On Monday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled another baffling, coronavirus-themed conceptual-art object. This one, a poster entitled “New York Tough,” again depicts the state’s response to the pandemic as a large mountain. But in addition to this familiar visual metaphor, it also features a bunch of highly specific yet bewildering symbols: “Winds of Fear” bluster around the mountain as the crisis builds, a mask mandate at the mountain’s peak helps usher New York into its first phase of reopening, and the economy, portrayed as a river (?), feeds into the “Sea of Division” (??). But perhaps the most perplexing detail is the “Boyfriend Cliff,” a little crag neatly labeled in an old-timey typeface, a small man dangling from its tip.
Most of the graphics here are easy to unpack, if convoluted, but the “Boyfriend Cliff” resists simple interpretation. What could it possibly mean? I certainly do not recall encountering a “Boyfriend Cliff,” or any kind of cliff, during my months indoors. Is the “Boyfriend Cliff” where we dispose of the boyfriends once we are through with them?
Does the “Boyfriend Cliff” refer to a boyfriend named Cliff?
Is Cuomo gesturing to the point in some quarantine partnerships where the situation starts to crumble, people are really getting on each other’s nerves, and the break-ups begin rolling out? If so, why are we calling it the “Boyfriend Cliff”? Feels a bit presumptuous, no? Why are we not calling it the “Premature Cohabitation Cliff” or something similar? Or does the “Boyfriend Cliff” symbolize your relationship falling off a cliff when you and the significant other you don’t live with, who (again) may not be a boyfriend, realize you won’t be seeing each other for a few months due to social-distancing recommendations? Is the “Boyfriend Cliff” something like the Ick, one of those tiny turnoffs that send attraction plummeting to its death, as if pushed from a precipice? Any relation to Cliff Wife?
Syracuse.com seems pretty certain the “Boyfriend Cliff” harks back to a comment Cuomo previously made at a press conference, concerning his daughter Mariah Kennedy Cuomo, her boyfriend (not named Cliff), and the Cuomo Family’s spaghetti Sundays.
Chrissy Teigen, who weighed in on Twitter, seems to agree with this reading. She reminded Cuomo that he had claimed to “like the boyfriend,” prompting Cuomo to clarify that “all boyfriends face a steep climb.” A cryptic response, especially considering that this cartoon governor appears to be driving the boyfriend off the cliff’s edge.
The Cut contacted Cuomo’s office for answers, and we will update if we hear back. In the meantime, I suggest you take a moment to absorb the other splendors this poster has to offer. I mean, the “Boyfriend Cliff” is arresting, but please keep in mind: Someone placed each and every one of its minuscule, unhinged details deliberately. Hmmm, yes. Much to think about, indeed.
Update, July 16: On Wednesday night, two days after the Cut originally requested clarification, Peter Ajemian — Cuomo’s senior deputy communications director — offered an explanation. According to Ajemian, the “Boyfriend Cliff” is simply “an ongoing, playful bit the governor has been doing publicly with his family over the past few months to help lighten spirits during an incredibly difficult time.” And why a cliff? There is so much we still don’t know.