Essay: Thoughts on the #ALSIceBucketChallenge

If you grab a hold of anyone, literally anyone right now and ask them ‘What’s the biggest social media syndrome these days?’, it would probably be guaranteed that they will answer: “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”. With the self-explanatory title, the ‘viral’ quality of putting something that can be interpreted as fun – more like downright hilarious in some cases – on video and posting it on social networking sites, and ‘nominating’ the next three people to either donate or go through the same ordeal, this campaign has probably had the most success in the least amount of time, and the most recognition out of the most recent funding events.

A brief explanation about the event (although I’m sure everyone knows about this already but just to make it a well-organized post): ALS(Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), more commonly referred to as Lou Gherig’s disease in certain countries. One of its most well-known victims is the scientist Stephen Hawking, and as we see in his case, reduced to a helpless state on a wheelchair that will only get you so far (even if it didn’t – much to the great relief of the scientific community – affect his ability to come up with genius scientific theories), ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that will most commonly lead to loss of control in the muscles, and eventually an early death (in most cases). The ice bucket challenge was coined from a previous awareness campaign that based itself on cancer research – once you are nominated by someone, you either donate 100$ to the ALS foundation or douse yourself in a bucket of ice water, nominating another three people in the process.

It is simple, it is (ironically enough) fun, and it is effective.

Of course, as all events are, it is not without its points to criticize. Many people have pointed out the fact that this is something that we’re supposed to approach with sincerity and not as a joke. The amount of water put to waste by all the people dumping buckets of it on their heads are also an unrecorded, but nonetheless severe consequence of the event. More practical concerns include the fact that the concentration of attention and donations to a single community out of the sheer millions of medical conditions – out of which ALS is far from the only one that needs more attention and more donations -, the sustainability of the donations, the effectiveness considering the usage of the money donated – there are many points to reconsider, and while it is obvious that the intentions of the campaign are admirable, the consequences and worries which it brings to mind are also not to be ignored.

Some concerns are easily discarded – for example, people are worried that the viral factor of the challenge, the ice bucket part, distracts people from fully understanding that this is a very severe problem and thus requires our very serious attentions. However – and it must be noted that this is merely a personal opinion – those people, I think, are taking things far too seriously. I’ve seen people on facebook practically condemning others for having laughed, for having not kept a straight face while they were doused in water. The Korean media – who loves to make things look as if they are better and more important than they are – even came up with the idea that the ice bucket factor was there so that participants would be able to ‘feel the pain of muscle contractions that the ALS patients go through daily’. Other than the fact that this is completely false (the ice bucket factor was coined from a cancer donation campaign that preceeded this one, not even to mention the fact that the pain of ALS is not something as light to be compared with merely a bucket of cold water), I think people are overlooking the fact that this is a campaign to raise awareness out of all things. Oftentimes, commercials or other advertising methods also take the form of short, well delievered humor, because it is effective. The same goes to this occasion as well. To think that the method itself is devoid of the humor factor seems ironic to me. And if it helped – well, it certainly reached the intended goal of awareness.

(This does bring upon the question of whether or not the ends can justify the means, however. However, in this particular case, especially since the means aren’t malintentional but more along the lines of ignorance when it does come into play, my belief is that when such good comes out of it, the possible errors made from ignorance can, indeed, be justified)

Of course, other problems are not so easily ignored. The most serious of which being the sustainability of the donations, and its repercussions to the ALS community. The Ice Bucket Challenge, long-lasting and influential as it was for a simple social media syndrome, is essentially that: a syndrome. In other words, it is, by definition, meant to be a one-time event. The ideal outcome of this flow of events would have been the people influenced by the proceedings of this event to maintain a continued interest, and support, to the ALS community. However, it goes without saying that the maintenance of this level of attention and support is borderline impossible; and that fact might end up doing the ALS community more harm than the good that it did. One side of analysis is a simple observation of market economics: if the value for something, expressed in the forms of investments and the like, rises astronomically in a short period of time, the cooling off period might bring the value of the said commodity down to a level even lower than it had been before. Applied into this situation, it could mean that the donations and the level of interest, having peaked so suddenly, might drop back down to the near-ignorance levels of before or even worse; to become practically forgotten.

Another problem is that research or any form of investment made by the ALS community would end up being unsustainable; rendering them unable to utilize the precious donations in the ways it would help the most. Medical research is a tricky and complicated procedure; you never know what exactly you’ll be able to achieve. Even with the astronomical amount of donations happening right now, it will inevitably run out at some point, which, when the time comes to it, will open up significant complications.

