I believe we have a new record.
For jadedness, that is. For the time it takes an exciting cultural moment to go from friendly and likable, to nasty and cruel.
From innocent, to molested. From healthy, to toxic. From "the world is a benevolent place full of radiant humans with tender and loving hearts," to "the world is a pitiless razorblade willing to slice you to ribbons for a nickel and a decent parking spot."
You get the idea? You already sense what I'm about to say? Of course you do. This is how obvious. This is how bad.
The new record, I believe, has been set by "First Kiss," that utterly charming viral video that came out a couple weeks ago. Do you remember? You might not -- the Large Meme Collider that is the Internet creates and destroys all forms of offering so rapidly these days, it's damn near impossible to keep track of just how amazed/sick of it all you should really be.
In case yours wasn't among the (currently) 70 million YouTube clicks, "First Kiss" is a tiny, gorgeous, shoestring-budgeted film of three minutes and change, made by an indie clothing designer from LA, Tatia Pilieva, on a marketing whim, uploaded to YouTube and emailed out to her friends and customers, hoping for some good response.
You might say she got it.
The video featured 20 of the designer's friends, who happened to be young and not at all unattractive. Some were musicians and models. They were paired up, ten couples in all (two same-sex), complete strangers to each other. Each couple had but one instruction upon greeting each other for the first time: to kiss. For real.
The rest is the stuff of viral history.
"First Kiss" was an indisputable smash, written up everywhere from the NYT to Gawker to AdAge. Because it was all kinds of adorable. Charming. Awkward and sweet and touching, all at once. Because it was made for nothing and reached far, far more eyeballs -- and hearts -- than any megacorp marketing exec or $20 million Super Bowl ad could ever wet dream.
But more than that, it was also genuine. It really did capture that most precious of human moments, the clumsy wonderful energy of first connection, of traversing a still-sacred boundary of trust and personal space, and then locking lips. And meaning it. Also, it was sort of hot.
But then, something happened. Word got out that the couples in the video were, in fact, musicians and models, not just random, sweaty strangers from the street. Word got out that the video was maybe made "just" to sell clothes. Word got out, in short, that maybe all was not what it seemed.
That's all it took. Because if there's one thing the Internet really hates, given how frequently we're burned by hoaxers and slimy marketers, it's the slightest whiff of fakery.
Within minutes of it reaching "sensation" status, a sneering backlash occurred. The video was summarily criticized, hated upon, crushed with snarl and snark. I myself took the backlash bait, and tweeted some rumor I'd read somewhere that the Kissers were all actors (they weren't). I and my cynical knee-jerk reactivity were happy to be proven wrong.
It got worse. Within 24 hours, the first nasty parody emerged; "First Handjob," all sorts of gross and juvenile, openly challenged the idea that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and reinforced the menacing trend that if there's one thing we like better than watching someone succeed, it's watching them get spit upon by 10-year-olds for it.
Do not misunderstand. Some (most?) pop culture chyme comes predisposed to caricature, and frequently deserves parody (Hi, Kanye West). But in the case of a humble and heartfelt, low-budget moment, parody can also be the sincerest form of casual cruelty.
Fact is, there was no conspiracy. There was no corporate fakery in "First Kiss." The couples were real. The kisses were real. There was no acting. Wren, the tiny, 4-person, LA-based clothing company wasn't secretly part of some large conglomerate trying to trick you into buying a Galaxy S5. According to the NYT, the film's miniscule $1,300 budget went to studio rental, babysitting, snacks. Everyone worked for free.
In other words, this wasn't Funny or Die's inexplicable Hoverboard hoax, or a sneering Jimmy Kimmel hack job (twerking on fire, wolves in Sochi), nor was it Kobe Bryant jumping over a speeding Aston Martin for Nike, or David Beckham kicking impossible trash can shots on the beach for Pepsi. It wasn't the lying gay waitress or a fake golden eagle snatching a baby, or ABC producer Elan Gale's obnoxious airplane/Twitter stunt.
And perhaps, therein lies a big part of the problem...
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Mark Morford is an award-winning columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate, the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, and the creator of the Mark Morford's Apothecary iOS app. He's also a well-known ERYT yoga instructor at San Francisco's Yoga Tree, and the creator of the Yoga for Writers series of workshops and retreats. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...