Picture if you will a billionaire sitting in his penthouse sometime in 2013 drinking whiskey with one of his equally wealthy friends. Often bored, our billionaire takes to eccentric thrills and pranks to entertain himself. Today he proposes a bet to his friend.
“I bet you the 60-foot yacht I have down at the marina in Manhattan that by the end of next year I can convince 10 million people to film themselves dumping ice water onto their heads and proudly post those videos online.”
The bet is accepted and our eccentric friend sets out to find a way to achieve his goal. He knows how eager Americans are to support non-profit organizations and charities and all the fun events they throw in the name of “helping,” “healing,” and “curing.”
So he bundles his little joke with trying to cure ALS, employing a sort of pyramid scheme called the “Ice Bucket Challenge” where a person who has dumped cold water on his own head dares another to do so and then pay it forward by daring someone else. And on and on around the world it roars until celebrities and even the head of the PGA Tour jump on the bandwagon.
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We’ve been here before. Pink ribbons for countless breast cancer marathons racing for a cure they never seem to find. Even the NFL makes their players wear pink for the entire month of October to “promote awareness” about a disease that doesn’t kill any of the players. (“But what about their mothers?!”) Ridiculous yellow rubber Livestrong bracelets were worn by the millions before poster boy Lance Armstrong’s reputation went down in a fiery crash.
How long will decent, everyday Joes allow themselves to be convinced to do stupid things under the guise of helping? Are they simply followers going along to get along, or is there a hint of guilt they’re trying to assuage by going through these motions that cost them nothing real?
There’s a famous book from the 1840s called “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” that chronicles historical examples of the herd mentality whipping people up into a frenzy. Examples range from the absurd Tulip mania in Holland to the violence of the Crusades.
I wonder if this Ice Bucket Challenge shouldn’t be entered as a chapter in the book’s follow-up. Does no one have any self-respect? Didn’t anyone’s mothers teach them not to let other people make them play the fool? (“But we’re having fuuuuuun!”)
And my god, these videos will be accessible for all time! In sixty thousand years when interdimensional alien archaeologists drop in to see what our species had been all about they will access the surviving digital archives and possibly find a video of you—not performing a violin concerto but flipping a bucket of water onto your head.
I do not accept the Ice Bucket Challenge. Shame on you all.