But, despite all such reservations and depressing possibilities (and let me add once again that these were just personal opinions and predictions on my part), I still do support the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It raised donations that would otherwise have not been used to any constructive purpose, it has helped the ALS community itself immensely already, and will continue to do so in the future if coupled with the correct judgment on how to handle the donations. But I also dearly hope that the attention doesn’t dwindle too drastically once everything cools off, and that more people would become aware of the situations of minority medical conditions. The value of human life and dignity aren’t something to be decided by how profitable it could be; I hope that the Ice Bucket Challenge has also helped in refuting that particular status quo, as it has done for me and several others.

(on a completely unrelated note; Stephen Hawking has survived with ALS longer than any medical professional would have predicted – does that mean his status of Great Scientist and thus the subsequent amount of support might have possibly helped his survival? Or is it completely irrelevant? Something to think about, I guess)


Movie Review: Maleficent

I had the luck of viewing maleficent at the sixth of June, when my sister had come over to visit. And while I know it’s a bit late and behind in the times, I thought this movie would deserve a proper review :)

I’ll admit, I wasn’t completely overjoyed when I heard that it was going to be a story on how Maleficent was taken wrongly despite being a very nice person. I’d expected a more… to be perfectly honest, a more villain-esque backstory, about how she became evil, not how she became to be perceived as evil. However, despite being initially put down by the setting, I was able to enjoy the movie a lot, thanks to the extremely smart portrayal of emotions, character development, and various themes, albeit with a bit hackneyed plot.

The plot was…. well, I won’t spoil and I’ll try to be unbiased, but it couldn’t be denied that it was indeed a little bit obvious as to where it was going. (My sister and I were literally grabbing each other in expectant panic when the climax of the movie arrived, both of us wishing that it wasn’t going where we thought it was going) Flipping the original notions of good and evil on the character development stage did bring about a pleasant twist in the viewer’s point of view, though. Because in the original Disney animation, we didn’t exactly get a story as to what exactly had happened. Strictly speaking, it would have been unnecessary in the original animation because that movie had been a direct adaptation of an age-old fairy tale, (albeit not so direct as to make it family-friendly) but the characterization in Maleficent, giving an explanation that goes against what we would normally expect, I thought this, again, told us that we shouldn’t take things at face value. If I were to read a bit more into it, I would say that this was also an attempt to break stereotypes.

We grow up – or at least grew up, since I don’t know how parenting has changed in the sixteen-and-a-half years since I was born – reading fairy tales, most of which are very similar to each other. Usually, there will be a castle, and royalty. Occasionally, there will be a brave commonfolk who manages to fight and achieve his way into the realms of the royals, who marries the princess and lives happily ever after. Now, the feminism in this movie is already brought into the spotlight, told as following up the notion of ‘I’m no damsel in distress, waiting for a prince to save me’.(But I’ll admit, feminism-wise, the part that I liked the most wasn’t the ‘I don’t need a man’ attitude, not because it’s not true but rather because I thought it was being portrayed in a rather, much like the plot, hackneyed and over-exaggerated way. That particular viewpoint was better represented in Frozen, in my humble, individual opinion.) However, this movie also rebukes the old notion that the princes and princesses are all good people. Of course, I do observe an increase in stories that start along the lines of: Once upon a time, there was a wicked king, whose kingdom lived in fear of his wrath….and so on. But the fact that the ‘Wicked witch’ is the protagonist, the ‘fairies’ actually incompetent fools, and the ‘royalty’ the antagonistic entity, we are brought to another shift in perspective, that just because it’s a fairy tale doesn’t mean that we have to try to fit ourselves into a certain frame of observance.

The reason why I’d wanted the villain-esque story to be represented was because of the fact that hatred and maliciousness were perfectly human emotions that everyone is capable of having, but at the same time one that is carelessly cast aside. I didn’t want this story to be about a misunderstanding – I wanted Maleficent to be driven by hatred, something that cannot be considered as a misinterpretation of ‘good intentions’. Because sometimes, we in the real world are motivated by hate. We make mistakes, we feel malicious, vicious emotions towards other people, and we don’t feel guilty about feeling that, about feeling ‘human’. I wanted Maleficent to be unapologetic, to be motivated by the vicious emotions that sometimes hit the best of our kind, no matter how nice someone is. And as for that category, I think this movie fulfilled exactly what I had wanted to see.

Essay/Review: The importance of self acceptance(‘Wicked’ viewing 20140426)

Last month, right after the midterms, I had the pleasure of viewing the Korean production of Wicked the musical. :)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a hardcore Wicked fan, and I am utterly devoted to the original cast. Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth are and will always be my Elphaba and Glinda. But- this particular cast, Park Hye-na as Elphaba (who also voiced the Korean version of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen) and Kim Bo-kyoung as Glinda, moved me in ways I couldn’t even imagine. I have to admit: the number one Elphaba that I hold to my heart has replaced itself.

