You’ve probably seen it in your news feed by now: “Watching complete strangers kiss for the first time is really beautiful.” Maybe you’ve clicked on filmmaker Tatia Pilieva’s short video and watched these 10 couples meet, awkwardly interact and finally kiss gently to the swelling indie soundtrack. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that nearly all of the strangers are young and extremely attractive. The black and white film seems so pure and artless. It’s the perfect recipe for a sigh, a swoon and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s if you happen to be single.
Then you find out that the “strangers” in the film are models, actors and professional performers, and the whole thing is a clothing advertisement.
For some, this entirely changes the effect of the video. In an article published on Slate that made this disclosure widely known to the rest of the Internet, Amanda Hess wrote, “I doubt that millions of viewers would be so quick to celebrate a video of randos kissing if they were all less thin, hip, stylish, charming, and well-manicured.” Hess raises a relevant point, but the beauty of the actors, while compelling, isn’t the only thing that has kept 61 million viewers riveted to their computer screens.
The truth is that “First Kiss” advertises much more than clothing. It sells us our romantic fantasies, our desire for beauty and our yearning for companionship, and it does a frighteningly good job.
In the background of the video, a singer croons, “If you’re not ready for love, how can you be ready for life?” Love, it is implied, is something that happens to you in the blink of a moment. It is in a risk you take or a kiss you share with a beautiful stranger. If you don’t grab it when it’s there, you’ll miss it entirely.
I believe in a love that waits around. Sometimes, love means cleaning up someone’s puke at 3 a.m., cooking dinner night after night or giving up sleep just to listen to someone who can offer you nothing in return. Love means that you are willing to put yourself aside, not just your inhibitions or your hang ups. Far from being glamorous, love makes a big fat mess, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It isn’t a feeling to be seized; it is an action to be done. It is work, but there is beauty in that, too.
Still, it’s hard for us not to be taken in by fairytale endings. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating grand romantic gestures, as long as we don’t confuse them with what they represent. “First Kiss” claims to be about love (or at least the possibility for love), but really, it’s a reflection of our desires. We want so much to place ourselves in the position of these strangers with all of their beauty and romantic possibilities. Knowing that they are actors shatters our fantasies that these kinds of things can happen. Maybe fairytale romances like the ones shown in the video do exist, but any companionship worth having is worth so much more than a song, a pretty face and a screen that fades to black.