What the Internet, and social media especially, has allowed us to do is to market ourselves more thoroughly than we’ve ever before been capable. This allows entrepreneurs to simply make a Facebook page, and all of a sudden they now have a free advertising space where they can post random shit about whatever it is that they do. Maybe they make aprons? Who knows. Anyway, it’s a sweet deal, let’s be honest. But what Facebook and other social media also does is turn individuals into brands. Not just the products and services that participate on social media, but people themselves sell their Self as a sociable human being. Have you ever lamented being tagged in a bad photograph? It’s bad publicity. I read an article that spoke about the implications of only seeing the happy, fun, exciting things that everybody seems to be doing on Facebook, and how that lie influenced people. We all have problems, and when we see how awesome everybody else’s life seems to be, we feel even worse. This is a bit of a tangent, but the relevance of the article is that everyone wants to project an image of themselves that is successful, fun, and adventurous, and hide any sort of distasteful aspects of themselves. We sell ourselves to the public, and we want them to buy into us.

When we realize that this is who we are in a social media setting, we realize that any sort of activism rings just as hollow as a mega-corporation donating a few bucks to a charity for the tax write-off. We are projecting the image of activism for the sake of our branding, and this leads to is what is sardonically called Slacktivism. Slacktivism is people who may genuinely care about things, but can’t actually be bothered to do anything tangible about them. So reposting a status update, or changing your profile picture for a day, or pretty much anything to do with “raising awareness” would fall under the blanket of Slacktivism. As you might be able to tell, this accomplishes nothing, but does give off airs of humanism to those who might be paying attention.

That isn’t to say the activism doesn’t sometimes sneak through every once in a while, but when it does, it is packaged in such a way as any other form of mass media drivel. Successful activism today must fit the same criteria as a Jimmy Fallon bit: easily digestible, bitesize, palatable content that is inoffensive and safe. It is activism you might find on a Buzzfeed page with a catchy title. This is the kind of activism where the gimmick is more popular than the cause. One such example is my most favourite thing in the world: Movember, but the most recent explosion of gimmicky activism is, of course, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Don’t get me wrong. Having a charity drive for something other than the cancer of a private part is so God damned refreshing. And the number of lives that will be saved because of the millions upon millions of dollars being raised for an admittedly worthy cause is incalculable. So what am I griping about?

Let’s look at the Ice Bucket Challenge. Its success doesn’t come from the fact that Lou Gehrig’s Disease is a particularly prominent condition, as it is heart disease that afflicts most people in North America. Nor does its popularity stem from any kind of advertising campaign based on what ALS is:  its causes, its symptoms,  its treatments, or anything actually relevant to the disease itself. Its success comes from the fact that the gimmick associated with it is “fun”, its process is incredibly public, and celebrities are doing it. The cause itself is also a safe one, as no cultural norms need to be upheaved in order to cure a disease. It is a safe disease even, as heart disease would mean admitting that there is an epidemic of over-consumption in our culture.

Is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge about ALS, or is it about the person who is dumping ice water on themselves? Does it promote the cure for the disease, or the “charitable” nature of the the person participating in it? The cause or the brand?

Do the ends justify the means? Regardless of the method of raising money, there has been a significant charity drive for ALS. I’m sure a sufferer of this condition couldn’t give a fuck about what I think about the Ice Bucket Challenge, and honestly, more power to them. But what the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge means is that those causes that have a bit of an edge to them, that can’t fit into an easily-digestible 30 second video clip; those become even more difficult to market, as the market shifts towards the Social Media paradigm of harmless activism and status updates.

Were genuine, hard-hitting causes to show up in a Facebook newsfeed, not only would they be seen in the context of cute cat memes and travel pictures, but they would also be in the company of slacktivism and gimmicks that degrade the nature of progress.

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