Why Paul Rudd’s viral mask PSA for Cuomo missed the mark

Summary List PlacementPaul Rudd starred in a recent PSA that was released on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s social channels. Explicitly targeted towards millennials, Rudd cosplays as a fellow “young person,” throwing around slang in what’s theoretically a humorous bid to convince fellow “young people” to wear masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Paul Rudd here, actor and certified young person,” Rudd says in the video. “Few days ago I was talking on the iPhone with my homie, Governor Cuomo, and he’s just going off about us millennials need to wear masks. Because, get this, apparently a lot of COVID is transmitted by us millennials — no cap.”

Throughout the video, Rudd drops a handful of phrases like “fam, let’s real talk” to “slide that into your DMs and Twitch it,” which he says before strumming a double-necked guitar and popping his hip. At one point in the video, a transparent image of Billie Eilish pops up as Rudd pretends to pick up a call from her, saying, “man, I wanna stan you. You’re so my bae.”

The ad just keeps going, and although it’s meant to be humorous and play to pre-existing “hello fellow kids” gags, in many instances it just comes off as cringey and demeaning. “Caring about other people is the new not caring about other people,” Rudd says, perpetuating the idea that young people are largely apathetic to the concerns of their peers.

The ad doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of who it’s targeting or spoofing. In one sequence, Rudd pretends to do a TikTok dance challenge. While TikTok users are far from limited to just Gen Z teens, it’s a cultural reference that reads as spoofing zoomers (members of Gen Z) — not millennials who may be in their upper 30s. 

The ad has also been criticised for spoofing Black slang. “this isn’t millennial y’all,” Twitter user @Judnikki wrote. “it’s a white guy using explicitly Black slang poorly. it’s not funny. it’s corny and your white ass knows it.”

Much of what’s considered “young people” slang or “internet speak” is actually appropriated from Black people. One influencer, Brittany Broski, came under fire in August for saying that Black slang was part of “internet culture” and “stan culture.” She later apologized for her comments, but as Insider’s Bria Overs wrote, the appropriation of Black slang often has negative effects on Black creators themselves. Furthermore, Black slang becomes subsumed into white stereotypes like “VSCO girls” — and in this case, Rudd’s “young person.”

Ultimately, the ad seems to tie itself in a bit of a knot. Rudd’s “young person” character spoofs stereotypes of Gen Z, using Black slang, in a PSA explicitly targeting millennials, who are not teenagers. It’s targeting those who will think the “hello fellow kids” act is funny. As Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote in The Verge, the “hello fellow kids” meme — trying to identify with a generation younger than you, but in a cool, self-aware way — was already uncool back when that piece was published in 2017.

The advertisement is clearly resonating with some people. But others have called it “infantilizing” and “painfully unfunny.” Ultimately, the ad’s schtick seems to undermine its central message: while it’s trying to show that it’s aware of the fact that the “young person” schtick is cringe, it seemingly undercuts the seriousness of the mask message. Others say that placing the blame on millennials ignores the realities of those who cannot avoid going out and coming into contact with people for work, a criticism that the City of New York has faced in the past.

In any case, the PSA has led to things like the City of Boston Twitter account tweeting things like, “Let’s yeet #COVID19, Boston.”

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