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‘Dark humor’

Digital marketer and former Philadelphia resident Eric Van Buskirk, who now lives in Vietnam, was trying to think of a way to create effective public service announcements about social distancing during COVID-19 and wound up making a series of alternative movie PSAs.

“We believe that guidelines for staying home, social distancing and wearing masks in public need to be taken seriously,” said Buskirk, who moved four years ago from Philadelphia to Vietnam.

These steps, along with contact tracing and widespread COVID-19 testing, have been very effective in Vietnam, Buskirk said. Even though many citizens have negative feelings about the authoritarian government, “they really like amazingly latched on and followed along with everything and kind of believed that the government had the right approach,” Buskirk said.

The result, Buskirk said, is that there is not a single case of COVID-19 in Southern Vietnam that he has heard about, and life has pretty much returned to normal. A self-proclaimed “news junkie,” he’s been following what has been happening in the United States where “it’s so complex and it’s so messed up,” Buskirk said.

“Our goal was to make them fun: dark humor for troubling times that are not that much fun.”

– Artist Eric van Buskirk

People in the United States don’t seem to be taking social distancing seriously enough, he said. So Buskirk designed a series of public service announcements, spoofs of psychological drama or thriller movie posters, to promote mask-wearing, social distancing, and sheltering-in-place.

“Our goal was to make them fun: dark humor for troubling times that are not that much fun,” Buskirk wrote.

He has two websites on which he is promoting his PSAs: Clickstream, a boutique agency he started while living in Philadelphia that provides “cutting-edge information for client search engine optimization,” and also Dopasolution, a website focused on writing about psychological disorders, learning disabilities, and mental health.

Buskirk, 54, who said he struggled briefly years ago with moderate anxiety and depression, is the son of a psychiatrist and was a psychology major in college. But he drifted away from his interest in psychology into mass media and mass communication. Dopasolution.com kind of became his marriage between his interests.

Now he is spoofing movies such as “Jaws,” where he shows a person swimming in a hazmat suit above an enormous shark, urging people to stay away from crowded beaches.

Another one of his posters of the Joker, with Joaquin Phoenix wearing a “happy mask,” can be interpreted in many ways.

“There’s no joking around in the purpose of the message,” Buskirk writes on Clickstream. “Our ability to stop the spread of COVID-19 is serious business.”

The “Black Swan” poster, a riff on Darren Aronofsky’s psychological horror film about a ballerina courted into the dark side, features a dancer in a face mask saying, “Don’t go out Dancing. Stay Home.”

“Cabin-fever is a very real thing,” Buskirk writes on Clickstream. “Everyone needs to educate themselves on how to fight and recognize it.”

In addition to wanting to drive more traffic to his websites, Buskirk said, “I can actually promote something I believe strongly in, social distancing. I just don’t really agree with people who think we’re being too strict.”

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