March 12, 2014

Why The Video of Strangers Kissing Leaves me Cold.


Everywhere I turn this week I see links to Tatia Pilieva’s short video “First Kiss.

It’s the latest viral craze, posted on everyone’s Facebook walls, and features 20 strangers, who are actors, models, musicians or in the entertainment industry. These individuals are fit, attractive and surprisingly well paired. I thought they looked like they could possibly be real couples, but it’s important to remember that they’re not.

The lighting is lovely; the couples are a bit awkward and giggly. They’re exceedingly polite, but really, why wouldn’t they be? Filmed in soft, black and white with a sentimental soundtrack, the video is undeniably aesthetically beautiful. Viewers find themselves moved to tears over it. Thousands of comments praise the video for the passion and intimacy it supposedly shows.

So why does “First Kiss” leave me so cold?

For one, it’s not real. It pretends to be real, but it isn’t. Again, these people are entertainers. They are on camera. Their behavior isn’t spontaneous. It’s staged. They all know they are there to kiss for an audience, therefore these first kisses aren’t authentic in the way we imagine them to be.

“First Kiss” plays into our culture’s obsession with voyeurism. We like the video because we love the feeling of being the “fly on the wall” for moments which, until only recently, were generally private. The allure of the film is that it makes the viewer feel as if he or she is really getting to see a couple’s first kiss as if that is unusual or groundbreaking in some way.

Well, I’ve got news for you. We’ve all probably seen hundreds, possibly thousands of strangers kissing and it’s nothing new. Ever watched a movie or a TV show? There you go. If strangers kissing turns you on, go to a bar on a Saturday night around closing time. You’ll see plenty of interesting pairings, especially in a college town. Still not satisfied? Watch The Bachelor. Lots of sexy looking strangers making out all over the place, and yes, often for the first time. That this show is so popular after so many seasons is a testament to how much we love seeing people we don’t know with their tongues down each other’s throats.

I’ve kissed plenty of guys I didn’t know and it never ended well. Yes, back in my 20s I was occasionally the girl in the bar making out with some guy she didn’t know because he was hot or it was fun or he seemed nice enough at the time, and it was definitely harmless, but at the same time it was utterly meaningless. I never saw any of them again, which to me is kind of sad.

The kisses themselves lacked the spark that real intimacy can ignite. They left me empty and disappointed because without the emotions that come from actually knowing someone, a kiss is just two mashed mouths and some groping hands. To an outsider looking on, there’s not much difference though, especially when the outsider projects his or her own emotions or fantasies on the kissers. That’s what’s really going on with “First Kiss” and because I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to fall for the illusion, the video creeps me out instead of choking me up or getting me hot and bothered.

What I’d like to see instead, and what would truly be groundbreaking on film, would be the passionate kisses of real couples who’ve grown close over time through multiple shared experiences. They wouldn’t have to be gorgeous, young or skinny. I’d rather see an insurance salesperson and a high school teacher than two hipster models. I want to see what a kiss looks like when the couple has survived cancer, or foreclosure, racism or homophobia.

How would weary parents who’ve stayed up for a month straight with a colicky baby look in their embrace? What about the couples who’ve managed to make it work when no one else said it could? The couples who don’t look like they should be together, yet are, happily? I want to see those kinds of kisses—the physical expression of love between ordinary people sticking together, making it work in the face of life’s unpredictable obstacles.

When I think of kisses like this, I remember my grandparents who’d been together 60 years when my grandfather died. They still kissed every day. I would do anything for a video of just one of their kisses.

The greatest kisses of my life were definitely not firsts; they were the kisses shared long after I’d lost count. They were the comforting, familiar kisses of a committed relationship; the kinds of kisses that come after fights and funerals, when I’m tired, or a little frisky, when we’ve laughed hysterically at some idiotic, bawdy nonsense or snickered knowingly over an inside joke and then a smile or a gentle touch leads to hands against faces, mouths meeting, shared breath.

Spontaneous, surprising, kindling kisses.

Moments that could never fully be captured or understood on film.


Relephant reads:


20 First Kisses. From Distance to Intimacy in One Moment.

The Art and Science of a Kiss.

Strangers, Intimacy. [Photo]

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: courtesy of the author

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