Dumping a Bucket of Ice on Your Head Does Not Make You a Philanthropist
Unless you lack access to the internet, you’ve certainly seen the viral onslaught of Ice Bucket Challenge videos in the past few weeks. The idea is to dump a bucket of ice water over your head and “nominate” others to do the same, as a way of promoting awareness about ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease). If you don’t accept the challenge, you have to donate $100 to an ALS association of your choice. It’s like a game of Would-You-Rather involving the entire internet where, appallingly, most Americans would rather dump ice water on their head than donate to charity.
There are a lot of things wrong with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but most the annoying is that it’s basically narcissism masked as altruism. By the time the summer heat cools off and ice water no longer feels refreshing, people will have completely forgotten about ALS. It’s trendy to pretend that we care, but eventually, those trends fade away.
This is the crux of millennial “hashtag activism,” where instead of actually doing something, you can just pretend like you’re doing something by posting things all over your Facebook. Like the Ice Bucket Challenge, good causes end up being a collective of social media naval gazing. We reflected on our favorite social-movements-gone-viral and found out what happened to them after the fell off our Twitter feeds. Because, yes, social problems continue even after you stop hashtagging them.
Before hashtags even existed, there were still ways to obnoxiously flaunt a social cause that you had no real connection to. Remember Livestrong bracelets? Those rubbery yellow bracelets were the brainchild of Lance Armstrong, who sold them through the Livestrong Foundation to raise money and spread awareness about cancer. Everyone from Lindsay Lohan to Johny Kerry sported one on their wrist; wearing them signified that you were both sensitive and stylish.
At least the dollar you spent on the stupid-but-trendy bracelet went toward funding cancer research via the Livestrong Foundation. Or at least, so you thought. In actuality, the Livestrong Foundation started phasing out its cancer research in 2005, and stopped accepting research proposals altogether just a few years later. Over 80 million of the bracelets have been sold. Where the hell did all of that money go?
The world was more than a little shook-up when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti, burying at least 200,000 people and destroying much of the country’s infrastructure. #Haiti became thesecond-largest trending topic on Twitter that week, and was the subject of at least 15 percent of tweeted links in the week afterward. Remarkably, many of those links directed people to donation sites. Even the Red Cross mobilized on Twitter, encouraging people to send donations and spread the word about #HaitiRelief.
Social media may have actually done Haiti a solid, helping to raise $8 million in relief funds. But, like all things on the internet, they lose their luster and their urgency, and we forget about them. It’s been four years since the Haiti earthquake and although those initial donations made a huge impact in rebuilding the rumble of Port-au-Prince, there are still at least 150,000 Haitians living in the plywood shelters in relief camps. Earlier this year, NPR reported that many of these people are living without water, electricity, or light. Why isn’t anyone tweeting about that? Because #Haiti is so four years ago.
The Dark Continent
This is the second chapter of Robert Young Pelton and Tim Freccia’s sprawling 35,000-plus word epic exploration of the crisis in South Sudan. We will release a new chapter daily, but you can skip ahead read the full text here or watch the documentary.
Do not believe almost anything you read or hear about Africa, especially concerning the continent’s cultural sensitivity, ethnic peculiarities, or borders. The source of this information usually has an agenda, is an outright bigot or moron, or has some misguided notion of how African salvation might eventually occur at some wholly imagined point in the future. Forget everything and just be honest: Greater Africa is a country, or is at least treated as one by most of the world, no matter how politically incorrect it may be to plainly state such a thing. It’s a market and a marketing hook; it’s a carefully analyzed genre of the fashion, music, and travel industries; and above all else, it is and always has been a singular obsession of the West. It’s the place somebody is always trying to save.
Read “The Dark Continent,” Chapter Two of VICE’s Saving South Sudan Issue
Why the #CockInASock Thing Is Vain Bullshit
Last week, 2.6 million women sacrificed their makeup, raised their tired arms in the air, pouted, and took a #nomakeupselfie to raise awareness for breast cancer. This week, boys have found their own inane counterpart: the #cockinasock.
The cock-in-a-sock concept, though probably as old as socks themselves, was most memorably championed by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and since then it has gone from strength to strength, appearing in American Pie and bringing the homoerotic LOLs far and wide, from boarding school dorms to stinking holiday flats in Tenerife. That is, until now, when it’s become the latest weapon in the fight against ball cancer.
If you’re wondering what putting a sock on your dick and posting a picture of it on the internet has to do with raising money for charity, the mechanism is the same as the #nomakeupselfie. Take your picture, text the word “BEAT” to 70099 to donate three bucks to fighting cancer, and then encourage the giggling co-workers on your Facebook page to do the same. It’s the kind of viral campaign that gacky brand marketers strive a lifetime to come up with.
