There's something grotesque about the Facebook Live stream of 96.7 KISS FM's Kiss a Kia Contest, where an initial batch of 20 contestants started their stationary voyage of humiliation at 8 AM local time on Monday.
First, it's entirely silent. Second, it's in the middle of a car dealership in Round Rock, Texas, so people are just strolling around gawking at the contestants. Mostly, though, the grossest thing is that the contestants have spent the past 29 hours (they are given a ten-minute break every hour) with their lips locked on the room-temperature metal of a sedan—some sitting, some standing, and some kneeling as if penitent—in a desperate battle of wills with one another just to drive away in a new, free car. The whole thing is almost too easy to turn into a metaphor for the contemporary human condition: humiliated, voiceless, competing for the largesse of corporations, and broadcast on social media for the world to see.
By 6:30 AM Tuesday, the group was whittled down to 11. By that afternoon, any sense of whimsy had been completely eliminated from the event. On the surface, it's a wacky radio contest, the sort of thing dreamed up by grown-up frat boys nostalgic for hazing regimen. But tune in for ten seconds, and you realize it's performance art—a piece about patience and cruelty. When you watch, are you complicit in the degradation of the contestants? Do you think about what you would do to earn a new car and how easily you could become one of them? Do you wonder if locking lips with a Kia for two days straight is actually a lot better than your job?
When I tuned in on Tuesday afternoon, one contestant had his headphone buds in and was listening to something on his phone, which probably made it more bearable. Some of them looked around or tapped their fingers on the car. They can't talk, of course, but you can imagine how tired they are, how their little aches and sores have been becoming less and less possible to ignore. You figure that at this point none of them will remove their lips unless forced. Getting a car after kissing it for 40 hours is humiliating but defensible. Kissing a car for 30 hours and then not getting anything is so awful I don't really want to contemplate it.
But most of these remaining contestants will walk away with nothing. As a local news station reported, the contest will end after 50 hours, at which point the winner will be picked at random. Now that's something I really don't want to see.
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