OVERNIGHT, this video of 20 strangers’ first kiss has completely blown up people’s newsfeeds. It’s now near 40 million views in less than three days. Take a minute to watch if you haven’t yet; the bits of awkwardness and fumbling at first “meeting,” the acceleration of emotions and physicality of the kisses, and most of all (for me anyway) the slow, at times almost unwilling separations make for undeniable feelings of tenderness, even joy.
But (why is there always a “but”?), as Slate and others rightfully point out, the video is carefully crafted to produce these effects. The actors are not necessarily “strangers,” but for the most part models, performers, people used to being in front of the camera. And most importantly, the piece itself is actually a promotion for a clothing brand:
Actually, it’s an advertisement for clothes, and most of these strangers are professional performers who are experienced in acting out love, sex, and intimacy for crowds. The cast includes models Natalia Bonifacci, Ingrid Schram, and Langley Fox (daughter of actress Mariel Hemingway and sister of model Dree); musicians Z Berg of The Like, Damian Kulash of OK Go, Justin Kennedy of Army Navy, singer Nicole Simone, and singer-actress Soko (who also performed the melancholy indie music that accompanies the short); and actors Karim Saleh, Matthew Carey, Jill Larson, Corby Griesenbeck, Elisabetta Tedla, Luke Cook, and Marianna Palka. Is it really unexpectedly touching that when gorgeous and charismatic Italian models, French actors, indie band leaders, and Hollywood royalty get together to kiss one another—under a soundtrack that prompts, “If you’re not ready for love, how can you be ready for life?”—the results are “beautiful”?
My response is: If it produces joyful emotions, who cares?
Honestly, had I not had the experience of being on TV this past year I might have responded differently to this criticism. But during my experience being on set, being filmed for Take Part Live, I learned something. Even though the questions for a segment may be scripted; even though there’s “prep” as far as seeing the set beforehand, having makeup and hair, etc., none of this diminishes in any way how “real” the interactions are when you’re finally there and the camera is rolling. It doesn’t diminish the emotions you feel inside, and if the director is able to convey these emotions outwardly, then it’s a successful shoot.
I can’t help but think of my interview with Casey Niestat earlier this year and the subject of people calling out his Philippines typhoon relief video because it was sponsored by Fox Studios in conjunction with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Casey said [about the haters]: “At the end of the day we were able to help people.” That’s what mattered to him.
In the same way, if a video of strangers kissing brings a bit of joy to 40mm peoples’ days, who cares if it’s in support of a clothing brand. This is 2014. It’s time to let go of the sacred cow of a hard line between commercial and art, literature and advertising, product and news, whatever dichotomy you want to set up, whatever you call it. Emotions are the fuel of people’s lives, and whatever you can create to produce those emotions (and whatever you do with them) is what matters.