The Problem with Charity, by Doug Stanhope
This May, I was in my usual spot on the couch in Bisbee, Arizona, drinking plastic jug vodka and watching CNN jam microphones into the faces of distraught victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes. They all thanked the Jesus for sparing them, for taking their homes and belongings instead of their lives, and for killing their neighbors instead of them.
There was a video that had just gone viral of Wolf Blitzer repeatedly asking a meek and polite young lady if she thanked the Lord for her good fortune in not being killed. She stammered and then said, cute as a button, “Actually, I’m an atheist.” As always, Wolf looked like a big smacked dick.
As I was watching, a crawler at the bottom of screen told me how to send money to the Red Cross via text message. I thought how funny it would be to have a fundraiser for just that one chick—fuck all her Okie-Christian neighbors. They’re with God. We’re atheists. We don’t have Christ. We gotta take care of each other.
CNN is very fickle in how long they give a fuck about any given tragedy, so I jumped on the computer, figured out how to use a fundraising site—not an easy task for a guy who still uses Hotmail—and by morning had ”Atheists Unite” on IndieGogo.com. A few tweets and Facebook posts later from myself and thousands of other ordinary, caring people—plus some big shots like the Richard Dawkins Foundation, Penn Jillette, and Ricky Gervais—and the virtual cash register started chiming away.
Burning Man Vs. Superstorm Sandy
Union Beach, New Jersey, like much of the state, is a mess thanks to Superstorm Sandy. Its residents who are sticking it out and hoping to rebuild have to figure out a way to clear their lots of debris and condemned structures. Regular relief groups don’t provide aid for this kind of work, and contractors aren’t going to cut a break for flood victims. It has left an altruistic void, one that has been filled by a bunch of people who every year head out to the middle of a desert in Nevada to do a bunch of drugs, dress up like gay aliens, and light a bunch of shit on fire.
Yes, a small group of Burning Man enthusiasts have rapidly formed what appears to be an extremely efficient charitable organization that helps people in ways more bureaucratic organizations can’t.
Wijbe Abma Started a Charity in a Syrian War Zone
Kilis, like most border towns, feels like a bastardized, slightly less-racist Wild West: gossip spreads, people pass through, supplies (legal and otherwise) are bought and sold. In this particular border town, however, it feels like that sense of transit is more tangible than in most. Kilis, in southern Turkey, is the gateway to Aleppo, a key battleground in the ongoing conflict in Syria and one of the oldest cities in the world. Unfortunately, with fighting normally including stuff like shells, explosions, and carnage, a good deal of old Aleppo is being devastated.
This border town is also the home of Wijbe Abma, a 21-year-old “freelance” aid worker. He runs Don’t Forget Syria, an idea that started small and has snowballed to a size the founder is not quite comfortable with. It’s one man’s plan to bring aid directly to civilians within war-torn Aleppo. On his first run, he gave out 100 blankets, but his idea was picked up by the press, donations flooded in, and he now has $17,200 burning a hole in his PayPal account, a logistical clusterfuck to untangle, and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) trying to sell him flour.
A few months ago Wijbe was a regular student, traveling home from a year of teaching, drinking shochu, and banging out karaoke in South Korea when he found himself in Antakya in southern Turkey, now home to thousands of Syrians. Here a Syrian man from Aleppo told him about his son who’d been killed by regime shelling. They talked about his troubles and what was left of his city. Like many Syrians, confused and angered by the lack of international assistance, he asked: “Why won’t anyone help?” Wijbe decided to stop partying and do something.
Wijbe selecting blankets.
"It started very small," he says. “I decided to do myself what all of the NGOs had talked about, but none actually seemed to be doing.” The idea was simple; he would walk across the border at Kilis to the makeshift camps in Syria with a couple of blankets in a rucksack, give them out to those in need, and keep traveling.
On arrival, he realized the problem was larger than he’d initially thought. The camp was dismissive and Wijbe began to feel powerless when it became apparent that no one would allow him to choose who to help. That autonomy is something Wijbe takes seriously. “More important than aid that helps is aid that doesn’t harm. The only way you know someone isn’t taking it all and selling it for weapons is to do it yourself,” he said.
