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Posted at 3:23 PM ET, 06/ 8/2010

The same-sex kiss gag: Yeah, it's getting old

By Jen Chaney

Once upon a time, on an MTV that existed eons ago (eons = seven years ago), a kiss between two members of the same gender still carried a wee bit of sexually-charged shock power.

I refer, of course, to the lady-on-lady lip-lock between Madonna and Britney Spears -- and also, technically, Christina Aguilera, although everyone seems to forget that part -- at the 2003 Video Music Awards. The brief onstage kiss between Pop Music's Queen and her anointed Princesses sparked tons of media coverage and "Oh my God, did you see that?" conversation. And inadvertently, it paved the way for a same-sex kissing trend that, in 2010, has started to get a little tired.

In the years since Madonna made kissy face with Britney, and particularly in recent months, we've seen more celebrity men and women with their mouths enmeshed than I can even begin to remember. Sacha Baron Cohen and Will Ferrell went at it during the MTV Movie Awards in 2007. Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page did it last year in an issue of Marie Claire. In an obvious attempt to be controversial, Miley Cyrus recently gave it a shot (and then later denied it). Sandra Bullock planted one on Meryl Streep at this year's Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, and then did the same with Scarlett Johansson at Sunday's MTV Movie Awards, where Jonah Hill and Russell Brand also made out, a mere four months after Brand pressed his lips against Jason Segel's during a Stand With Haiti benefit concert in L.A. Surely there's a new, homoerotic game of Six Degrees buried in all of this somewhere.

And yet out of all of these examples -- and I am sure there are even more I didn't mention -- the only one that caused any legitimate controversy was Adam Lambert's man-on-man kiss during last year's American Music Awards. And that's probably because, as Lambert asserted at the time, he's actually openly gay. Watching a gay guy kiss another guy, apparently, isn't nearly as entertaining for some people as watching two dudes like Ben Affleck and Kevin Smith do it. (That one was back in 1999, by the way. Affleck and Smith were true pioneers in this department.)

Here's the thing: it isn't the kissing that's the problem. It's the calculation. In too many of these cases, the same-sex lip-lock comes across as a blatant attempt on the kissers' parts to prove they are uninhibited, gutsy and/or comfortable enough to push comedic boundaries. But all that underlying intention only deflates any bit of sexy, rebellious fun that the kiss could have represented.

If it's true that Bullock dreamed up Sunday's whole ScarJo smooch scenario, perhaps that's one reason why it failed to hit the mark.

For me, the "controversial" lipsmack thing has been done, manipulatively, so many times, that any visit to the same-sex kissing booth just seems lazy at this point. In fact, I assert that there are only three situations in which an instance of same-team celebrity tonsil hockey might be remotely interesting.

Scenario One: The Hoffman/Bateman Example

A couple of days ago, I got genuine delight out of the absurdity of Dustin Hoffman and Jason Bateman kissing at a Lakers game. Why? Because it seemed truly spontaneous and involved two actors who, aside from their shared screen time in "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium," made for a surprising, uh, pairing There didn't seem to be any calculation there, just two grown men improvising and acting like goofballs. It also helped that they didn't do it on any awards shows broadcast on the MTV network. Bottom line: If there is genuine spontaneity involved and one of the participants used to star on "Arrested Development," there's a chance, albeit a sliver of one, that a kiss like this can still be amusing.

Scenario Two: The Inappropriate Situation

Let's be honest, it doesn't take a whole lot of courage to kiss a fellow man or woman on MTV, which takes pride in being the home of pre-planned "deviant behavior." But do it at a more dignified event -- say, the Academy Awards -- and that might be a bit more shocking. Potentially childish and inappropriate, yes. But a little shocking.

Scenario Three: The Action Stars

Any guy who has ever starred in one of Judd Apatow's boy-bonding movies is practically required to kiss one of his co-stars at some point. But watching Hollywood veterans, particularly those of the action hero variety, pucker up? That might be a stunner. If Tom Cruise wants to finally put to rest all those gay rumors, for example, all he has to do is make out with Will Smith for a couple of seconds on live television. This of course will never happen, which is why it remains one of the few same-sex kiss scenarios that would actually raise some eyebrows.

As for any and all public celebrity same-gender kisses that fall outside of those parameters -- aside from those shared by people in an actual relationship who are kissing because they're in love, rather than attempting to bolster their images -- let's give it a rest, at least for a little while. After all, once everybody starts doing something that once seemed "racy," it's no longer taboo. It's just kind of dull.

By Jen Chaney  | June 8, 2010; 3:23 PM ET
Categories:  Britney Spears, Celebrities, Celebritology 101, Pop Culture  | Tags:  Award Shows, Celebrities, Pop Culture  
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I think the Hoffman/Bateman one was so interesting because the kiss cam honed in on Hoffman, expecting him to kiss his wife - who was sitting on his left. Instead, he turned to his right and made out with Bateman.

Oh Kiss cam, will you never get old?

Posted by: eet7e | June 8, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I think you're right: same-sex kissing is rarely shocking and has fallen flat as a gag. But I also think if award shows keep doing it, calculated or not, it could wear down some of the discomfort people feel when they see two men kissing "for real." If lame MTV stunts can make people chill over Adam Lambert and same-sex couples on the front page of the WashPost, I say go ahead with their calculating selves.

Posted by: ishkabibbleA | June 8, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget the male-on-male kissy-face skits on SNL.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | June 8, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

ishkabibbleA, valid point. That might be the only value in the fact that this phenomenon, for lack of a better word, now seems commonplace.

And Nosy, I didn't even get into the SNL thing -- or any of the other actors who do this in character -- because I wanted to focus on the celebs who do this when they are not playing a role. That might be a subject for a whole other post!

Posted by: Jen_Chaney | June 8, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Point taken, Jen. Although one might reasonably question whether some actors are playing roles at award shows too ;-)

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | June 8, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

I think that's highly likely, Nosy. Plenty of beards in evidence I imagine.

I can't help but notice Tom Cruise only seems to be doing hyper-masculine, testosterone-soaked movies these days. Hmmm. Methinks he doth protest too much?

Posted by: Californian11 | June 9, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I agree with you.Adam Lambert kiss was unfairly demonized just because he is gay for real,but it wasn't calculated.It is real artistry from his side and it was a spontaneous response to the OUT magazine who criticized him for not being gay enough

Posted by: robi2 | June 10, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

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