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Monday, Jun 5, 2023

Passionate Performance Provokes Controversy

Author: Jasmin Johnson

William Cane's "The Art of Kissing" found its way to McCullough Hall last Saturday.

A sold-out event organized by the Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB), it is difficult to ascertain what it really was. MCAB called it a "presentation," publicity e-mails to the College described it as a "lecture" and his Web site ( refers to his road shows as an "entertaining mix of discussion and demonstration."

The event really seemed like a formulaic college stage show beyond itself — complete with a host who had a hackneyed sense of how society functions, a half outraged, half giggly audience, indignant protesters with loudspeakers and placards, stern-looking campus security officers who kept things "under control" and college student "volunteers" on stage who, despite all that was going on around them, carried on with the show.

William Cane is the person behind the pen name Michael Christian, who claims that his best seller "The Art of Kissing" has been translated in 18 different languages and has 250,000 copies in print worldwide. A former teacher at Boston College, he now travels to schools all over the country to "teach" about the "techniques of kissing" and how to make oneself "more kissable to the opposite sex."

Cane's multimedia presentation, which was nothing more than a Power Point presentation and some music, contained charts that elucidated, among other things, the percentage of women who liked stubble and the percentage of men who liked lipstick when kissing.

He began the show promptly, without properly introducing himself. He spoke briefly about how he got interested in kissing ("I'm human!") and spoke about how "lip-to-lip communication" can be valuable in the face of dangerous diseases like AIDS ("You can't get AIDS from kissing. This show may save your life.").

He talked about his book, which like the show, is misnamed: "The Art of Kissing" really had little to do with art, skill or subtleness.

He "advised" the obvious ("Kiss the neck, boys!" "Not too much tongue — don't throttle your partner!"), and at points implied that kisses were almost animalistic acts, like the exotic "Trobriand Island Kiss," which involved "teeth and blood."

The 300 who were at McCullough that night expected different things from the show. A number were merely curious, some were there for meaningless distraction, some actually thought that they would learn something and there were those who came knowing they would be offended. A huge part of the ethical issues the show brought to surface boils down to how the audience perceived the show.

The videos run during ticket sales at Proctor showed actual "lectures," but the equally tacky Web site should have been an indication to students that the show was by no means an informative one.

After the show, students said they felt that the show was "ridiculous" and "stupid." They said they didn't learn anything they didn't already know and felt that Cane's "advice" was so stereotypical, it was actually laughable. They said that while they could understand why people were upset, the whole event was a farce and should not be taken seriously.

However, if members of our community have expressed their outrage at the show, it is obvious that we are not yet at a stage in which we can stand back and laugh at such stereotypes because we are not necessarily beyond them. Students protested the show as being unacceptably sexist, "heterosexist" and racist.

They have substantial reason to be offended although their means of protest — posters about oral sex and the intention to disrupt the show — may have been misdirected anger. If taken seriously, the show was indeed a dehumanization of intimacy.

Cane did vulgarize, stereotype and commercialize the kiss by exploiting people's insecurities (people even get secret video shipping if they are shy).

If not, it was all just plain distasteful entertainment. MCAB should appreciate that, evidently, most Middlebury College students do not want to laugh at such things. It is heartening to note, that after all, most of us, as a college, are thinking critically about even the entertainment that we deem acceptable.