A lot has been said about the Obamacare Pajama Boy since his bespectacled visage gave the Internet its latest meme on Sunday, but many of his defenders — who all turn out to be his college chums — miss the point of why his image was roundly mocked.
The pajama hipster, revealed as Ethan Krupp by my colleague Charlie Spiering, sits on a comfy leather couch, wearing a flannel onesie and cupping a mug of hot cocoa, ready to talk about the benefits of signing up for health insurance. Perfectly acceptable holiday conversation.
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Krupp’s eyebrows are arched, his lips curled into a smirk, presumably from hearing a heartfelt plea from his family (who are sitting too far away to be included in the photo, possibly to avoid photos being taken with a son who wears a onesie) about why he should be insured.
Or perhaps his eyebrows are raised because he vehemently disagrees with his conservative uncle over the lack of need for a young, healthy male to have expensive, comprehensive insurance he likely won’t need.
Why is he wearing a watch with his pajamas? Because it’s time to get insured, of course. Or maybe that’s the new cool hipster thing to do. He would probably wear a pocket square if the onesie had a place for one.
In another photo, Krupp, wearing an ugly Christmas sweater, probably ironically, slouches on the other end of the couch, his green holiday-socked feet on his mother’s good coffee table. Again, Krupp seems to have heard an interesting point from a family member that still refuses to be in a picture with him, even now that he is out of the onesie.
This time, he seems to be holding back a chuckle. The conservative uncle must have pointed out that the health insurance Krupp would be required to buy would cover maternity care.
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Behind Krupp on the credenza are several holiday cards and what looks to be photos of a family — a family nowhere to be seen in real life.
The #GetTalking campaign, launched in November 2013 and designed to make already-tense family get-togethers even more contentious by forcefully bringing politics into the discussion, began with a video starring Krupp.
In the video, for those not wanting to click “play,” Krupp frets over what his parents need to talk to him about that is so important, complete with an “I know what you did last summer” reference. Because it’s 1997.
The entire campaign was mocked because it felt like your dad’s attempt to connect with you as a twenty-something. It reeked of a decision made by old men in an ivory tower trying to be hip.
Which is why when it was discovered that Krupp is a content writer at Organizing for Action, Obama’s leftover campaign organization, his involvement in the ads became relevant.
Krupp was not only the face of the #GetTalking campaign, he was also involved in its creation. Krupp also helped create OFA’s Buzzfeed posts, including such hits as “8 times TV characters could have benefited from Obamacare” and “9 scary things not covered by Obamacare.”
Krupp may not have been the decision-maker on the #GetTalking campaign, but he was certainly involved in the project’s creation process, and he allowed his face to be plastered across the Internet in the ads.
Whether the ad campaign was designed to appeal to millennials or to serve as a warning to millennials to “not be that guy,” is irrelevant. The intention of the creators matters less than the message received by the audience. And the audience thought the ads were a poor attempt to appeal to the youth.
Which is why the initial mocking, before Krupp’s name was even involved, was acceptable. It was not Krupp who was initially attacked, but his Image, his onesie, his bourgeois cocoa.
The mockery was not aimed at Krupp the human being, but Pajama Boy, the Julia-esque composite of a liberal college hipster.
Once Krupp’s name was revealed, his involvement in the creation of yet another Obamacare marketing misstep became relevant. Defenders of the campaign claim it was a success because it got people talking.
But what did it get people talking about? A terrible ad campaign, not the benefits of health insurance.
Emma Roller of Slate, who attended college with Krupp, bemoaned the articles written about Pajama Boy after his name was discovered.
“What these stories ignore is that trying to glean some relevant information about a policy from its respective human talisman is always, always a horrendously stupid idea,” Roller said.
But the point she misses is that even in highlighting Krupp’s life the story is not about finding “relevant information about a policy,” but about discovering whether the poster boy is an accurate representation of that policy.
Once the poster child for a website, organization or policy is mocked, the Internet tends to want to know everything about that person, even if the poster child is just a model.
As in the case of the woman featured on healthcare.gov, learning who she was after the website was mocked was not poor journalism. People wanted to know what the face of healthcare.gov thought about the website’s failures, because she was someone they could recognize.
The taunting she received from people who recognized her was unfair, because she had nothing to do with the website.
But Krupp was involved in the failed campaign for which he was the poster boy. Finding that out was the reason journalists pry into the lives of poster children — to find out if they had a connection to the policy.
With Krupp, Americans learned that the person behind the mockery was exactly what they imagined him to be.
OFA did not respond to a request for comment.