101 Things Birmingham Gave The World. No. 56: The ‘ice bucket’ challenge

Why did Sir Edmund Hillary drag a lot of people up Everest before taking all the glory himself? Supposedly ‘because it was there’. Why do celebrities stand outside (or in other places that it doesn’t matter if they get wet) in old, but presentable clothes (that won’t be ruined if they get wet) and have some cold water poured on them? Because someone told them too. And because they are just scared of missing out.

Would Stan Collymore jump in the fire just because Benedict Cumberbatch told him to? He’d tell his mum ‘no’, but if it was a jug of chilled Evan, on camera, with a promise of being seen as a fun stand-up guy… All hail ‘the ice bucket challenge’: the challenge being to make sure your audience thinks about you fondly for a few seconds.

Now look, we’re not pouring cold water on the idea: but there’s a lot more to this than pure altruism. There’s a good cause benefitting, probably, alongside all the media feeding. And if people have fun, there’s no problem.

Is it pure slapstick, which we invented anyway? Not really, it’s deeper than that: clowns threaten but never actually chuck water, the place where throwing water became not just cruel and wasteful, but entertaining and a way to get on the telly was on a certain golden mile not many golden miles away from us right now. Yes, buckets of water as a memetic device were brought to you by Birmingham, by Broad Street and by Saturday morning.

Tiswas introduced controlled anarchy to television, and launched the careers of swan-killer Chris Tarrant, Midland Arts Centre climbing wall builder Bob Carolgees and Shakespearian luvvie Lenny Henry. It also launched a thousand paper plates covered in shaving foam, countless buckets of water over minor public figures, and the only pop video to include the singers walking around the hall of memory in Centenary Square. The power of the bucket of water was so much that it took Bob Carolgees into the charts.

It was wonderful thing: it united the nation, revolutionised the way children were spoken to by the media, and got plenty of dads up in the morning. We hope we won’t cause any septuagenarian seizures if we tell you that Sally James now actually sells school uniforms.

Birmingham, the centre of the World. The centre of all meme: this is what they want.

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Author: Howard Wilkinson

Director of Satire, Paradise Circus. Howard adds stability at the top, taking a strategic overview of operations whilst also stepping in from time to time in a caretaker author role.