Choosing to believe in an insincere symbol (that viral first kiss video)

Wren Logo

Wren Logo

By now, everyone knows that the video of 20 couples kissing for the first time was a clothing advertisement. Reactions ranged from cynical to distraught to head-in-the-sand. “I’m just going to choose to believe it’s real.”

The filmmakers said that they strove to make it as real as possible. It’s not a stretch to say that they put people in the right situation and that’s why the emotions felt real. It’s not a stretch to believe in beautiful first kisses between strangers. Courage and an open heart are all you need to get there.

But, on the other hand, an “unlikely uniformity” was on display in the montage of kisses, according to one snarky article, which castigated the video for “[presenting] itself as an exemplar of genuine human emotion.”

“Never trust the Internet,” another one says.

“Just a cynical plot to extract your money…actual strangers would be a more interesting social experiment but infinitely less shareable,” notes another.

My theory is that as a culture, we’re not quite sure what “genuine” means.  That’s why we’re so obsessed with science to the point of it being a pop phenomenon, why we love Youtube / social media / reality TV (because it’s just normal people, being real), and why we had an emotional reaction when we found out that the first kiss video was just an /advertisement/. We want genuine and when people imply that something’s real and it isn’t, it brings out the major cynical snark.

First Kiss Video

Disingenuous Kiss??

I don’t believe the video presented itself as an exemplar of genuine human emotion. I think our eyes and our desire did at least 50 percent of the work of framing it as such, because we associate “genuine” with “true.” But symbolic truth doesn’t have to be genuine.

First of all, most of the stupid headline links had the three elements of “we are trying to get you to click”: started with a number (“20 strangers”), had a hook (“share a first kiss”) and had the word “strange” or “weird” (“and it was strangely beautiful.”). If there’s a frame, somebody’s producing it, and then some content aggregator is marketing it, and you’re clicking because they know how to get us to do that. Give up the pretense of free will; they’ve got our number. Once we collectively realize this, we can turn our genius to more interesting questions.

Like what is this video, exactly? And what does it have to do with genuine?

a window in the dark / every girl who falls / for worse. It’s like that / (if) You Want It To Be Good, / (sometimes) being bad can feel

Shangri-Las 1964 / always putting him / side of town. They / that’s why I fell / is also often drawn / bring out the (virtue)

(irresistible), mysterious / tries to infuriate her / in love with him / series of violent, tragic / unfolds like a dream, / together various elements / Gothic storytelling – (religious)

These are the words in the Wren branding. Maybe I’m just susceptible to writing, but why do I suddenly want to buy cute, expensive clothes, be 10 years younger and female, cool and hot as shit out clubbing at places for which I’m way too interesting and different? This is how a brand feels. I hope Wren can keep up production with the thousands of teenage girls across America using their parents’ credit cards to buy cute dresses after watching the video and feeling alone and lovely.

But the branding provoked by the video is about more than just teenage girls. It tapped into a symbol, the shared belief in which is more genuine than a video emphasizing “actual strangers” would have been.

I’m not quite sure what that symbol is – something about how everyone is basically good, something about how people can come together, something about how love really is possible, something about the beauty of a random romantic encounter, and then there are the invisible facets of the symbol, the yearning face behind the computer screen, memories of falling for someone, “unfolding like a dream.” The name of the song was “we might be dead tomorrow.” As in, give me all your love now, cause for all we know…” There are other symbolic details; I’m not expert enough to point them out.

That widespread postmodern legacy of weary cynicism when faced with media manipulation is important as a defense, but we need a theory to move beyond it or risk falling into fundamentalist practice. You don’t choose to believe based on whether or not it’s genuine, but whether or not it speaks to you. If it speaks to you but you know it isn’t “true,” then the mind worm is still in your head, only it makes you miserable instead of making you feel lovely. When the mind worm is in your head, you’re susceptible to the Meld – to the invisible voices of control pervading our society.

The only way out is to decide that it doesn’t speak to you, and the way out of that is to do the sorts of things and live the sort of life that the mind worm does not speak to.

It’s manipulative because it speaks to something invisible yet compelling – some shifting cultural symbol – and even whether or not we choose to believe in that symbol, it will affect us. It’s the Meld, and it creeps up around us. Social control is achieved not through bullets or tanks but through symbols and psychology. This romantic video is relatively harmless, but it’s also the sort of thing that’s playing on TV screens everywhere in the Meld, making people feel happy and good despite other historical factors. Choosing to believe isn’t a bad thing, but it is a choice, made not because we think something is genuine but because we feel it to be true, or we empower it with our feelings.

Intent is not necessary to make a choice. A feeling is a belief is a choice. Know the choices you make!

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