One of my close friends has recently started her post-graduate studies in publishing. Last night we sat in separate rooms, tapping at our various keyboards. However, I disrupted our workflow quite a few times as I trailed in to talk to her: either to distract myself from my job applications or to be able to share some inane thought I’d just had. As I walked in yet again I sat down, looked over her shoulder, and she offered to share the uni task she was working on with me.
Her task? To write about her first kiss.
I sat there, mesmerised. It was dripping with the first taste of sultry lust and the collision of longing, curiosity and hesitation. A smoky, sweaty romance where beautiful things happen in forgotten places.
Naturally, I interrogated her. As it turns out, this wasn’t exactly her first kiss after all: sure, it was definitely based on a real kiss from her early-mid teens, but she explained that she chose to use this one instead of her real first kiss as this was far more interesting.
A happy coincidence of academic syllabus and pop culture, her task happened to be extremely pertinent as social media has been inundated with first kisses over the past week.*
Or, more specifically, these first kisses:
Yeah, you’ve probably already watched it by now, but come on – you know you want to watch it again.
Now. Let’s chat.
You probably know the story by now: that the filmmaker Tatia Pilieva asked 20 strangers to kiss on camera. 36,299,275 YouTube hits and one parody later and we have the latest darling of Things That Go Viral. And then it came to light that the film was actually produced for LA-based fashion label, Wren, in which all of the dames are dressed. People also Googled the ‘kissers’ who starred in the film only to find that they were creatives of the semi-famous variety (models, musicians, actors et co.)
“OUTRAGE!!! ALL OF THOSE EMOTIONS ARE FAKE!! WE HAVE BEEN DECEIVED!!” we cried. Our Wednesdays seemed a tad less meaningful. All our dreams of making out with that babe from the floor below in the work elevator were unceremoniously quashed.
Oh, please. Let’s all get over ourselves.
Firstly, according to Wren’s Melissa Coker, those twenty people were strangers who genuinely didn’t know each other or what task they were going to be asked to perform prior to the filming . Nor did they know when the cameras were rolling (or not) during the filming. Coker reassured us that what we saw was real, adding that all of the participants were friends of either Pilieva or herself. (They just happen to have some pretty attractive friends, don’t they?)
Either way, what we’re left with is an incredibly powerful video and a clever marketing and PR campaign.
So, what made First Kiss go viral? Why won’t my YouTube clip get 35+ million hits within four days? That’s because a clip of you discordantly humming Katy Perry songs just isn’t… doesn’t… don’t worry about it.
Quite simply, First Kiss taps into our innate desires and reaffirms our connection with those around us. The film captures, rather beautifully, a moment of shared human experience. Pilieva allows us to witness a moment of incredible emotion, sensuality and vulnerability. Kissing someone for the first time is something to which we can easily relate – reflecting our homo sapien desire for love, relationships and sex.
But Pilieva and Coker haven’t just crafted three minutes and 28 seconds of emotionally-charged black and white bliss. No. They also injected their work with some subtle social commentary. Most of the participants were paired with someone society would deem “normal and appropriate” for them in terms of age and personality (eg: twenty-something babe with twenty-something babe). However, First Kiss shakes things up a little by pairing a guy in his early twenties – who could well be gay (what do you guys think?) – and a woman in her late fifties. I found it refreshing and lovely to be reminded of the structures which our world, as a whole, subscribes to and to see those norms pushed against, if only briefly.
This theme of taboo is pervasive throughout the film: firstly, through the concept of kissing a stranger – the acting upon of a fantasy. Secondly, the fact that these kisses have an audience… of millions. Voyeurism has, obviously, been one of our favourite pastimes since the early 2000s. Thanks to our addiction to reality TV the idea of watching people cooking, sewing, building, talking, fighting, shopping, eating or even kissing isn’t by any means new. However, the moments captured in First Kiss do provide the viewer with something that we do not normally have the opportunity to observe. We witness a series of intensely private socially abnormal moments, and our presence (in the form of the camera) serves to compact the apparent nervousness of the participants.
On a practical note, like many viral campaigns, First Kiss was designed to be easy to share across social media platforms and to leave many questions unanswered. The fact that it was posted by someone who was relatively unknown and was intentionally designed with no semblance to a traditional ad, has only further fuelled its popularity.
And now that it has everyone with access to an internet connection talking, Coker has generated a huge amount of publicity for her brand. Personally, from watching First Kiss I associate the Wren brand with understanding what it means to be human – sensual, real and raw. In my mind it’s a brand which is not afraid to step outside the boundaries of the norm to try something new. And I dig that.
What do you think? Do you feel cheated after the discovery of the ‘fabricated’ nature of First Kiss? Do you think it was effective in terms of Wren’s marketing and publicity? Do you just to make out with a stranger?**
*Unless you are living under a rock. And if that’s the case, then good for you, man.
** You and I both.