(I’ll admit, I cried three times during the performance despite knowing the entire storyline and having watched it once already)

(No, I’m not overemotional)

I won’t bore everyone with all the details of the production and the cast, especially since every production is unique and the experience more so. Instead, I’m going to talk about the more philosophical plot aspects of the musical as a vague overview slash review.

Now, what I love especially about the musical is that it is full of character development, little continuities, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hints, and so much representation. Every character means something, their relationships and experiences so relatable that you can’t help but be mesmerized by it all.

The scene that has always been a tear-jerker for me is one of the first ones, where Elphaba is visibly shunned from her peers because of her green appearance, her father treating her as a mere caregiver for her sister and not as a separate entity. Her resignation at the point is truly heartbreaking, not even daring to hope that maybe, they won’t hate her this time – but instead lashes out in pure defensiveness. This was the image of the truly resigned for me, one who doesn’t expect any form of kindness to be given but merely armed and poised ready to strike if the world decides to be cruel one more time, as it has always done to her before.

Elphaba’s appearance, the green skin, I felt it was an anecdote to the growing tumor of identity problems in our society. This is a personal opinion and may or may not be what the writers had intended – but the green skin, coupled with the ‘wicked’ identity donned to her in the original concept of The Wizard of Oz, has formed an unbreakable connection within our minds. By telling us that – no, the green skin isn’t what made her wicked, nor is it the wickedness that made her green, but our discrimination of her at first glance, our assumptions, and our insistence within us that she must be wicked – it lets us break through the stereotypes.

What is more interesting about these points is that all the characters seem to act their stereotypes at the beginning. Elphaba is the cranky and downright malicious (wicked) existence, Galinda the empty-headed blonde who is only concerned with superficial matters, Fiyero the prince, the playboy who disregards education altogether – every single one of these are what the people expect when they hear the character descriptions. But later we will be able to discover, as Elphaba progresses to realize that this doesn’t matter, other people’s opinions and prejudices shouldn’t effect her of her goals and consequently grows free of her shackles, that every other character will break the stereotype, what we expect of them, and become what they were on the inside, what they had the potential to become all along. This can mean that because they were expected to act in a certain way, they proceeded to do so. Because that’s easy, and that wouldn’t gain any unnecessary stares or mutters behind their backs. But when they meet the green girl, the green girl that nobody ever gave a chance to hear out, and discover that she is so much more than what she looks – empathetic and altruistic, easily giving and moved despite what the world has subjected her to – and realizes that maybe, the ‘me’ that my peers and I have constructed throughout the years is not the ‘real’ me.

Elphaba’s plight lasted throughout her whole life, up to the point when she decided that she didn’t need anyone else to become the great person that she always wanted to be. As evidenced in the song The Wizard and I, at first she wants to be of use to someone else, wants to be accepted by others. And that overshadows her dreams, her motivations. It can be seen that what she wants with the Wizard is to be accepted – by her father, sister and the masses – and not to achieve the things that she had always wanted. Despite wanting to be independent, she is somehow relying on others to make sure that she will be safe, and that hinders her motivation. During the famous aria Defying Gravity, one of Glinda’s lines include ‘You can have all you’ve ever wanted’ to which Elphaba replies, ‘I know. But I don’t want it. I can’t want it anymore’ because she knows, she realized that what she has looked for until now, all those days of dreaming of the Wizard, what she had truly been yearning for was acceptance. And she has realized that to achieve her real dreams, she didn’t need anybody’s acceptance or approval. She herself would be enough because acceptance is but a fickle thing. They may cheer for you at one moment but turn your back in you the next. What she wanted was not a lie – her true ambitions were capable of overcoming all of that. When she decides that she herself is enough, all of her concern for her appearance disappears. Not a single word mentioning the subject is raised afterwards, and Elphaba treats herself with so much confidence. This brings us to an important point: You don’t need anybody’s acceptance or approval to be someone. You are to find the people who accept you as you are, and if they don’t, if they want you to change – they probably aren’t worth the time and effort to change yourself in the first place.

I could go on and on about a variety of other different topics on this, about how the role of the media, the emotionally traumatized, the overdependent were portrayed in this musical in a mere few hours of singing and dancing, but I felt that this was the one that needed saying the most. I might come back with a series of like-intended posts, I’m not sure. But I sure do hope that I will have the chance (the honor) of seeing this musical again, especially since it is one of my favorites as well :)

Pictures of the experience under the cut! Continue reading