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Ice bucket challenge ‘narcissism masked as altruism?’ Oh for Pete (Frates’) sake.


“It’s like a game of Would-You-Rather involving the entire internet where, appallingly, most Americans would rather dump ice water on their head than donate to charity,” writes Arielle Pardes at Vice. “There are a lot of things wrong with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but the most annoying is that it’s basically narcissism masked as altruism.”

I might have slung the same cynical attack until I saw the ESPN video about the man who inspired the ice bucket challenge (Pete Frates).  

If Pete isn’t criticizing people for wasting water or calling the selfie videos narcissism, why should anyone else?

Even if this me-me-me video isn’t your style and the ice bucket movement makes you want to vomit because it’s showy or “slactivism” rather than hands-in-the-trenches activism, focus on this: 

To date this “narcissism masked as altruism” has raised $15 million dollars.

But for a moment, let’s notice the elephant in the room. 

No news here. We’re a selfie, narcissistic generation.  And for those of us raised without chronicling our everything on Facebook and Insta-me+us, many a thirty-something+ it appears, likes it (Facebook that is, not Instagram where the youth ran to hide from parents who invaded Facebook).

I admit sometimes I’m visually overexposed on Facebook but to be fair I’m usually tagged by someone else. 

This clearly begs for a bullshit call-out.

“Then in the name of give-us-a-break, humility and if nothing else, self-respect untag  yourself!” If I like the picture I don’t untag myself.  I of course, am the only woman my age powered by vanity, a particularly loathsome trait among some old guard feminists who rail against today’s feminist in unapologetic stilettos. 

(My brassiness is inspired by my forty-eight year old midlife confidence and (probably) because I’m reading Erica Jong’s “Fear of Fifty” and literally gasping and applauding at her balls to wall candor and dissection of double standards). 

As far as “overexposing” ourselves for a cause, its working

Social media moves mountains faster than email or the newspaper in your driveway.

If social media antics didn’t send ripples across the nation corporations and non-profits wouldn’t bother, noting it as a fad by a few (million) self-absorbed non-buying consumers.    

The success of the ALS ice bucket challenge understandably upsets other charities but it wouldn’t be the first time righteous jealousy spawned new ideas and made a radical difference in fundraising. The sand in the oyster irritates itself into a glorious pearl.

Social media posts gone wild inspires and irritates people into bantering it out, the requisite cow pokes to get us off our apathy.

Say 50,000 (I’m just guessing) people did the ice bucket challenge for fun and 10,000 coughed up money, who cares?  The video loosened wallets (many of them high-profile celebrities).

Generation Next. Social media is how they hear. They listen. They watch. They feel. They share.  And some of them, do. 

P.s. After my daughter did the ice bucket challenge I asked her if she was willing to donate some of her own money to ALS because that was the bigger point. She said yes. Days later when I asked her for the money she reminded me I still owe her money from last week when she wen to the mall but she would donate anyway. I told her I got her covered. 

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Laura G Owens

Writer. Blogger. Essayist. My focus is wellness, social commentary and personal essays that explore the messiness of being human. Our ambivalence. Our uncomfortable feelings that when revealed, shed shame and reveal our authentic selves.

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Site last updated March 14, 2024 @ 3:00 pm; This content last updated August 20, 2014 @ 12:15 pm

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