A lot has been made of Drew Carey's pledge to donate $1 million to Lance Armstrong's cancer foundation if he reaches 1 million followers by the end of 2009. He's not the only celebrity, or even common person, to place Twitter users in the awkward position of following them or not caring about a horrible illness. The disingenuousness of holding a personal marketing campaign to release funds is silly; why not have everyone follow Livestrong instead of Drew Carey?
But people can do what they want with their Twitter accounts and their own money, even if it lacks style. What I worry about more is a community of drones who thinks that any of this matters.
Let's put $1 million pledged by a celebrity towards a non-profit engaged in the fight against cancer (how much will make it to the hands of people that need it is an entirely different post...) into perspective. The government's National Cancer Institute alone has a yearly budget of about $5 billion. (That's $5,000 million, folks.) So, even if that were the entire cancer research budget of the entire world, donating a million is equivalent to you donating $1,000 to charity every year and me matching it with a one-time payment of a buck.
Now, a private person pledging $1 million is a generous thought, to be sure, but how much does it need to be re-tweeted, blogged about, and generally celebrated? I want to celebrate a scientist who developed new chemo that makes people barf less, a doctor who invented a less invasive surgical method, and a nurse who keeps a shivering patient warm in the middle of the night. Can the tech-savvy only celebrate them if they have a Twitter handle?
Who am I to criticize? Well, I'm not an expert on the topic, but I am no stranger to cancer. I'm a PhD-level biologist who among other things did research at NYU Med School. One of my best friends in New York got testicular cancer right before I moved, and it was very sad to say the least. When I moved to Washington, DC, I watched my new boss slowly die of cancer - brain tumors, gut tumors, you name it - over two years. I was his liason from the hospital to the world and I looked right into his eyes at the end. I've also written about cancer, and the biological difficulties of fighting it. We will never, ever "cure cancer" no matter how much money is spent and no matter how talented the people involved. Ever.
Hey, I've been known to wear a Livestrong bracelet. And it's nice that celebrities try to raise awareness of issues important to them. But I feel that a lot of time and effort goes into celebrating a TV host with a tweeting posse who have pledged to raise a drop in the bucket, versus people reaching out to learn more about what actual medical professionals are doing day to day. Doctors, nurses, scientists - they can only do so much, but in any case they are the real heros. Not these armchair generals of cancer.