Not Funny

This fire/fire extinguisher thing is killing my sense of humor.  If you’re on social media at all, you’ve probably seen the videos of people dumping buckets of ice water on themselves as part of the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) ice bucket challenge.  The deal is that if someone tags you, you either donate money to an ALS charity or dump a bucket of ice water on yourself.

Someone has responded by creating this:


Look, people should post what they want, and I can see how yet another social media meme that doesn’t accomplish anything would trigger this kind of cynicism.  I understand the humorous intent, even if I don’t think it’s funny.  There’s an underlying tone of unnecessary meanness and disdain in the humor that led me to do some research.  Guess what I found out?

The ice bucket challenge is getting shit done.  Most of the people who have dumped ice water on themselves have not done so to avoid donating money to an ALS charity.  It hasn’t been “either/or,” it’s been “AND.”  How much “AND”?  At least $16 million as of Monday, and another $8.6 million on Tuesday alone.  To put that into perspective, consider three things:  (1) ALS charities report that the amounts they’ve received in the last month or so range from NINE to FIFTY times as much as they normally do; (2) the amount spent annually by ALS charities and the U.S. government put together is $80 million; and (3) ALS charities now have the names of over 70,000 new donors (as of Saturday) whom they didn’t have to pay anything to acquire and will focus on converting into repeat donors (this is how every charity out there works).  It took me a single Google search to find out that information – maybe the cynics could have done the same?

Here are a few other things that hit me the wrong way about that picture.  (1) Someone found a random photo of a skeptical black (I don’t know whether he lives in the U.S. or not) child and (2) decided to make him the poster boy for not having access to clean water.  I did some cursory research to see if I could find a photo credit for the original picture or at least some context about who this boy is and why he has the look on his face that he does.  (3) Much like a lot of crap on the internet, nobody has credited the original photographer.

Maybe I’m reading way too much into the reasons someone used this particular photo (that kid’s expression is priceless).  Maybe the person who selected the photo did so only because of the adoreableness of the boy’s face, but part of me wonders if his race played a factor (I saw other captions that hinted at that).  The use of the term “clean water” smacks of an accusation of “first world problems,” which is seriously one of the most condescending and thoughtless things that I think people can say.  Also, why is there no photo credit?  Why do we think that plagiarism is ok as long as it’s on the internet?

I realize that engaging in this conversation constitutes starting a fire, or at the very least adding gasoline to an existing one.  Nobody who participated in the ice bucket challenge has expressed any sort of hurt feelings or offense at this photo.  I haven’t been tagged myself.  (If you tag me, it will be an “either/or” rather than an “AND,” and the “either/or” will not be dumping ice water on myself and posting video of it.  Even though it’s hot enough in Texas right now to make this refreshing, my mom is home, and this is the kind of thing where no amount of explaining would be enough, although she would probably enjoy dumping water on my head.)

I think most of the people posting this photo probably don’t have any bad intent in their hearts and minds.  Several don’t have a problem with the campaign but with the waste of water (clean or otherwise).  Whatever your position on the water aspect, it’s the ice water dousing that’s bringing in all the money.  Regular challenges bring in $1.7 million; this gimmick has brought in well over $16 million.

I recognize that many parts of the country (including mine) are experiencing severe drought conditions that are having untold impact on farmers and the environment.  I hate that this has turned into an ALS v. drought conversation because it purposefully misses the point and misunderstands what motivates people to participate and give.  It also makes the perfect the enemy of the good: “you did something good, but you didn’t do it the way that I would do it, so you’re wrong and/or stupid.”  That’s gasoline and a match, y’all, not a fire extinguisher.  Don’t fool yourselves into thinking that it’s not.

Also, the same “clever” person who came up with this photo’s caption could probably have done drought awareness a lot more good if that was the intention.  All he/she had to do was drop the critical component and make this an “AND” (ALS donations AND no water waste!) situation rather than an “either/or” (you have to pick ALS OR drought, and if you pick ALS, you either suck or you’re stupid).  Missed opportunity, little troll.  This photo and its caption hurt my soul because together they encapsulate so much judgment and criticism and cynicism into such a deliciously consumable piece of candy.

When I was in college, I made fun of the humorless bitches that so many feminists seemed to be.  Now I am one.  I don’t think it’s funny to mock people doing good in the world.  I don’t think it’s funny to steal someone else’s work and potentially misappropriate its intent.  I don’t think it’s funny to assume things about people.  I don’t think it’s funny when your humor comes at someone else’s expense, especially when those someones are making a difference.  I think a binge-watch of “Parks & Recreation” may be in order.  In the meantime, here’s what started the challenge in the first place.

[Edited to add that a friend of a friend found a website that gives credit to the photographer of the image above — the little boy is from Uganda.  I also found this, which made me cackle out loud.]


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