A cold shower for a good cause

A cold shower for a good cause
Red Bull Racing team members dumping ice water onto Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge ahead of the Belgian F1 Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps.

"Can you imagine, the biggest names in the world of sport, business and entertainment, all obeying this strange order to throw ice cold water on themselves and then asking their friends to do so within 24 hours?" an acclaimed actor asked me in utter amusement.

We were on a Skype call and he asked me what I was writing on this week. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, of course, I answered. Can I afford not to, I asked.

It is a pointed question. Hidden in it is one of the contributing factors to the phenomenal success of the challenge. It is essentially a social phenomenon. One that would not have been possible without social media.

The operative word is "social".

The driving engine is peer pressure. One that involves A-list celebrities and notable names around the world.

If you think you are somebody, someone with a standing in a community or an industry, can you afford not to take up this challenge?

Are you not glad someone nominated you so that you could join the league of "Who's who" having fun with ice water for the whole world to see?

Of course, it is for charity. For a good cause. Which makes this challenge meaningful.

It started on July 31 when Peter Frates, a former Boston College baseball player who was diagnosed with ALS, challenged some friends and celebrities to "strike out ALS", which is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

This year will be remembered as the year this challenge rocketed to social media supremacy. It has raised about US$80 million (S$100 million) so far.

As with every phenomenon of this scale, there are detractors. Naysayers like Chow Yun Fat have criticised it for wasting water, while a campaign against this challenge is slowly gaining traction, led by people living in drought-hit countries.

Some say it is indulgent and encourages narcissism by asking people to post videos of themselves in the act.

Certain quarters are asking people to donate to more needy charities and a hybrid - the Rice Bucket Challenge, which encourages donations to countries and places where the most basic food supplies are needed - has taken shape.

Some of us are curious to see how the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge will evolve.

So far, George W. Bush, Oprah Winfrey, David Beckham, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi, Teo Ser Luck, Fandi Ahmad, Glenn Ong, Jean Danker - and just about anyone who is anyone - have taken up the challenge.

In fact, it is easier to name those who have not or have yet to take it up.

With time, those who take up the challenge have another challenge - to be creative, to keep it inventive and fresh.

Patrick Stewart managed to do so without getting wet at all. Lau staged his multi-camera act almost like a movie.

So, is this challenge about a good cause or is it about being elitist, about not being left in the cold by the famous?

No matter the answer, it is clear that the year's biggest viral trend is not about any single person. Rather, it is one of the best examples we have seen of the Internet's amazing ability to connect people and spread ideas.

A cold shower it may be, but it is a fund-raising drive that has united the biggest names around the world like never before. How cool is that?

myp@sph.com.sg

The writer is a film-maker and life coach. He blogs at danielyunhx.com


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