For some TV viewers, storylines of adultery, murder, war, rape, etc. are not reprehensible enough to prompt a channel change; two men kissing, however, is another matter.
As of 1 April 2008, it's been six months -- 188 days, to be exact -- since Nuke kissed.
Nuke would be Luke (Van Hansis) and Noah (Jake Silberman) of As the World Turns, daytime drama's first gay "supercouple". That the two college students haven't kissed in so long has resulted in a fan campaign to elicit more physical intimacy, and the campaign has gained momentum after being reported by the Associated Press at the beginning of March. Since then, the story has been picked up by CNN, NPR, USA Today, ABC World News Tonight, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Los Angeles Times, and numerous other news outlets, as well as media outlets in Australia, the UK, Canada, and Belgium. It's the biggest story about a lack of sexual content on TV to hit the airwaves in years.
I don't watch As the World Turns, so my personal knowledge of the couple has been limited. I knew they existed and that they were popular, so I caught up on the couple's story from the beginning courtesy of YouTube and CBS, which recognizes the promotional value of having the storyline posted. I'm not the only one watching; the first kiss between the duo has had over a million hits, making it one of the hottest videos on YouTube. The storyline is also posted on NoahandLuke.com, which has a running clock counting how long it has been since the couple kissed.
Considering the storyline has taken place in a genre known for stretching credibility, it has been remarkably honest. Like many young gay men, Noah has struggled with his sexual identity, using his girlfriend to mask his true feelings, and has faced cruel rejection from his father, who blames Luke for "turning" his son gay. Many of the complications of coming out and the first gay romance have been addressed, and the actors playing Luke and Noah have excelled. It's this honesty in the characters' development and portrayal that has made the lack of a kiss so noticeable.
Gay and lesbian couples kiss for the same reasons that straight couples do. Luke and Noah have kissed twice on the show; in two other scenes, it is implied that the couple has kissed but the camera has shifted focus to avoid showing the kiss. For instance, on the show's Valentine fantasy episode, Luke and Noah are the only couple whose dream date doesn’t end in a kiss, as the camera pans upward at the crucial moment. To be fair, though, one scene did feature Noah kissing Luke on the cheek, with all the passion of a young man kissing his Aunt Mae. In contrast, Noah and his former girlfriend reportedly kissed 15 times on camera in the month before they broke up.
Not all fans are longing for more action for the gay couple, though. Some fans say the story has ruined the show. One such fan posted her or his opinion in response to the MSNBC story, saying:
I have watched to show for a lot of years but don't like the storyline. That should be left in the bedroom not on TV. I don't watch any more. And the same goes for Brothers and Sisters (which also prominently features the love life of a gay character).
For this and similar viewers, storylines of adultery, drug addiction, murder, war, rape, and kidnapping are not reprehensible enough to cause a change of channel; two men in love and expressing that love, is. American Family Association has joined in protesting the presence of the gay storyline on ATWT, arguing, "the best thing that they could do is to go ahead and drop these two characters." (cited in "AFA Announces Nuke Kissing Ban", 10 March 2008, AfterElton.com). Another ATWT fan took this idea even further: "(Homosexuality) is a part of life, but we don't have to see it...If people choose that lifestyle, it needs to be kept to them selfs (sic)".
Surely a controversial kiss -- but nary an eyebrow raised.
Becki is a colleague and friend of mine. At her office, she has several pictures of herself with her husband, including their wedding portrait. She discusses openly the parties and events that she and her husband attend, and she talks openly about his endearing qualities. She also has pictures of her son and stepson, Devin and Dylan, two of the more handsome and charming elementary students I've met. Becki is right to feel pride in her great kids.
Still, is Becki flaunting her heterosexuality by posting her sons' pictures on her office door and discussing her husband? Is she throwing her "normalcy" in my face, or does she just want to share with others the joy that her family is to her? Knowing Becki, I can say without doubt that it is the latter. For most that have family pictures in the workplace, or even the home, there is no agenda attached. Is it then so difficult to believe that my desire to put up portraits of myself with my partner stems from a desire to share my joy, too, and not a need to shove a lifestyle on anyone?
