Earlier in the year, a video called “First Kiss” went viral. It featured people who had never met before sharing a kiss on camera. “First Kiss” generated some controversy because, as it turned out, the strangers in the video weren’t “normal people,” but were, in fact, actors. Apparently, this turned a lot of people off. Personally, I didn’t care. Actors or not, the people in the video were still kissing strangers and, as a former actor myself, I can tell you that it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re getting paid – kissing someone you don’t know is legitimately awkward, no matter how many times you’ve done it, (particularly when you’re going in cold).
Anyway, another video came out several months later in the wake of “First Kiss.” Filmed by a different director, this one was called, “The Slap,” and featured, unsurprisingly, randomly paired strangers slapping each other. I was intrigued so I watched it, expecting a tongue-in-cheek parody. What I got surprised me instead. Here – take a look:
Important Note 1: This may be stating the obvious, but this video shows a whole lot of people slapping each other in the face. If that makes you uncomfortable, please feel free to skip it, and just read on.
So, here’s why I like this video – “The Slap” shows a form of visceral intimacy that we rarely talk about in civilized culture. Just as kissing is widely acknowledged to be an intimate act, so to is hitting someone, (as well as getting hit).
Important Note 2: Allow me state up front that consent is everything. The people in this video agreed to slap and be slapped. It is never all right to haul off and hit someone without their consent – unless they’re trying to hurt you. If they’re trying to hurt you, please, by all means, go to town.
Now, back to my point. The violence in “The Slap” is entirely egalitarian. Everyone’s on board. Everyone knows what they’re about to do. And yet, they all hesitate before doing it. There’s a breathless moment right before they each strike that I absolutely love. It’s like that silent negotiation right before a first kiss, when your lips are almost touching, but you’re still not sure it’s going to happen. That is intimate. And just as with a kiss, once they’ve gotten a taste for it, they want more. They laugh, they hug, they kiss, they scrunch their shoulders in that oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this way that happens when a person is super giddy and getting away with something.
The thing is, they are getting away with something in a way. They’re getting away with feeling good about hitting someone and getting hit. That right there is a modern taboo. We tell children not to hit each other. We raise ourselves to avoid violence, and for the most part, this is a very good thing – abuse is real. Harm is real, and so is victimization. These things are fucking abhorrent. But between two consenting adults, moderate violence can be shockingly sweet. It can be the foundation of a bond, a friendship, a brief connection or a life-long affair. It is, very legitimately, an intimate act, and intimate acts are powerful.
We are animals, after all. Regardless of how civilized we are, our impulses are not always civilized. There’s something about a slap that can send us back to our primal selves just as quickly as a kiss can – sometimes playfully, sometimes not. This is why, when people talk about how satisfying martial arts can be, I completely understand. Sparring is the epitome of consensual, controlled, disciplined violence, and that’s a powerful thing. The same goes for spanking and other forms of BDSM play, which involves forms of what many people call violence. And yet, hitting and being hit, in consensual BDSM contexts, is the height of intimacy – the exchange of power, trust and, at times, deep emotion. Between two people who agree to the exchange, violence can be many things, including sexy, delightful, charming and sweet.
It’s the sweetness that I see in “The Slap.” I can understand it making a person uncomfortable. I’ve been hit and I’ve hit back. Sometimes it can be lovely. Sometimes it definitely is not. But when it is lovely, it can be a powerfully intimate thing. Moreover, it’s an intimately human thing, and that, if nothing else, makes it worthy of consideration and, in my opinion, respect.