An Ice Bucket Challenge Backlash? Really!?

Is there no topic dull contrarianism won't plunder?


Predictably, this summer’s ice bucket challenge, which has raised millions for ALS research and clued a new generation (including my own children) into issues surrounding ALS, has created a backlash. Articles in Time and Philadelphia magazine, among many others, have criticized the challenge as either shallow, wasteful or even (despite all the money raised) counterproductive.

There have always been scolds and fogies, but the rise of the Internet and social media has turned reflexive naysaying into something of a sub-genre of media commentary. I’ve decided to call this dull contrarianism, because these arguments are rarely more interesting or clever than the parent at the Slip’N Slide party who starts talking about kids losing eyes.

OK, sure, some people who have heard of the ice bucket challenge don’t know it’s for ALS. Yes, it arguably lacks the gravitas befitting conversation about a tragic disease. Admittedly, it does indeed take energy to make ice. (I’m not making that up — someone has registered this as an objection.) Are these really good reasons to put down a fad that’s raised nearly $23 million for ALS research? I say they are not.

In fact, the arguments against the challenge kind of piss me off. Jacob Davidson, in Time, says the challenge is “problematic in almost every way” — excepting the many millions raised to help fight the disease, I guess. He also “doubt[s] many learned a whole lot from contextless tweets of wet celebs smiling and laughing.” This is demonstrably untrue.

In an age when young people are constantly browsing endless streams of ephemera on Instagram and Twitter, are we really going to complain about something that gets them to stop for a minute and focus their attention on a money-raising effort? For many, the ALS connection will not register. For many more, it will. I’ve heard conversations about ALS and Pete Frates among some of the young people in my life. This would not have happened without the ice bucket challenge.

Maybe it’s a feeling of genuine distaste for the idea of people enjoying themselves on behalf of a serious cause. Maybe it’s a lingering puritanical streak. Maybe it’s an ocean of online commentators desperate for something to say. Whatever it is, let’s stop being buzzkills and let America have some fun and do some good this summer.

Jim Sturdivant is a Philadelphia writer. Follow @Jim_Sturdivant on Twitter.