The Hollywood kiss

A kiss is, well, just a kiss. Maybe not. Ask Richard Gere, activist and actor, who became the target of Hindu demonstrators (and an arrest warrant) when he laid a big wet one on Indian actress Shilpa Shetty at a televised charity event. Kissing is culture bound (with whom, where, when and how), as Gere learned. He later apologized to those Indians who took serious umbrage to his public display of affection.

And speaking of kisser and kissee, ask Joe Lieberman if he ever looked back and wished that he had ducked instead of letting the president give him a generous forehead smack just after the State of the Union address, captured for posterity on Youtube. It was not, as it turned out, a kiss of political death for Lieberman, but it didn't help him when it came time to run for reelection as a Democrat.

Bush, lips ever puckered at rallies and cook outs, planted a nice one on John McCain after delivering a 2004 campaign speech. Those who recall the nasty hammering McCain took from the dirty tricks department of Team Bush during the 2000 presidential primary campaign wondered if McCain grabbed a wet wipe once out of view of the cameras.

It can be said with some assurance that the president has never kissed Democratic Congressman John Murtha. Seriously. There also has been no recorded public kissing of Mrs. Bush by the president during the last six years. Then there was the seemingly calculated, one minute-and-counting smooch that Al Gore gave Tipper Gore during the 2000 Democratic Convention, with delegates and millions watching, putting Bush on notice that Al was an alpha male and not to be toyed with (Bush never tried to kiss Al).

Of course, Americans peck each other on the cheeks, forehead, and have perfected the air kiss where lips never touch actual skin &

a faux kiss that has good intentions but never lands. Hand kissing? Not even.

Hollywood has come a long way when it comes to osculating. Back in the day, actors locked lips without even the slightest hint of a tongue passing from one mouth to the other, let alone opening the mouth widely during said planting. But that was when all movies had married couples sleeping in twin beds, each with a robe and slippers handy. A good night kiss was a quick, cheerful peck across two feet of open space and lamp was sedately turned off. Now, actors are encouraged to lock and load, with lips and tongues getting all tangled up. The last goodnight chaste peck was given by Ozzie to Harriet, not Ward and June Cleaver, parents of the Beaver.

Kissing has been around since at least 1500 B.C., mentioned in Vedic Sanskrit texts telling of lovers setting "mouth to mouth." Before then? Well, hunting and gathering made for a long day. Plus no one flossed. And so on.

Why do we kiss? Perhaps it's simply pleasant, a way of making contact as long as the many culturally complex rules are closely followed. You can't just go kissing anyone (unless you're the president), as Gere found out (the arrest warrant has been lifted), much to his chagrin. When in doubt, go for air and sort it out later.

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