Book tells what kissing is all about

November 24, 2003|By Kevin Cowherd

AS YOU may have noticed, we have entered the Golden Age of public kissing in this country.

Every time you turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper, someone's planting a wet one on someone else.

Politicians are smooching with their wives in record numbers -- during the California recall campaign, toothy actor Arnold Schwarzenegger seemed to be mashing his face into that of his wife, the perpetually gaunt Maria Shriver, every five minutes.

And entertainers are doing way more than just air-kissing these days, as Madonna and Britney Spears demonstrated with their eyebrow-raising lip-lock on the MTV Video Music Awards.

Even ballplayers are getting into the act: During the World Series, Florida Marlins catcher Ivan Rodriguez gave pitcher Ugueth Urbina a peck on the cheek after a win. (Tell me something: Whatever happened to a slap on the butt and an "Attaboy"?)

"Celebrities are kissing more often, and doing it as a statement," says Michael Christian, author of The Art of Kissing.

In other words, a kiss is no longer just a kiss.

Now it's something that could keep a battalion of shrinks busy for months.

A few words about this Michael Christian, before we go any further.

Christian, 50, is like the Jane Goodall of kissing. He was an English teacher at Boston College in 1991 when he wrote The Art of Kissing under the pen name William Cane. Soon, he began lecturing about kissing on the college circuit, complete with live demonstrations by student volunteers to giggling audiences.

As to how exactly he became interested in the subject, Christian points to a rather awkward make-out session that took place when he was a young man.

"I was kissing this girl and she told me to keep my eyes closed," Christian was saying on the phone from his New Jersey office. "Well, I didn't believe her. But you sort of have to do what they tell you to do."

When it was over, Christian says, he went to the library to find a book on kissing etiquette.

Some would say you're already in trouble if you're going to a book to find out about kissing. But at the library, says Christian, "I found out there was virtually nothing written on kissing." So he plunged into researching the topic and the result, some years later, was The Art of Kissing.

In any event, The Art of Kissing lectures proved so popular that he resigned his teaching position at B.C. three years ago to get into the kissing game full-time.

Now he does 40 kissing lectures per year -- how come I can't get a gig like this? -- at which 30 different types of kisses are demonstrated.

These range from the Hollywood kiss -- think Rhett Butler bending Scarlet O'Hara over his arm in Gone With the Wind -- to how to kiss in a car ... while driving.

"That one's just for laughs," says Christian.

Christian's student volunteers even demonstrate the kiss done by natives of the Trobriand Islands in the South Pacific, in which the participants ... well, let Christian tell it.

"They bite and suck each other's lower lip so vigorously," he says. "Then they tear out each other's hair. And at the height of the kiss, they nibble off each other's eyelashes."

Well.

Clearly, if there's a place you'd settle for a nice firm handshake at the end of the night, it's the Trobriand Islands.

Fortunately, the public kissing we've seen displayed lately has not been nearly as, um, adventurous. But it certainly seems designed to send a message, of sorts.

For instance, Christian says Schwarzenegger is "a natural-born actor." And now that he's a politician, he may be smooching his wife nonstop to soften allegations of serial groping that dogged him throughout the gubernatorial campaign.

"It could be a statement ... either conscious or unconscious ... that `I'm happy with my wife,'" says Christian.

Of the notorious Madonna-Britney Spears smooch, he says: "In public, sometimes when you're on a stage, even though you're a celebrity, you're nervous. Maybe they were just trying to show friendliness."

Ohhh-kay.

But after a moment, he adds: "Or it may indicate, as Carl Jung pointed out, we all have some attraction to the same sex."

But my favorite statement is the one Christian says Ivan Rodriguez was making with his post-game peck on the cheek of teammate Ugueth Urbina.

"The team members who kiss," says Christian, "... [are] saying: `We've been in a mighty contest and I want to demonstrate we're on the same side and you can trust me.'"

Another way to put this, says Christian, is that Rodriguez's kiss means: "I love you, I hate them."

Oh, that's beautiful.

That's a Hallmark card waiting to happen.

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