The Fading Shock & Awe of a TV Kiss

While today’s TV screen is chock full of all sorts of crazy kissing, February 19th, 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of a controversial kiss that set the country a’ twitter at a time when “social media” happened face to face.  The hullabaloo occurred when Sammy Davis Jr., playing himself, bussed the fictional character Archie Bunker, whose bigotry on All in the Family seemed all too real.  The viewing audience probably gasped just as much for the “ignoramus” (channeled flawlessly by Carroll O’Connor) as themselves.  It seems that while America had taken the turbulent Civil Rights ride, racial undercurrents remained strong.  And despite the popularity of Black entertainers and athletes, the “shock and awe” of the moment only underscored the thick residue of our country’s hypocrisy.

This, however, was not the first interracial kiss that “shocked and awed” the TV cosmos.  Four years earlier in 1968, Star Trek’s macho Captain Kirk boldly went where no man had gone before, and kissed that serious yet sexy Lt. Uhura.  Logged as the first interracial TV kiss, while this smooch also caused a ruckus, the catalyst was a sadistic alien captor mucking about with the characters.  In the famous scene, Kirk and Uhura valiantly resist the terrorist’s brainwashing to embrace (as best as well-trained Star Fleet officers can), but in the end, succumb.  Viewers were undoubtedly just as offended that the Captain and the ship’s Communication officer had been exploited, as seeing the then rather hunky Shatner place his vanilla lips on the regally exotic Nichelle Nichols.  While Trekkies could debate a “back story” of simmering desire, it would have been rather unlikely that these two would have crossed the line freely.

For the most part, TV kissing would remain fairly tame through the 1970’s and ‘80’s.   Then “shock and awe” would sparkle again when homosexuality would cross overtly into TV’s tableau.  While gay rights had come on the tails the Civil Rights era, and AIDS awareness had become part of the country’s dialogue, it wouldn’t be until the early-mid 1990’s that single-sex relationships were explored.  Series like LA Law and My So-Called Life were among a handful of pioneers to portray lesbian kissing, and high-schoolers’ gay awakenings.  Now standing as precursors to contemporary shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Glee, “guy on guy” and “girl on girl” smooching has become so commonplace among newly liberated adults and teens, it’s almost passé.  Moreover, that we are not even “shocked and awed” by the bi-sexual hi-jinx of Jersey Shore “meatballs” Snooki and Deena who describe their “hook-ups” with girls, which happen almost as frequently as with boys, as “easy” and “not a big deal”, you almost wish for the passionate outrage of the past.

Whether Madonna and Britney’s award show antics, and the likes, desensitized us somewhere along the way…Or whether we’ve just come a long way since Sammy and Archie, The Kissing Expert, for one, will always be “shocked and awed” by the magic and wonder of a kiss.