Monthly Archives: August 2014

Awareness, Action, and the ALS Philanthromeme by Zack Langway

langway-2      If you haven’t heard of it yet, you’re about to.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is taking the Internet by storm – the latest in a series of viral efforts to raise awareness (and money) for important causes, like ALS. The challenge was started by Pete Frates, a 29-year-old Massachusetts man who has lived with ALS since 2012. A former Boston College baseball player, Pete Frates devotes his time to spread awareness of what is often known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

And although some have shunned the philanthromeme as simply a way to prank your friends (a la “bros icing bros”), I think this is truly something more. Something that we should embrace, and that ought to proudly own its spot at the intersection of comedy and advocacy.

Yes, the Ice Bucket Challenge has a certain “je ne sais frat” quality to it, but how many times I had thought of ALS this month before the meme? How many times this year?

The philanthromeme has value – the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised more than $41.8 million for an organization whose entire online giving netted just around $2.1 million in the same time frame last year. And it got me to engage my husband, sister, aunt, and several friends in a way that made them think, act, and share. Want another example? Check out the success of #GivingTuesday in turning the year-end cultural phenomenon of spending and giving into a philanthropic moment.

A meme doesn’t convey the suffering of a person with ALS*, or of families who have watched a loved one go through the disease. And all the meme-ing in the world won’t prevent or turn back ALS.

But if it gets enough of us talking, donating, caring beyond the meme itself, if it gets a topic like ALS into the public consciousness just long enough to do even a modicum of good – then I say bring on the ice water.

And YOU can make sure this philanthromeme keeps “philanthro” at its core.

What do you think? Have you seen other good philanthromemes? Tweet @ZackFromDC to weigh in!

NOTE ON OUR BLOGGER: Zack Langway is a 2013 graduate of our M.A. in Communication program who currently works as Vice President for Digital at Fenton. He has provided strategic guidance on establishing and growing digital and social presence to a number of national social good institutions, including Teach for America, the United Nations Foundation, and Johnson & Johnson’s global health initiatives.

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