Can a selfie save the world?
If you’ve been anywhere remotely near social media lately, you’ll know the usual celebrity selfies have been replaced with the now viral Ice Bucket Challenge. A viral ice water frenzy all in the name Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Motor Neurone Disease, a crippling neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
Granted, by the time you read this though, the ALS campaign will probably be on its way to social media heaven along with ‘neknominations,’ ‘Bring Back Our Girls’, ‘KONY2013’ and alike. While it was alive and posting though, the #icebucketchallenge was everywhere. I’ll be the first to admit I took great pleasure in watching Anna Wintour be bathed in water as frosty as her personality. But in terms of saturation, where did the appeal lie for the Vogue editor and numerous celebrities that took part? Surely the likes of Hollywood’s A-list are approached on a daily basis by numerous charities. So what was the appeal in supporting ALS?
Critics argued that the selfie-style campaign leveraged the narcissistic element of social media. Indeed Narcissus fell in love with his reflected image in a pool of water, so recording said water being poured on himself isn’t so far removed. The ALS challenge also presented an ideal opportunity to strip down to show off a perfect bikini body, a challenge celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Moss, Jennifer Lopez, Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora also nobly took upon themselves. It begs the question if the challenge had been shave for cancer, would the style set had been so quick to grab their phones?
As Arielle Pardes wrote for Vice Magazine, “There are a lot of things wrong with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but most annoying is that it’s basically narcissism masked as altruism.” Whether you call it posting in the name of narcissism, or even the new buzz word, ‘slacktivism,’ if it does help charity, then isn’t it a worthy trade off for the greater good?
In the case of ALS, the viral campaign was an undeniable success in terms of raising money, with the charity breaking the $50 million mark. While awareness for the cause has consequently increased, the purpose of the ice bucket challenge wasn’t always made so clear. In the case of David Beckham, Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga and Martha Stewart’s ice bucket posts, they completely fail to mention the purpose and charity at hand. Many of the videos also leave out that if their nominees fail to take the challenge, they have to donate US$100 to ALS.
Earlier this year the concept of a ‘no makeup selfie’ in the name of breast cancer awareness went viral in much of the same way. Once again tapping into instagram’s altruism via narcissism, the campaign involved nominating a friend to post a selfie while wearing no make and to donate money to cancer research. As a result the money did flow in, at last count managing to raise £8 million to Cancer Research in the UK alone. But how much of the message was actually lost in the medium of a flatteringly filtered selfie? The link between being brave by going makeup free and surviving cancer – a murky one.
So is this what it takes for charity’s to engage with the general public in the digital age? Apparently so. But if it means selfies in the name of a good cause, vanity or not, then maybe they can make a difference.
Image from Free People