Thursday, July 27, 2006

“And . . . BOOM goes the dynamite!”

On the July 10, 2006 episode, The Daily Show covered a “curious incident” which has “raised eyebrows” and “stunned Russia” – Russian President Vladimir Putin, while walking through “the Kremlin”, stopping to talk to a five-year-old boy named Nikita, and then spontaneously kissing him on the tummy. As TDS pointed out, kissing children is an oft-seen publicity stunt for politicians, and is not usually seen as wrong. This incident caused a stir, however, as kissing Nikita on the stomach was seen as being too familiar, even within standards of publicity and culture (also aptly – and humorously – pointed out by TDS). Putin’s explanation did not do much to appease those questioning his actions – as quoted in an article by the Telegraph Group, “‘I tell you honestly, I just wanted to stroke him like a kitten,’ he said of the boy, who has reportedly refused to wash since the kiss. ‘He just seemed so nice. There was nothing else behind it.’” That statement was part of his response during a two-hour webcast, during which the President answered questions compiled from a list of top questions submitted by both Russian citizens and other individuals from around the world.

Something that TDS did not point out, however, was the larger context within which this incident took place. Some have put forth the opinion that the action was not quite as spontaneous as it appeared, but that it was a botched attempt by the President’s public relations company, Ketchum, to boost Putin’s public image, and create a more positive view of his interactions with children. Others have pointed out the parallels between Putin’s incident and others with a vicar named Alan Barrett, who kissed a ten-year-old girl on the cheek when presenting her with an award at William McGregor Primary School, and the boxer Eddie Daniel, who kissed the Queen during Britain’s Commonwealth Games. The whole situation has sparked a discussion about kissing and its appropriateness regarding strangers kissing each other – with regards to both political and cultural standards. Guardian Unlimited reported, “even innocent behaviour must now be punished if it is capable of misinterpretation by people conditioned by the media to suspect paedophilia in any gesture of friendship or affection by an adult towards a child. It doesn't seem at all fair. What makes it particularly difficult to avoid such pitfalls is the fact that kissing among adults has grown enormously in recent years: it is now customary for people who barely know each other to greet each other with at least one kiss and usually more.” [sic] The Washington Times, via London Daily Telegraph’s Tom Leonard, puts it well: “Arguably, the complexity of kissing strangers has never been greater. Although the touchy-feely politics of "inclusiveness" encourages public figures to be more intimate with the public, panic over pedophilia and the threat of sexual harassment accusations increase the risk of a kiss.”

You can watch the coverage from TDS here (EDIT: here is another link, which may be faster), and click the relevant links in this post to connect to seven different articles on the issue (here is an eighth). What do you think?

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