Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ninety-Nine: Enchantments

Last week there was a video clip that went viral all through the web. The initial descriptions were simple enough. A filmmaker had gathered up twenty strangers, paired them off, and filmed each couple's first kiss. The initial response was full of delighted accounts of how the couples--- always described as "real" or "ordinary" people rather than models or actors ---were so wonderfully awkward yet willing to make one another more comfortable, to make a shy, slightly anxious first kiss into something very touching and sometimes very sexy.  Everyone was thrilled with the video, and even the gender warriors refrained from ranting about whatever they might've declared to be "problematic".

I watched the video and just sighed. It was all very charming--- watching ten pairs of strangers share a first kiss. I did like the way some of the men were trying so hard to be as polite and apologetic as possible; I very much identified with that. I felt a twinge of envy, too; there's no denying that. The first kiss, especially with a stranger, always has a special rush of delight and excitement. I only wished that I'd been asked to be part of a video like that...or that I could kiss a lovely stranger on a springtime afternoon.

Alas, though--- the video was revealed to be, well, if not fake, then at least not what it was originally thought to be.  The video was revealed to be an ad for some obscure hipster clothing company. And so the backlash began. There was a feeling of being cheated, and the footage itself was subjected to a withering revision. Commenters on the web were angry that the magic had been taken away from them.

I could only agree. Watching the video again, I felt...vaguely irritated. All the magic had gone out of it. If this was an art project,  it was lovely and touching and romantic. If it was an ad, well, it lacked those things.  If the kissing couples were strangers assembled to share a first kiss as part of an art project, then that was something very different in intent and atmosphere from assembling for a advertising job. Volunteering to kiss a stranger for art has a very different valence. I couldn't any longer imagine myself standing in a studio, a bit bewildered at the video equipment, looking at a girl who'd been paired off with me, trying to be nonchalant and pleasant, feeling like I'd been given the gift of a kiss. The video lost its charm once it was an ad. I couldn't even watch it and feel any kind of sexual thrill. These weren't "strangers" if it was an ad; they were just co-workers.

And, yes, if it was an ad, there was another loss of sexual or romantic appeal. If the twenty subjects worked as art-project volunteers, they were...appealing. They were all of them reasonably attractive for an art project... but they weren't attractive enough to be models in an ad. There's a certain kind of beauty expected of models in ads, and the people in the video weren't advert-beautiful. Once the video was just an advert, then I couldn't look at it and project myself into it; I couldn't imagine myself as part of one of the couples.  And if it was just an advert, the people in it weren't attractive enough to watch just for themselves. (The clothing line? Never heard of it, couldn't possibly care less.)

I haven't kissed a lovely stranger in rather a while. I miss that rush of excitement and the new. I miss that, and just for a moment I felt it when I looked at the video as an art project and imagined being part of it. There wasn't even the consolation prize of being able to watch and desire girls of the quality I've been taught to expect in ads.

Disappointed, yes. Perhaps it's only that context is everything.  The visuals that worked so well as an art project failed utterly in an ad. They didn't offer up either hope or the consolations of voyeurism. In any case, the Kissing Strangers video means nothing to me now that it's only an ad--- and now that the world is just a little less magical.

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