In addition to livin,’ add “releasin’ Public Service Announcements” to the growing list of activities our beloved Matthew McConaughey just keeps doing.
Last week, the University of Texas’s Minister of Culture, who has been self-isolating in Austin with his family, put out his fourth PSA since lockdowns started going into effect around the state two months ago. It might even be his fifth, or maybe his twentieth: it depends on where you draw the line between official public service announcement and social media rambling—all of which I’m sure Matthew considers to be in service to his public.
McConaughey’s newest video is pretty formal, though. Titled “It’s About Us,” and made in partnership with Texas advertising legend Roy Spence, the video appears to be a response to the recent politicization of mask-wearing. “This is not about politics,” reads the on-screen text over a glittering portrait of doctors and nurses wearing PPE. “This is about us,” it continues, against a photo of other essential workers wearing N95 masks. Matthew’s involvement seems somewhat limited; he has no screen time and does no voice-over. But he produced the video through his Just Keep Livin Foundation, and spearheaded its rollout with an appearance on the Fox News program Special Report.
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This had us wondering: how well does “It’s About Us” stack up against Matty’s entire public service oeuvre? Of the five videos he’s put out in quarantine that I consider to be official PSAs, this new one might have the highest production values: its message is so direct, and it pulls at the heartstrings—so it’s pretty successful as far as propaganda goes. But is it the best? What is “best”? Is it based on greatest contribution to the public good? Are we judging on cinematography here? How important is narrative structure and continuity to a PSA?
I’m curious, so I’m going to rank Matthew McConaughey’s COVID-19 public service announcements in descending order according to how entertaining they are and how well they fit into the Matty McC brand.
This, I think, was the first PSA McConaughey did in the COVID-19 era. It was a joint project, produced not just with Roy Spence but with the state of Texas, via the office of Governor Greg Abbott. It’s pretty straightforward, featuring wholesome stock footage that reflects traditional Texas values, like families, camo, surgery, groups of people walking through hospital corridors, house-painting, swing sets, and golden retrievers getting baths. “Stay home, if you can,” croons McConaughey in his voice-over, pronouncing the “s” with the lingering, sultry whistle of his iconic drawl. It reminds me of a strong wind cutting through the Saint Elena Canyon.
“Staying home is safer, and it can help stop the spread of the virus,” he adds. It just rolls off the tongue! Really good stuff here. But Matthew didn’t share this particular PSA on his Instagram account, instead giving space to a couple of testimonials (i.e. his ramblings to the camera) around that same time. I can only assume that he didn’t feel enough of a creative connection to this work to take ownership of the final product, which ranks it at the bottom of his PSAs thus far.
Matthew’s newest PSA is pretty similar to his first: in fact, it uses some of the same stock footage. I recognize one of the “doctors” from the older video, and the dad in fatigues has simply swapped out his overall-wearing daughter for a son waving the American flag. The audience for this one is more universal; it’s expanded from our state’s borders to the entire U.S. And they lay the patriotism on thick: There’s no voice-over, just a divinely harmonized mash-up of “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” against breathtaking visuals of amber waves of grain, the New York City skyline, fighter jets, and deep-sea fishing. This PSA says that wearing a mask is patriotic, that you, in fact, can exercise your liberty by covering your face, because there’s nothing more American than working together for a noble cause. McConaughey is harnessing his innate good ol’ boy essence in an effort to bridge the gap between the Hollywood Elite and the Boot-Strappin’ Heartland. Taking the PSA straight to Fox News proves his intentions.
While this is an admirable effort, but I don’t see how it can work. If you don’t believe the doctors and scientists who tell you wear a mask, then Matthew McConaughey—bless his heart—isn’t going to convince you otherwise. I also don’t see Matthew’s creative voice anywhere in the actual product. And there are no deep thoughts here, which is a shame—you know our boy loves to search within.
This vid premiered on McConaughey’s various social media accounts on March 30, ten days after the first “Stay Home” PSA came out. One wonders if it was made at the same time as the original and was simply too quirky for the governor’s office to attach its seal. Or perhaps Matthew was brought on board for the first one, got a taste for PSA-making, and decided to keep going, this time with more creative control. (And working with Roy Spence, who cofounded the ad company GSD&M, which probably has a vault full of high-production stock footage, means he can more or less crank these babies out.)
This video is as glossy as the two we’ve analyzed above, but it has a more pronounced narrative spark. You see, this PSA has a central metaphor: war. The pandemic is a fight, and health care workers are troops at the front line. “Staying home is not a retreat,” he hums. “It’s the most brave and aggressive weapon we have against this enemy.” Bravo to Matthew, who has realized that one way to motivate Americans is by allowing them to be violent; it’s a clever tactic. The metaphor turns the folks at home into active participants—soldiers even—in the war against the virus, and Matthew has situated himself as our Winston Churchill, telling us to keep calm and just keep livin’ on.
Now, this one has Matthew McConaughey’s name all over it. In it he plays a character, the bounty hunter Bobby Bandito, who’s lookin’ for the outlaw COVID-19, wanted dead or alive. This video is the first of what has become Matthew’s Wear a Mask trilogy. It’s silly as all get out. Some (not I!) might even say it’s ridiculous. But our boy Mack seems to be having a lot of fun, and, quite frankly, so am I.
This video has all the trademarks of a McConaughey joint, like an almost uncomfortable amount of sincerity, some self-serving references to his personal brand, and an emphasis on the concept of “livin’.” Bobby B tell us “it’s high time to catch this killer, cause we got more livin’ to do,” before showing us how to make a face mask with rubber bands and a bandanna. The bandanna he uses has the logo for his Just Keep Livin Foundation smack-dab in the middle of the cloth, so that when it’s folded into a mask shape the logo front and center. I’m pretty convinced he had this bandanna made specially for him, because the logo’s position doesn’t really make sense for any other kind of bandanna usage. Still, I admire his commitment to thematic continuity. All in all, I’m happy that Matthew McConaughey is able to create high art in these unprecedented times.
After he released his Badass Bandito Bandanna PSA, it came to McConaughey’s attention (via some advice passed on from Austin mayor Steve Adler, according to Fox 7 Austin) that his message was perhaps not resonating with the state’s considerable Spanish-speaking population. So he enlisted the help of Mexican boxer Canelo Álvarez for a new video: In it, he introduces himself as Mateo McConaughey, he encourages people to “por favor, si vas a salir a casa, segura de usar mascarilla,” which translates as “please, if you leave the house, be sure to wear a mask.” And you can bet your buns he translated his JKL motto into Español—Solo Sigue Viviendo—trading his original logo’s red, white, and blue, for the green, white, and red of the Mexican flag.
This one takes our top-ranked spot because I think it took the most effort on Matthew’s part, and I admire that. You gotta give it to him for using his platform to reach as many people as he can—he’s trying his best, as we all are right now.