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Kevin James Social Distancing Video Out of Touch Is Worse Than Paul Blart Mall Cop
On May 8, former Kevin Can Wait star Kevin James released a short film on his personal YouTube page called Out of Touch. As someone who’s long had a professional curiosity with the Kevin James Cinematic Universe, “out of touch” is precisely how I’d describe his particular brand of comedy—with its recycling of tired jokes and a point of view that seems trapped in the late ’90s. But, where such Kevin James vehicles as Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Kevin Can Wait were simply bafflingly low-brow comedy, Out of Touch, which currently has more than 1.5 million YouTube views, is frighteningly bad and irresponsible.
Out of Touch opens with Kevin James and another man running in slow motion from the sound of sirens, dogs barking, and men yelling “there he is get him.” The scene cuts and suddenly it’s dusk, implying that James and this man have been running for at least 10 minutes, and the viewer is already expected to suspend disbelief.
James and the other man hide behind a tree. The flashlights of their pursuers are nearby. The two men are distraught.
“Why’d you shake my hand?” James asks.
“I can’t go to jail,” the other man says and makes a break for it.
He’s caught and torn apart by dogs. A helicopter search light shines on James and tells him to put his hands over his head. The scene ends and a title card reads, “Six Hours Earlier.” James is on a bench, sees the other man running, they exchange a brief greeting and shake hands. But a man in a mask catches them and calls the police. “Run,” James tells his friend.
Like most James comedy, it doesn’t require much intellectual rigor to figure this out—he’s mocking social distancing and the public response to a global pandemic. In this short film, James and his buddy are the victims, hunted like criminals for their disregard of public safety. That’s about as deep as the commentary goes, but it’s enough to fuel the right wing anger against social distancing restrictions that have been established to stop the spread of a deadly virus. The film has been praised by right wing media and the video has comments such as this: “Absolutely perfect. This crap is completely out of control. It’s disturbing how people readily accept a police state.”
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More than 1.3 million people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 82,300 have died as of May 12. The science is clear on this: social distancing guidelines—like wearing a mask and not shaking hands—are in place to save lives. It’s a very small request to ask Kevin James to wear a mask and maybe not high five his buddy, but even if he did, there would be no repercussions for him, a famous white man. At best, any bystander who saw him ignoring social distancing would probably just assume he’s an insensitive asshole.
Did it ever cross James’s mind that it could be a bad look to make a short film about two white men hunted down while innocently jogging when this is exactly what happened to Ahmaud Arbery? It would be giving James too much credit to assume that he intentionally made that connection.
This is simply a bad short film released at the worst possible time—when the U.S. could be facing yet another wave of coronavirus, and people are at their breaking points with social distancing. It’s like mocking people who followed safety guidelines and left a coastal community before a massive hurricane swept through.
Normally, I’d consider James’s comedy harmless, clueless, lowest common denominator entertainment. He often writes his own characters as sad men with misplaced confidence and delusional machoism. And that’s what he’s doing here, playing into the exact same tough-guy attitude that many Americans, like our own president, display: believing themselves so manly they couldn’t possibly catch a virus and so, social distancing is for wimps. That type of thinking is deadly.
It really makes me long for the simpler days of Paul Blart crashing a segway.
Matt is the Culture Editor at Esquire where he covers music, movies, books, and TV—with an emphasis on all things Star Wars, Marvel, and Game of Thrones.