Kevin James just proved he’s “out of touch” in more ways than one. The Paul Blart: Mall Cop star released a coronavirus-themed short on his YouTube page on May 8, where it’s garnered more than 1.7 million views in under a week. That’s a problem, because the video, titled Out of Touch, is so tone deaf and irresponsible it’s terrifying. More terrifying than those social distancing robot dogs policing South Korean parks right now. Well, almost.
The covid-19 pandemic has radically altered the way everyone is living right now. Social distancing guidelines, like wearing a mask and not shaking hands, are awkward and isolating. But with more than 1.3 million Americans infected and at least 82,300 killed by the virus to date, they’re in place to save lives.
Which brings us to the premise of James’s video: It opens on him and another man running from the police. We see flashing lights and hear the sounds of dogs barking, sirens blaring and someone yelling, “There he is, get him!” Suddenly, it’s nighttime. James and the other man hide behind a tree, their pursuers closing in around them. They’re distraught.
“Why’d you shake my hand?” James wails.
"I can't go to jail," the other man cries and makes a break for it. He’s promptly apprehended by snarling police dogs.
A title card flashes onscreen reading: “Six Hours Earlier.” James is sitting in a park on a bench. He sees an acquaintance out running, they exchange greetings and shake hands. Then they freeze, realizing they’ve been caught mid-shake by a mask-wearing vigilante who’s phoning the cops. More masked civilians appear and whip out their phones to start recording.
“Run,” James tells his friend. End of scene.
Listen, there are a lot of problematic things about this video. For example, when and where was it filmed? Obviously, Out of Touch was written after stay-at-home guidelines were put in place. There are five actors in it. They had a crew. All sorts of health and safety guidelines were violated just to produce this example of bad taste.
Then there’s the fact that Out of Touch is about white guys hunted down for innocently jogging. It’s impossible not to draw parallels to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, though as Esquire’s Matt Miller pointed out, “It would be giving James too much credit to assume that he intentionally made that connection.”
Sure, it’s satire, but nobody’s calling the cops on a famous white guy shaking hands with another white guy. They both enjoy far too much privilege. But the cops literally are policing people of color for the very same actions. Out of 40 people arrested for social distancing violations in Brooklyn between mid-March and early May, 35 were black. How, in good conscience, can you make light of the visceral, deadly threat so many people face on a daily basis? I’m constantly baffled by how differently people perceive the world.
The Americans you see protesting stay-at-home orders, demanding a haircut, opening their businesses against the law, refusing to wear a mask and mocking social distancing are largely white. Yet covid-19 is disproportionately sickening and killing people of color. And it’s because white Americans as a demographic have been better set up by society to ride out a pandemic. They’re more likely to be wealthy, more likely to live in rural and suburban areas, more likely to have health insurance, more likely to work non-essential jobs that enable them to work remotely.
Yet the privileged ones, the “lucky” ones, aren’t willing to be inconvenienced in order to protect the lives of their fellow Americans. Lots has been said about sacrificing the elderly in the name of protecting the economy. But other demographics would be disproportionately devastated, too. That says something incredibly sinister about the care we show one another — or lack thereof.
Anyhow, James was going for dumb laughs with this one, like he always does. Out of Touch isn’t deep or anything, he’s just mocking people who take social distancing seriously. But it’s become fodder for the covid-19 culture wars, and it’s being praised by right-wing media. Comments on the video are typified by stuff like, “Absolutely perfect. This crap is completely out of control. It’s disturbing how people readily accept a police state."
At a time when many states are loosening stay-at-home guidelines and health officials are bracing for a resurgence of the virus, it’s the absolute worst moment to release a dumb, divisive video mocking a practice that saves lives.