Yes, certainly raising awareness—and funds!—for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a great thing.
But there are nuances to social-media-dependent awareness-raising that need to be considered, where the point can so easily be missed, and what goes viral is something other than what was sought. The bandwagon after all is a scary thing precisely because it is unthinking and out of control, and no matter how intelligent one might be, it is easy to get lost in the mess.
And so it is that the past couple of days I’ve seen local TV and showbiz go the way of Hollywood. Newscasters of ABS-CBN’s Morning@ANC gave us some wet t-shirt action on live TV. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has no fear of ice! the headline said. I fear the President himself just might do it.
Then again, the Presidential sister has done it already, and maybe she saved us all from the sight of a President all wet in his barong. Kris did it on Live TV, too, while standing in a kiddie pool.
Mimicry always becomes us.
What was the challenge about?
While in the Philippines, the first batch of videos went “viral” enough to appear on most everyone’s Facebook News Feeds – and enough to actually get me to click on Lady Gaga’s video, there was obviously very little thought put into the sharing and liking and retweeting of videos that barely even talked about ALS.
We do uncritical sharing well.
If we are to believe the interwebs, it was on August 6 when the ice bucket challenge was launched, but the celebrity kick-off that made it to my Facebook News Feed last week, was that one with Justin Timberlake. I realized then that too many were sharing and liking JT’s video—and most every other celebrity’s—but not really framing it in what it actually was for.
On August 13, Time.com published a piece entitled “We Need To Do Better Than The Ice Bucket Challenge” by Jacob Davidson, where he reminds people of what exactly the challenge is. It is really quite simple. People agree to throw a bucket of ice water over their heads, and challenge three other people to do so. Those who refuse to do the challenge are asked to donate to an ALS charity.
To Davidson, this was the problem with those videos gone viral: those videos that have celebrities and people getting doused with water is the opposite action to donating to the cause of ALS research.
That is also what George W. Bush hits on when he says he ain’t gonna throw a bucket of ice water over his head, and so he will just write a cheque (after which his wife Laura promptly throws a bucket of water over his head); as it is what’s in Patrick Stewart’s video, showing him writing a cheque, and then taking some ice from a bucket and fixing himself a drink.
After Davidson’s article, and at least in Third World Philippines, what began showing up on my Facebook News Feed were videos of celebrities doing the ice bucket challenge by first explaining what it is about, and encouraging people to donate. News articles about who did the challenge recently would now mention that so-and-so celebrity threw a bucket over their heads and donated some cash, too!
Certainly the awareness might be higher, as is the funding. This does not mean that this challenge, obviously conceptualized for going viral, means real changes.
Say, the fact that 16 members of the US Congress who have done the ice bucket challenge actually also cut funding for the National Institutes of Health, which in turn meant a cut in funding for ALS specific research (New York Daily News 21 Aug, Huffington Post 22 Aug).
There is also the fact that we are at a time when we know that what goes viral can be used as a smokescreen for the many things that are going on. This ice bucket challenge, for example, did not just happen alongside many other ailments in need of funding, but also alongside the killing of one Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri.
Actor Orlando Jones doused himself with a bucket filled with bullets, so that he might talk about how lopsided it has been, how the attention has been focused on this ice bucket challenge versus the challenge “to listen without prejudice, to love without limits, and to reverse the hate.”
And then over on Canada’s current affairs weekly Maclean’s, writer Scott Gilmore writes about “Why the Ice Bucket Challenge is bad for you” (24 Aug), talking about how ALC in fact gets enough funding at least in Canada, given how rare an ailment it actually is. It also isn’t urgent, he says: “ALS research is not an urgent need. If you want to help where time is of the essence, then look to Syria (greatest international refugee crisis in a generation), Ebola (now a full blown global health emergency), or the Central Africa Republic (quietly bleeding to death unnoticed by the world).”
Third world copycats
Which is not to say this is not worth doing. But there is a need to contextualize it better, especially given the amount of money that’s already been raised, and the kind of awareness-building the challenge is supposed to have achieved.
Locally, the newscasts of the past week have been talking about ALS, with some featuring people who are actually living with the disease. Yet one wonders how exactly Kris Aquino, Anthony Taberna, Pinky Webb, Dingdong Dantes, Marian Rivera, Aga Muhlach help Pinoys afflicted with ALS, when the ALS organizations that they mention (if at all) are actually based elsewhere?
How does it even trickle down to the poor Pinoy who is made even poorer by an ailment that is difficult to diagnose and care for in this country?
And then there is the question of just basic healthcare really, and the truth that in this country people are still dying of pneumonia and tuberculosis, when the former has a high cure rate and the latter is already a treatable and curable disease elsewhere in the world.
According to Department of Health (DOH) data from 2009, the following are the top 10 causes of death in the country: disease of the heart, diseases of the vascular system, malignant neoplasms, pneumonia, accidents, tuberculosis, chronic lower respiratory disease, diabetes, nephritis/nephrotic syndrome/nephrosis, and certain conditions originating in the perinatal period.
It seems the Pinoy celebrity can do better than to mimic what Hollywood is doing. We’ve got tons to worry about in this country after all, and many health conditions to conquer that are specific to here and now. I mean, let’s talk about the state of healthcare in the Philippines, talk about the fact that people are still dying of diseases and conditions that a functional healthcare system should be able to take care of.
Matt Damon actually does it better than many-a-Pinoy celebrity: he decides to douse himself in some toilet water, refusing to waste clean water on such an act, and asserting that toilet water in the Western world is cleaner than what the rest of the world gets, if they get any water at all.
Meanwhile the Pinoy copycats are getting the mileage that they need. Now that’s what we call a baket challenge.