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The hot and cold of the #ALSIceBucketChallenge

Even former US president George W. Bush has taken the 'ALS Ice Bucket Challenge', in this still image taken from a video yesterday, courtesy of George W Bush. Bush posted video evidence of his soaking on Facebook, after being drenched by his wife, former First Lady Laura Bush. – Reuters pic, August 21, 2014.Even former US president George W. Bush has taken the 'ALS Ice Bucket Challenge', in this still image taken from a video yesterday, courtesy of George W Bush. Bush posted video evidence of his soaking on Facebook, after being drenched by his wife, former First Lady Laura Bush. – Reuters pic, August 21, 2014.Since it went viral, the ice bucket challenge – or the #ALSIceBucketChallenge as social media users know it – has become a worldwide sensation, drawing in millions of people to soak themselves on camera.

The challenge is pretty simple. If you have been challenged or dared (usually by someone who was challenged themselves), you have 24 hours to douse yourself with a bucket of water and ice cubes, and then challenge three more people to do so.

If you opt out of getting drenched, you then have to donate US$100 (RM317) to a charity that funds ALS-related medical research.

There is a lot of ambiguity in the challenge as some say if you decide to take it on, you must soak yourself and donate US$10 to the foundation while others give you the "either or" option.

What exactly is ALS? A genetic disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is more commonly known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease". It is a motor neurone disease that is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

Simply put, the condition disables the patients' brain's ability to initiate and control muscle movement and with voluntary muscle action progressively affected, ALS causes paralysis and can even be fatal.

The ALS challenge kicked off in the United States with the likes of Microsoft's Bill Gates, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and former US president George W. Bush taking on the challenge. Among the other big names were TV celebrities like the queen of talk shows Oprah Winfrey and Oscar-nominated actor James Franco.

Thousands of average Joes and Janes who are not as famous as them have been sporting enough to capture the act of getting drenched and posting them on social media, in support of a good cause.

Needless to say, the trend which has spread to Asian shores, has also received its fair share of criticism, also by Malaysians who lament how its citizens have jumped on the bandwagon on an illness that is a rare disease amongst their fellow countrymen.

There were also some who pointed out it promoted "slacktivism", in which those who did not want to donate to the cause could just dump a bucket of cold water on themselves.

Tongues are also wagging if the main purpose of the challenge was shifted to attention-seeking social media users, mainly because ALS was hardly mentioned in many videos.

Pettier still, possibly for KL-ites and Selangorians, is the issue of water wastage.

Still, at least in the US, the ALS Association website says contributions have reached a whopping US$15.6 million as of July 29 – almost 10 times more than the US$1.8 million raised in 2013.

The figure is substantial, especially for a non-mainstream disease and could benefit research into medication.

While the contributions are aplenty, the association is also grateful for the spreading of awareness on the disease which affects one in 10,000 people annually.Khairy, wearing the Harimau Malaysia football team jersey, takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with a tribute to a national football legend, the late Mokhtar Dahari. - August 21, 2014.Khairy, wearing the Harimau Malaysia football team jersey, takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with a tribute to a national football legend, the late Mokhtar Dahari. - August 21, 2014.

"We couldn't be more thrilled with the level of compassion, generosity and sense of humour that people are exhibiting as they take part in this impactful viral initiative," ALS Association president and CEO Barbara Newhouse was quoted saying.

While ALS seems rare here in Malaysia, one known figure who has succumbed to the disease and brought awareness to it locally was Datuk Mokhtar Dahari – a legendary footballer and national icon in the 1970s and 80s.

After battling it for three years, Mokhtar passed away in 1991 at the age of 38. Another well-known Asian sportsman who was diagnosed with ALS is South Korean basketball player Park Seung Il, who is still battling the disease.

Hence, the burning question... is dumping a bucket of iced-water on one's head and passing the trend around really making an impact it was set out to make here in this nation?

Unlike America, there is no known ALS association in Malaysia. As such, many Malaysians who accepted the challenge are opting to donate to "any legitimate charitable cause of their choice".

Among the local famous faces that have accepted and completed the challenge are Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, radio and television personality Azura Zainal, supermodel Amber Chia and Penang's George Town Festival festival director Joe Sidek.

"I enjoyed doing it, (but I'm) not sure how effective (it was, in terms of awareness) but at least it got people to look up about it," Sidek told The Edge Financial Daily.

Khairy tweeted: "My #IceBucketChallenge is for arwah Mokhtar Dahari who I named our national football academy after. He passed away from motor neuron disease."

Radio and TV personality Azura Zainal pours a bucket of ice water on herself in her front lawn to show her support for the cause. - August 21, 2014.Radio and TV personality Azura Zainal pours a bucket of ice water on herself in her front lawn to show her support for the cause. - August 21, 2014.Also sporting enough to take up the challenge was child rights activist Dr Hartini Zainudin and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who will carry out the act today.

In other parts of Asia, superstars Andy Lau, Jay Chou and Zhang Ziyi have also been swept into the craze. Even Singaporean Mandopop duo By2, and members of Taiwanese band Mayday have been taken into the ice-cold challenge.

In India, musician Daler Mehndi was the latest to jump on the ice-bandwagon, and even daringly nominated Bollywood superstars Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra.

Thus, is the challenge causing more harm than good?

Despite the backlash, it did fulfil the intention it set out to – to raise money and awareness to the cause. Besides, who does not want to see their favourite celebrities getting wet, cold and uncomfortable – even if it is only for a few minutes. – The Edge Financial Daily, August 21, 2014.

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