Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.
I wouldn’t even have known if it hadn’t popped up in my Twitter feed, one tweet among ten-thousand, as likely to go ignored as any of the rest. Maybe it was the bright-red Time logo that caught my attention; maybe I had just grown tired of retweeting butt jokes. “Watch Hugh Jackman kickstart the 2015 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge!” it read.
The words were like waking up from a scarcely-remembered dream, like the faint taste of smoke dying on my tongue. I dug through the mothballs in the back of my skull to drag out the long-neglected memory of what an “Ice Bucket Challenge” was.
Was that only a year ago? Wow.
I retweeted it with the comment, “Coming up next: Watch Hugh Jackman make LOLcats a thing again.” It didn’t get a single fav or retweet, so I guess it wasn’t as funny as it seemed in my head.
Nothing ever is.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up.
In my memory, the Challenge glints like something almost oppressively sunny. Together we can find a cure! Take the challenge! Invite your friends! Somehow I never received an invite myself, but it seemed like everyone I knew on social media had. I watched their faces—so many known to me only as polished selfies—take on the distortion of the cold and the wet, humbled but smiling.
Like “All About That Bass,” the Ice Bucket Challenge took the summer of 2014 by storm because of its inherent contradictions. Like the perfect summer day, it provided a cool reprieve from the relentless heat. Like the best social media posts, it was pure narcissism disguised as philanthropy. Like the best charity crazes, it let you feel good about yourself without actually having to do anything.
It had managed to pull ahead of ten thousand other charity campaigns to become a full-blown Internet craze simply by tapping into the fuel of social media: it allowed each participant to cast himself as The Hero.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
I knew the bell had begun to toll, though, when people started talking about stem cells. The revelation that some of the money the ALS Association was receiving might be going to fetal stem cell research was enough to crack the façade of the briefly-united Internet, and suddenly the standard parade of moral posturing had shattered the dripping smiles. The Ice Bucket Challenge had progressed through the life cycle all Internet memes do—from novelty to obsession to excuse for self-righteous fistfights—it had been just as mortal as any other meme all along.
And then, like all memes, the Challenge breathed its last—in part because no one sipping a pumpkin spice latte feels like dumping ice over her head, and in part because, like a sunny summer day or a bright red popsicle, no Internet meme was ever made to last forever.
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.
With the coming of winter, the Internet, like everywhere else, became a dark and unfriendly place. The screaming match over Ferguson cast a shadow over Thanksgiving, leaving deep wounds that still glow like embers. Like the Ice Bucket, the succeeding parade of Hot Social Media Topics—police brutality, Caitlyn Jenner, Kim Davis—all allowed whoever was weighing in on them to cast himself as The Hero, but unlike with the Bucket, The Villain in the story was always a flesh-and-blood human, not Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The moment of unity briefly brought on by the Ice Bucket Challenge had disappeared along with summer’s fleeting innocence.
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
I myself scarcely feel like the same person who lived in the summer of 2014. The novel I was wrestling to perfect day and night back then has now sold; the days I spent taking my daughter to our apartment complex’s pool have given way to days spent chasing my new baby around my new house as she learns to crawl. The summer sun of 2014 is long gone, and the orb of 2015 is already waning.
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.
The posts promoting the 2015 Ice Bucket Challenge use the slogan “Every Summer Until There’s a Cure”—a quixotic sentiment, no doubt, but almost depressingly naïve if we’re honest about it. For every charity campaign that catches on, there are dozens that disappear into the ether without raising a cent. The IBC caught on due to a chance confluence of heat, boredom, and self-absorption. It succeeded as spectacularly as it did mainly due to timing.
It’s just too late now.
At the moment, it’s 5:30 a.m., and I’m writing this piece on the first truly cold morning since March. I almost took my laptop out on the porch, but instead I’m huddled inside in a hoodie with a hot cup of coffee. And all I can think is, Why would they wait so long?
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
So often the words that sound the most mundane, like those of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, turn out to be the most profound—only revealing their vast expanse of meaning as you grow into them. There is a time for everything, and while it’s sad for the ALS Association, I’m fairly certain that the time for Ice Bucket Challenge has come and gone. If they had launched the sequel back in June, it might have seen some success this year, but since so much of its appeal was its novelty, even then I doubt it could have grown into the $100-million juggernaut it became a dozen months ago.
You can almost taste the hubris, really: Ice Bucket Challenge was a huge success. Let’s just repeat that success! But while the ALS Association may have created the Challenge, they didn’t turn it into a success. Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything; but God provides the growth.
It’s something to ponder as the year descends into the winter that killed the Ice Bucket once and will no doubt kill it again soon. The grass withers and the flowers fall—and so do we all.
Image by Kyle Nishioka via Flickr.