Indulgences, Charity and Masturbating

06/09/2014

Good. I have your attention.

There was an interesting article on VICE this week about “The Fappening”. For those who don’t know what that is, congratulations – you have managed to avoid yet another depressing internet story of misogyny and internet trolls. But please now allow me to disabuse you of your innocence.

The Fappening is a mix of “The Happening” (a horror film by M Night Shyamalan, rated 17% on Rotten Tomatoes) and “fap” meaning… well, check the title of this piece.

It refers to the leaked pictures of celebrities which were stolen by hackers and uploaded to the internet. But then things got weird(er). As Allegra Ringo, author of the VICE piece explains:

Within hours of the photos leaking, a subreddit devoted entirely to these nude photos had not only sprung up, but acquired over 100,000 subscribers. As of this writing, the subreddit had grown to over 140,000 subscribers. In many ways, these connoisseurs of fapping are behaving in ways you’d expect them to. They’re posting tons of celebrity nudes, desperately asking for verification on others, and doing the math on how much jizz has been expelled as a result of the celebrity photo leak. But these math-and-jizz-loving Redditors also have a surprising goal: to raise money for charity, and in the process, improve Reddit’s public image.

Do read the rest of the article, if only for fantastic neologisms such as “fappuccinos” and “fappingly”. Anyway, the interesting thing is that once the charities found out where the money had cum from, they declined it. It would appear that one cannot buy salvation for one’s crimes. Or something.

This is a long-standing issue with charity and donation. For many rich(er) people, public giving has often been a way of showing contrition, improving one’s image or as a form of “giving back” to a community. “Indulgences” in the medieval Catholic Church, for example, allowed people to donate significant sums to the Church in exchange for forgiveness from sin or bad behaviour.

Simple Google searches for “charity, donation, apology” reveal a number of organisations and people who have made a mea culpa by giving. Heat, for example, apologised to Katie Price by donating to a disability charity after mocking her disabled son.

Then there are the many industrialists in Georgian and Victorian England who presided over the slums and poverty of urban Britain but gave significant sums to erect public libraries, hospitals, mental health institutions and museums.

Of course, not all public giving is necessarily egotistical or an effort to right past wrongs. If nobody gave publicly, it is difficult to imagine how many charities would be able to “raise awareness” of their causes so effectively. Whatever one’s views on the Ice Bucket Challenge, it has certainly been an effective fund raiser, and at least a decent proportion of those involved will have learnt a little bit about motor neurone disease.

By the same token, there is a belief in society on some level that donation to charity is somehow unequivocally “good”. Regardless of cynicism about individual cases, there is something altruistic about the act of gift giving which can be used for political or social gain. Bad people don’t donated to charity.

It causes problems for charities too. They know that part of their allure is their ability to make people feel better about themselves, and (whether they want to admit it or not) they know that others use them to make themselves look better in the eyes of their peers. That is why it is often very interesting to see when charities actually say “no”, especially in times of economic restraint.

Historians of charity and voluntary action deal with these issues constantly. Just not necessarily with so much naked Jennifer Lawrence. The lack of neutrality in charitable donation is something we must always be aware of, while being careful not to descend into nihilistic cynicism. Charities can do a lot of good; but they are often inextricably linked to people who do a lot of the opposite.

Image from Wikicommons
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