic, especially for the high dopamine millennials.Some in-depth thought must to prevail over preconceived and ill-judged notions of right and wrong in this information age.In-spite of all the cynicism over the meme of Ice-Bucket challenge, I must say that large amount of people got awareness about this terminal disease only because of the virulent meme (or wasteful method as some call it).

Thus one must understand that no process is fully beneficial but when the positives outweigh the negatives numerically as well as qualitatively one can firmly take a stand.


Originally published at thethoughtnow.wordpress.com on March 16, 2016.

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