Motivated, he left and founded his own aid project, committing $920 of his savings for the first 100 blankets. A Syrian friend tells me he originally bought one and slept under it for a night to test it. He caught a cold for a week, threw it out and found thicker, warmer blankets. With the help of Syrian civilians he took the blankets to Aleppo and went door to door. Each blanket came with a letter, in Arabic, explaining that it came from an individual with a desire to help and show that someone cared. On the way back their car had a dozen rounds fired at it from a nearby army base, which is a novel way of saying thank you.
Fred Sasaki Tried to Get Boston University to Build a Statue in His Honor
The following correspondence is from a manuscript of emails titled “Letters of Interest,” by Fred Sasaki. Subjects arise from spam and angst, anger and absurdity, frustration and fuckall—Eros and Thanatos from inbox to inbox. Enter to witness non-consensual collaborative narrative.
[We have left the following emails unedited in the interest of full disclosure and larfs—Ed.]
Boston University Alumni Update
From: Kean, Steve <email@example.com>
To: Fred Sasaki <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Allenby, Daniel E” <email@example.com>
Cc: “Sacks, Benjamin E” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Rodriguez, Stephen M” <email@example.com>
Date: Thu, Dec 22, 2011 at 1:54 PM
Thank you much for your inquiry and your interest in making BU a part of your estate planning! Before we get to that step, I would affirm your desire to meet and discuss this with your family. Identifying the items and the recipients in the will is a wise first step.
Once you’ve detailed the items and recipients, the next logical step is to think about an appraisal. In terms of tax/estate implications, the IRS generally requires an appraisal for all material gifts in excess of $5,000. This is of clear benefit to your family and to any institution that you would make gifts to now, or with your estate.
With an understanding of your collection and its value, it would then be worthwhile to begin a conversation with you about ways in which your collection might benefit BU. I’m not aware of any faculty doing research or teaching on numismatics, nor can we predict the future likelihood of such a faculty endeavor. So my advice would be to begin thinking about how your artifacts might potentially translate into a “Fred Sasaki Fund” (or some other designation that properly captures your connection and passion for BU). It would be a joy to dialogue with you about what a “Sasaki Fund” might look like and what you might like it to achieve.
Thanks again for taking the first step in reaching out to us. I look forward to continuing this discussion.
Happy holidays and best wishes for the new year.
Chief Advancement Officer
College of Arts and Sciences, Boston University
595 Commonwealth Avenue, Suite 700
Boston, MA 02215
Support BU today – https://www.bu.edu/giving
From: Fred Sasaki <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: “Kean, Steve” <email@example.com>
Cc: “Allenby, Daniel E” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Sacks, Benjamin E” <email@example.com>, “Rodriguez, Stephen M” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wed, Jan 4, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Hi Daniel, Benjamin, Stephen, Everyone,
It has been a long holiday, and my legacy conversations were met with high emotions, low expectations, and tears as usual. Apparently my family does not appreciate me in certain ways. For example, the only thing they gave me was a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, which is good whiskey, but also depressing. Speaking of which, I first heard of Johnny Walker at Boston University, between you, me, and the birds!
Seriously, everything I have I will leave to Boston University, I guess. (Actually, I did receive for Christmas my grandfather’s old tailor scissors that he also used to clips his nose hairs and my grandmother’s old knife, that she used to cut things with. Those I’m keeping.) I will write out an itemized list of things for you all. Divide them as you like. Will you need photo documentation, too? I will accompany the list with an appraisal, of course.
Also, I like the idea of establishing a “Fred Sasaki Fund.” Very much. Let’s do that.
I’ll send the list tonight unless I fall asleep early, which has been a problem lately. So let me know about the photos, etc.
Thanks for being there in this time of decision.
From: Kean, Steve <email@example.com>
To: Fred Sasaki <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Holland, Lindsay C” <email@example.com>
Cc: “Allenby, Daniel E” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Sacks, Benjamin E” <email@example.com>, “Rodriguez, Stephen M” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wed, Jan 4, 2012 at 3:24 PM
Happy New Year Fred and thanks again for your desire to support BU with your ultimate estate gift.
At this point, please allow me to introduce Lindsay Holland. Lindsay works in our Planned Giving division (and she visits the Chicago area from time to time as well) and she will be able to walk you through the next steps of the planned giving process.
In terms of the “Fred Sasaki Fund,” that is a conversation that Lindsay can start with you after we have a better impression of the magnitude of your ultimate gift. For your information, we currently have two different gift minimum levels: an endowment requires a $100,000 gift, and it then produces annual revenue (currently 4%) for use according to the donor’s intent; and an expendable fund requires a $10,000 gift, again, spent according to the donor’s intent, but typically used in a short period of time.
Thanks again for your interest. And I hope to be able to visit with you in the future.