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A still from the First Kiss video.
A still from the First Kiss video.

The fake, viral First Kiss video: What’s ‘real’ on the Internet, and how real do we actually want it? Add to ...

Parodies for the viral video “First Kiss” are mushrooming, right on schedule. There’s First Fist Bump; First Touch; First Sniff and several other first unmentionables. All spoof director Tatia Pilieva’s saccharine short film “First Kiss,” which showed 20 “strangers” kissing for the first time in front of her camera. The subjects move awkwardly at first but progress quickly to deft, full body-gripping. The video seemed to soften even the hardest of hearts online, racking up 42-million views since being posted on Monday.

Soon came the inevitable news: The whole thing was an ad shilling clothing for a hip, Los Angeles-based retailer named Wren. The “strangers” were in fact models, actors, indie musicians and even a member of the Hemingway clan, all thrown together for staged passion.

Once again, the Internet hordes complained, another corporate gimmick disguised as authentic moment proffered by the Web.

Soon, folks wondered whether the hot strangers were even strangers. “They were chosen based on how they looked aesthetically together beforehand,” Wren chief executive Melissa Coker acknowledged in an interview with Co.Create.

But did the swooning audience actually want real people?

“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,” wrote Slate’s Amanda Hess, suggesting nobody really wants to see dumpy people being intimate, least of all in advertising, generally an aspirational medium. Still, Hess decides that a more interesting video would have employed “a more diverse cast of all the people in the world who constitute ‘strangers.’” (Good luck catering that shoot.)

So just how real do we want our models, and how to endeavour that they represent all of us, or more of us? When it came to authenticity, another ad garnered far more positive reaction this week. Online clothing retailer Betabrand launched its spring collection not with models, but with women who boast PhDs or are studying toward them – with “bodies of women with really big brains,” as the brand’s founder put it. Twitter reaction was largely laudatory, thankful for such refreshingly different images of femininity.

But here too, the seeds of dissent are growing, with some critics complaining that the women selected weren’t representative enough. Some wondered why the brand wasn’t using working class women or women “off the street,” people with less means than a Stanford grad to look good.

“Brainy models packaged as ‘real women’ does not equal diversity,” wrote the Guardian’s Lola Okolosie. Women are being sold “a variation of the same theme, packaged as real and more representative,” Okolosie argued, pointing to Betabrand’s spring collection: “Who gets to be the face of ‘real’ women? It turns out, pretty much the same type of woman as before. You must be no more than a size 10, pretty, able-bodied, feminine-looking and young. Not that much of a departure then.”

Not surprisingly, readers are blasting Okolosie as a party pooper who missed the opportunity to celebrate healthy role models instead of thigh gaps and unattainable ideals.

In a Twitter exchange, representatives from Betabrand quibbled linguistically with Okolosie: “Actually, they’re brainy real women packaged as models.” Not, as the Guardian writer had previously charged, “brainy models packaged as real women.” Confused yet?

Reps for the company explained that the women were simply friends (with PhDs) who fit the sample garments and who were available to be photographed that day – real people with real schedules.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

Follow on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

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