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Editor: D. A. Jeremy Telman
Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Law and Social Norms: The Jumbotron Kiss

481px-El_Beso_(Pinacoteca_de_Brera,_Milán,_1859)It is common at sporting events to have a segment during time-outs at which the camera focuses on couples (always heterosexual, natch) and, as the crowd looks at their images on the Jumbotron, the couples almost invariably kiss.  This practice is known as the Kiss-Cam.

This week's installment of This American Life includes a short introductory segment in which tv producer Bill Langworthy recounts how he was induced by the Kiss-Cam to kiss his ex-girlfriend's best friend, a woman whom, according to Bill, he would not otherwise kiss for any amount of money. 

This American Life's host, Ira Glass, points out that Bill "did not have to kiss her; there would be no penalty; there was no contract; no money had changed hands. . . . "  Bill explains that he felt that, with everyone watching, and with a producer looking at him, expecting him to act, he felt compelled to kiss his ex-girlfriend's best friend.  This is a nice little gloss on the view that we often comply with our obligations (or even our perceived obligations) whether or not we are legally obligated to do so for reasons apart from contractual obligation.  And so, a surprisingly high percentage of commercial obligations -- even among sophisticated parties who could lawyer the relationship to death if they so choose -- arise informally. 

But we offer a different perspective on what is going on here.  Bill explains that he attended the ball game with two friends, a married couple.  Someone who coordinates the Kiss-Cam segment came around and asked the married couple if they would mind kissing for the Jumbotron.  They agreed.  This was already a revelation, since the parties often look as though they are taken by surprise when the Kiss-Cam seizes upon them.  Who knew it was all a set-up?  In any case, according to Bill, a few beer runs later, the parties had switched seats, so when the Kiss-Cam alighted, it hit him and his ex-girlfriend's best friend, instead of their married neighbors. 

Since Bill is himself a producer, it seems reasonable to assume that he understood how things like the Kiss-Cam operate.  Having identified its prey, the Kiss-Cam was going to focus on a particular seat, rather than on, for example, the tall guy wearing a baseball cap and the home team's jersey., since that latter description lacks specificity in the context of a sporting event. 

Come on Bill, maybe you really wanted to kiss her and were just waiting for the Jumbotron to permit you to break the taboo?

[JT]

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