Not an ice guy

Posted on September 6, 2014


Grouchy reflections on the ALS ice bucket challenge and the changing, um, face of Facebook.

I must confess that I have begun to dread logging into Facebook. I am afraid there’s going to be another tagging epidemic, egging me to do something crazy in order to do some good: Go to work dressed like Barbie and promote your local Kho Kho team. Eat nothing but red chillies for a week in order to encourage donations to save the California condor. Order a pizza and greet the delivery guy naked in a bid to popularise Carnatic music. (And make sure you post videos – except maybe of the last-mentioned.) Don’t smirk. If getting doused by a bucket of ice water can promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), then what’s stopping an enterprising fund raiser from suggesting that you drink coffee while hopping, without spilling a drop, and then make out a cheque to repair the hole in the ozone layer?

I’m all for jazzing up charity, and yay to the ALS folks for transforming the act of altruism into something that makes you look less like Mother Teresa and more like Mel Brooks. But it’s the pressure, dammit – it’s killing. Now, if I don’t take up the challenge and douse myself with ice water, but nevertheless write out a cheque for a lakh, I still end up looking like the kind of grouch Dickens would write a Christmas-time story on, while all those hi-fiving dudes who posed happily for videos while emptying buckets over themselves (and contributed, say, ten bucks) come off looking like people who’ll go on to save the rainforest, while simultaneously eradicating poverty and giving hope to gay teens. Because, apparently, nothing says you care about society better than offering your shivering body as host to a passing cold virus.

Now you could say that, instead of all this agonising, just go ahead and pour that damn bucket on yourself and be done with it. But is it really that easy? I live in a flat, on the second floor, and I’m already quaking at the prospect of the house help walking in and finding that she has, in addition to her chores, an icy puddle to mop up. (You don’t know mortal fear until you imagine a negotiation with your maid in the middle of her packed morning.) Second, water makes you wet, and wet clothes stick to the body, and some bodies are clearly not meant to be presented to the world with their contours clearly outlined. Third, what if I accept the challenge and some friends walk in and say “Let’s have a drink” and I discover all the ice is gone? Yes, I know what you’re thinking, that no one’s going to walk in during the day and demand a drink. But then you don’t know my friends.

Once upon a time, Facebook used to be fun. It was entertainment, the online answer to a Manmohan Desai movie. The lost-and-found formula was very much in effect. We found the Amars, the Akbars, the Anthonys we’d lost after school and college. We messaged them and slipped into happy flashbacks about the good old days. We went into their photo albums and rummaged through their lives, silently judging them while emptying packets of Kurkure – job (“looks kinda boring”), spouse (“heard of a gym”?), children (“are they really theirs”?), vacations (“stop taking selfies and let me see the place”), their friends we didn’t know but were still curious about even though it was none of our bloody business (“thank heavens I have better-looking friends”)… But now, the spirit of Mrinal Sen seems to have invaded Facebook, with a whiff of politics and the insistence that we are but atoms of the social molecule, and we cannot afford to be spinning in our own cosy orbits.

The other tagging epidemic that’s plaguing Facebook recently induced an equal amount of hand-wringing. It is about ten books that left an impression on you. Now, Facebook being a public forum and all, I couldn’t possibly include Penthouse Letters (the ultimate self-help manual for teenage boys) and What’s Your Poo Telling You (the older you get, the more obsessed you become with bodily functions) – and I had to think of books that were high on literary value, or ennobling in some way. In other words, even if I did want to list a book that sounded like it belonged in the bathroom, it would have had to be It’s Time For a Bowel Movement: Eliminating Waste That Lies Within the Soul. (That really is the name of a book.) So I started a list that included Heidegger and Wittgenstein. The rule on Facebook is to always appear loftier than you are, even if your mind is ravaged by the image of Scarlett Johansson in lacy lingerie, taking the ice bucket challenge.

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Posted in: Humour, Personal, Society