Forget the Pain - Indulge for Change

Curator's Note

After the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, many asked what ALS had to do with the sharing of these videos. Although some were baffled by this incongruity, others considered it an opportunity. Capitalizing on the efforts to make philanthropy a viral, visual enterprise, Texas journalist Andrea Grimes started the #TacoOrBeer challenge for abortion rights. In her introductory post she asks, “What do ice buckets have to do with ALS? I don't know. What do tacos and beer have to do with abortion? I don't know that either.” Grimes emphasized that the consumption of tacos and beer does not really even matter – what matters is the donation. She chose to frame the campaign as one of “abortion rights” instead of “pro-choice” politics citing the necessity and stigma of donations to abortion providers. Unsurprisingly, she and the campaign were targeted by pro-life groups. (Grimes made a BINGO game for dealing with the backlash).

In contrast to the Ice Bucket Challenge, the TorB Challenge did not require participants to ask other people to donate. Instead, it asked them to do something they were probably going to do within the next week or so anyway – take a photo of themselves consuming delicious things. Despite the lack of a “tagging” feature, high-profile celebrity contributors, or the slapstick visual of getting drenched in icy water, the TorB Challenge raised nearly $30,000 for abortion providers over the course of its two-month lifespan. It bears noting that there are around 700,000 legal abortions performed each year in the U.S. (while only around 5,600 people are diagnosed with ALS.)

Looking through the photographs from the TorB Challenge, one is struck by the homogeneity of the participants. The vast majority of the posters are white women in their twenties living in large U.S. cities with predominantly liberal politics. TorB was far less universal in its appeal than the ALS challenge, yet it raised a substantial amount of money and received a fair amount of press. I’m interested in how this case of conspicuous philanthropy caught on and especially why, at the end of 2014, the two issues gaining the most financial support from these visual campaigns were ALS and abortion rights. What makes a campaign like this go viral? What is the future of campaigns that attempt to attach images to unrelated causes? How might these campaigns make us accountable for our philanthropy?

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