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Matt Damon's humorous video spotlights sanitation crisis

Actor Matt Damon vows to go on a 'toilet strike' to publicize the need to bring clean water and better sanitation to millions of people around the world.

By Staff writer / February 13, 2013

Actor Matt Damon has declared he is on a 'toilet strike' to highlight the lack of clean water and proper sanitation that endangers hundreds of millions of people around the world. He announced his 'strike' at a humorous 'news conference' posted on YouTube.

Gus Ruelas/Reuters/File

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If citing troubling statistics won't work, try humor. And social media, of course.

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Gregory M. Lamb is a senior editor and writer.

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That's the approach being taken by actor Matt Damon in support of the Water.org charity he has co-founded.

In a YouTube video that the organization hopes will go viral Damon announced Feb. 12 at a fake "news conference" that he is beginning a "toilet strike," saying: "In protest of this global tragedy, until this issue is resolved, until everyone has access to clean water and sanitation ... I will not go to the bathroom."

The reporters, played by actors, are confused and stunned, with one only able to ask "Whaaa?"

Then Damon slips in a quick, serious message about the worldwide water and sanitation crisis.

"Anybody have any idea what invention has saved more lives than any other in the history of humankind?" he asks the "reporters." "The toilet.... What's even more shocking is the catastrophic worldwide lack of clean water and sanitation. 780 million people – that's twice the population the United States – lack access to clean water. 2.5 billion people lack access to a toilet or basic sanitation. I mean more people have cell phones that have toilets."

Damon encourages people to donate $25 to the cause. They can also go to http://strikewithme.org/ to learn more and to contribute their own Instagram in support of his "strike."

Nonprofits groups are trying humor rather than pathos to get their message out, Jessica Mason, a YouTube spokesperson, told the Los Angeles Times. "We're seeing a lot of upcoming PSA [public service announcement] campaigns that take a more humorous approach," she says, "because, let's be honest, it's so much better than watching ... really sad little puppies being beaten on TV."

"People just aren't shocked by statistics anymore," adds Mike McCamon, who heads Water.org's community outreach efforts. To be effective, however, the Damon video needed to be more than just humorous, says Jennifer Tisdel Schorsch, Water.org's chief marketing officer. "But if it's funny, and it makes you think, that's very powerful."

The "Strike With Me" campaign will lead up to World Water Day on March 22, an annual event that spotlights the need to bring clean water and sanitation to millions of people around the world.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Water.org spent less than $100,000 on producing the ad, "enough, perhaps, for half a second of advertising during the Super Bowl, where a 30-second spot costs $4 [million]." The Damon video was shot at YouTube's studio in southern California in January, using actors working for little or no salary who wrote, produced, and directed the sketch.

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