ALS ice bucket challenge is narcissistic. So what?

by Jeff Turkelson


As of August 19th, the ALS Association had received $22.9 million in donations nationwide compared with $1.9 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to Aug. 19), according to the organization’s website.

There are many criticisms of the ice bucket challenge, some of which are more valid than others. A particularly interesting one to me, though, is the idea that the viral stunt is an exercise in narcissism. If that were the case, I should think the material benefit (millions of dollars raised) would outweigh the social taboo of celebrating one's own virtues. And maybe it shouldn't be considered poor taste to flaunt charitable acts if it results in more charitable acts. Narcissistic philanthropy is still philanthropy.

The more nuanced criticism is that supposedly, a lot of people are doing the ice bucket challenge and not donating, leaving nothing but the narcissistic display. But if that display is part of a rippling effect that encourages others to donate, is it still something to criticize?

The ice bucket challenge might seem to roughly follow the 90-9-1 rule. Ninety percent of people are doing nothing but dumping ice. Nine percent are donating and/or dumping ice. One percent are surfacing new causes through use of the meme. People criticize that "90" percent for being narcissistic, but it is necessary to prompt the charity of others.

It is a beautiful thing that such a maligned behavior trait can be converted into producing a tangible, positive impact. Would the virtue of modesty produce a comparable outcome? Does this complicate the aspiration of designers looking to provoke behavior change?