Yet, there is a vast difference between hanging family portraits and making out in public. Generally, most would agree that any excessive public display of affection is unwanted, regardless of the couple's orientation. Further, it is poor manners, as Peggy Post told The New York Times. The latest family member to update Emily Post's etiquette guide, Post provides the following guidelines: ''Holding hands, affectionate greetings accompanied by a kiss on the cheek, or a quick hug, are perfectly acceptable in public. Passion is not.'' ("In an Age of Finger Food, a New Emily Post" 20 April, 1997, New York Times) I don't want to watch another couple groping while I'm trying to enjoy a plate of Spicy Thai Chicken Stir Fry, so why would I subject others to watching my partner and I behave like that?
The truth, though, is that some passion beyond Ms. Post's standards is accepted by society. Couples kiss regularly, not just on television but in the office, at airports, and in bars and clubs, and the majority thinks little of it -- unless the couple is same-sex. As Charles Morris III and John Sloop note in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, the heterosexual kiss is considered "the shared cultural embrace of heteronormative values and behavior", while the gay kiss presents a "'marked' and threatening act", one that subjects the participants to an immediate judgment of deviancy. ("'What Lips These Lips Have Kissed': Refiguring the Politics of Queer Public Kissing", March 2006)
Although not mentioned by Morris and Sloop, the kiss is not the only act perceived as a "marked" or threatening. While some may not be bothered by seeing a same-sex couple kiss, others find the sight of a simple act such as a same-sex couple shopping to be troubling. Any indication of homosexuality is a sign of decline. The only safe thing to do for our children's sake is to hide it from view, whether "it" be a bumper sticker advocating gay rights, a gay couple holding hands walking down any street, a couple of same-sex TV characters kissing, or a Valentine's Day card sent from a same-sex admirer from one high school student to another.
Fifteen-year-old Lawrence King failed to realize how threatening a simple act like giving a Valentine's Day card could be. Despite previous rejection from 14-year-old Brandon McInerney, King gave McInerney such a card. On 11 February, the two apparently had words, and on the 12th, McInerney shot and killed King.
McInerney's troubled home life, filled with abuse and violence, has been widely reported. Clearly lacking in such an upbringing is any lesson of tolerance and compassion. McInerney learned that "gay" is bad, and that the way to respond to "bad" is with violence.
King isn't the only victim, unfortunately. In February, 17-year-old Simmie Williams, a cross-dressing male, was murdered, only days after the brutal stabbing of transsexual Sanesha Stewart. Their names will be added to the list of over 170 individuals killed in the last decade because of their sexual orientation (Malernee, Jamie. "Killing of Gay Fort Lauderdale Teen Turns into Call for Action", South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 28 March 2008).
Which demonstrates the importance of such televised stories as gay couples Luke and Noah, Scotty and Kevin (Brothers and Sisters), and Bob and Lee (Desperate Housewives), as well as the stories of transgendered individuals like Alexis Meade (Ugly Betty) and lesbian couples such as Tara and Willow (Buffy). It's important to see real-life out and proud individuals like Jackie Warner (Work Out), Tim Gunn (Project Runway), and Ebony Haith (America's Next Top Model). The presence of these GLBT characters and persons teaches those that don't get the message elsewhere that being GLBT is OK. And expressing one's same-sex love and taking pride in one's life aren't threatening acts to heterosexuals.
The idea that seeing normal gay relationships correlates to greater acceptance was shown in a study titled "Same Sex Different City" presented at the 2007 International Communication Association conference. Frueh, Kris, and Rossman studied the effect of viewing The L Word and Sex and the City. Viewers had a more positive image of women in general from watching the two shows, and developed a "more liberal" attitude about homosexuality from watching The L Word.
Kissing, holding hands, marching in a parade, flying a flag, or hanging a picture of your most important person in your office -- such acts won’t hurt anyone. So let Luke and Noah kiss…it could do a world of good.