In today’s sex-saturated society, it’s hard to imagine that a simple kiss could spark shock in anyone. But at the Emmy awards on Sunday night, that’s exactly what happened.
Actor Alexander Skarsgard was on his way up to the stage to collect his award for supporting actor when he walked past Nicole Kidman, his on-screen wife in the series Big Little Lies. Kidman, smiling and proud, put her hands on his face and kissed him. On the lips. In front of her husband, Keith Urban, who was right next to her.
It was a split-second peck, a wordless, congratulatory gesture, but Twitter went into mini meltdown mode.
“OMG!” “She kissed him ON THE LIPS!” “What was she thinking?!” “How could she, right in front of her husband?!” “I’m freaking out!” “Are they having an affair!?” “Poor Keith Urban!”
Evidently a kiss isn’t just a kiss.
People watch television, with all its nudity, violence, and graphic sex scenes, without batting an eye. So how did a simple peck on the lips manage to elicit wide-eyed shock?
That kiss, as sweet and innocent as it appeared, gave just the slightest suggestion of impropriety and contained just the slightest hint of infidelity, and thus whipped social media into a frenzy.
In a culture so seemingly numb and indifferent to sexually charged and explicit movies and performances, it’s surprising to see such an impassioned response to such an impassionate smooch.
Sex may no longer seem sacred, but apparently there’s still something about marriage that makes people uncomfortable seeing a married woman kiss another man on the lips in front of her husband. Despite what writers such as Ester Perel argue about infidelity in marriage, most people still seemed shocked to see even the slightest hint of betrayal.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, . . . right?
Then again, nobody seemed bothered when Nicole Kidman actually made out with Alexander Skarsgard, lips, tongue, and all. Nobody cared when they practically had sex on a countertop while nearly naked together. Nobody said anything then, because it was on-camera. It was acting. It was a job. It was fake . . . right?
Nicole Kidman was just as married to Keith Urban when she filmed lurid sex scenes with Skarsgard in a studio as when she pecked him on the lips in the “real world.” So why does the one bother us but not the other?
There is an unspoken, collective agreement that a married man or woman can engage in any kind of promiscuous sexual behavior and it won’t be considered cheating so long as it’s for a Hollywood paycheck. What is otherwise undoubtedly an act of adultery is excused without question if it occurs in the make-believe world of a movie set.
But even then, there are very real consequences that extend into the real world and onto real people. Sometimes, it’s hard on the actual actors. Even Nicole Kidman admitted that filming those very same scenes left her feeling “exposed and deeply humiliated.”
Frequently, it’s hard on the actors’ spouses. Dozens of Hollywood husbands and wives have lamented how difficult it is to watch their partner with someone else. Patricia Arquette once said of her husband’s sex scenes, “I don’t like it. I can’t look at it. That’s my love.” Ewan McGregor’s wife admitted to “trembling” when she saw her husband’s costar. Johnny Depp’s wife was once so “distressed over the script’s passionate theme that she begged Depp to pull out of the project.” The wife of the lead male character in Fifty Shades of Grey won’t even watch the movie. Who can blame her?
Surely she, like everyone, remembers when Brad Pitt could no longer tell the difference between his real and on-screen spouse while filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith and divorced Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie before ironically announcing he would stop shooting sex scenes with other women out of respect for his new lover.
Surely theirs was not the only Hollywood union that ended because filmed and “fake” infidelity turned real. Celebrity marriages have always seemed particularly frail and tenuous, and it’s no wonder when it’s socially acceptable for either man or wife to engage in the same temptation-causing, jealousy-inducing, sexual activity that’s off-limits everywhere else.
And if all this has indeed contributed to or caused the staggering and saddening number of real-world celebrity divorces and broken families, shouldn’t the American public be just as shocked and appalled by what Nicole Kidman does on-screen as they are by her actions at the Emmys?
Instead of questioning why Kidman gave Skarsgard that congratulatory kiss, perhaps it’s worth questioning our own comfort with entertainment that features married men and women kissing people who aren’t their spouses. Of the two, maybe only one actually deserves a reaction. After all, between award ceremony pecks and on-screen sex, it’s pretty clear which is more likely to become a kiss of death for Nicole Kidman’s marriage.