There isn’t a cat who hasn’t caught the ice-bucket action on social media of late. The thing has gone so viral that you could even say it was an epidemic. That the challenge has infected local celebrities has been cause for comment, lament, and some spillage (literally). Problem is, it’s spilled over from the Internet [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

For folly, ice is also great, and would suffice to treat


There isn’t a cat who hasn’t caught the ice-bucket action on social media of late. The thing has gone so viral that you could even say it was an epidemic. That the challenge has infected local celebrities has been cause for comment, lament, and some spillage (literally).

Problem is, it’s spilled over from the Internet to your local neighbourhood celebrity, superhero, and superheroine (and I don’t mean ‘Wariyapola Girl’, more about who next weekend). It’s no longer a silly, ‘Western’, far-removed-from-us fad. The ice-bucket challenge has captured the imagination of the jet set, the beautiful people, and our small but charismatic sporting pantheon alike.

Could it be that we are so bored, so naive, so lacking in a sense of proportion and perspective, that otherwise commonsensical people have succumbed to the craze?

Could it be that for all our disdain of trends and whims and fashions that are en vogue in the ‘decadent’ West, we still blindly ape some cults that are so haute that they’re hilarious? And make monkeys of ourselves in the process and into the bargain?

Let’s back up a minute. Begin at the beginning, as the Ice Queen said to next-door Alice. Then go on till you reach the bottom of the barrel – and don’t stop until you have poured out (and poured over yourself) the last drop…

The so-called Ice-Bucket Challenge has been in the social media spotlight since May this year. Some versions of it may antedate to 2013, even. Since its inception in a good cause – awareness raising for ALS (do you know it, dears?) – it has undergone a sea-change into something rich and strange.

Originally, you had to be filmed dumping a full bucket of icy cold water over yourself, or having someone do the honours for you. If you funked it or flunked it, you paid US$ 10 – or, in some versions, US$ 100 – to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association. As the craze caught on, those who were dunked got to challenge their heroes or iconic American or international (same difference) cult figures to do the same. As the craziness spread, some stars and superstars grew the game to the legendary status – often being doused with freezing H2O and paying up all the same; thus defeating the purpose of the whole thing.

Wait, there was a purpose? Other than freezing your, er, frontispiece or cooling your, um, fundament before potentially billions of anonymous watchers online? Yes, there was. It was to raise awareness about ALS, or Motor Neurone Disease as it is known in the UK, or perhaps more ‘popularly’ “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”: thus named after the famous Yankee baseball player who went public with his diagnosis for the same reason. To raise awareness, and to raise funds to fight the terrible wasting disease, most famously suffered by super-physicist Stephen Hawking.

But while the playboys (and playgirls) of the Western world sported in this wet-T-shirt contest for a cause, the critical sights were already being brought to bear on sense and reason. This was good for ALS, but it was leeching off potential funding for equally debilitating diseases. While the objective was noble, the naysayers and axe-grinders noted grimly that the public – the idle rich as much as middle-class suburbia – were having far too much fun in what was essentially self-indulgent pseudo-activism. Maybe most tellingly, as the likes of multibillionaire Bill Gates reminded voyeurs and ‘clicktivists’ (armchair activists a click away from action), the point was to donate money to charity – and the point was being lost in the deluge of social media trivialization of a worthy cause.

When the trend captured the puerile imagination of impressionable Sri Lankans, even otherwise level-headed citizens were tempted to stand under the bucket and invite their co-activists to splash them right and proper. Photos of cricketing superstars and glamorous entrepreneurs began to take on an infectious viral temperature. For a while the average middle class city-dweller watched the madness whimsically. Thankfully, reality and a sense of proportion and perspective then introduced a more sensible note into the proceedings.

Get real, said some: This is a stupid short-lived feel-good trend that could do more harm than good (some people actually died of vagus-nerve irregularities causing shock-induced heart attacks). Get realistic, said others: What percentage are actually donating money, over and above the publicity-stunt motivation and the fifteen-minutes-of-fame aim? And what percentage of monies parted company with actually ended up serving ALS aid/research? Get responsible, said some others: Folk in eight districts of your country are struggling to scrape the bottom of a bottomless well in the Dry Zone, there’s a longer drought impending, and here you are splashing water around as if it was to be found on the ground. Er, well…

But you get the point. And many fair, unfair, and unfathomable points were made against the madness and mayhem. Some statistics stretched credulity. One meme on Facebook had it that while an estimated 6,000 people died of ALS each year, a mind-boggling 6,000,000 perished annually for lack of sanitary water. So sentiments against the phenomenon were beginning to grow strong and indignant.

By the time you read this, multiple thousands of gallons may have been spilled in what has been concurrently and simultaneously argued as a good cause and a lost cause. For all the hype and hoopla, it has established a few things about the human race and fallen human nature, to my mind, at least. Let me leave those with you, dear reader, in question form…

Would you douse yourself (or let someone else do so) with the contents of a cold water bucket for the sake of charity? Would you be willing to fork out a thousand bucks – or Rs. 10,000 at the upper rate – to be spared the chilling experience? What would persuade you to part with a significant part of your earnings for the sake of some forlorn sufferer of a deadly wasting disease?

If someone else were to opt for one of the two options above, would you discourage them or encourage them to cease and desist – because you, or the watching world, or superficial commentators on social media thought it was silly or a waste of time and water? Whose opinion – over an aim or an objective – counts, for you?

Should social media be taken seriously as a prompter and provoker and agent provocateur of behaviour change and manipulation? Could it work if it didn’t? Why does it? Is that a good thing, or must it be resisted by right-thinking people?


All these heated debates and pointed questions – and the sight of some lovely young ducks taking to the water like, well, lovely young ducks – has made me all hot under the collar and bothered to boot… Where’s that bucket, dear Lisa? And is there any ice in the cooler?

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