A Lukewarm Embrace

A controversial trend is creeping across the globe. People are
taking to the streets in support of it, or trying to ban it from
harming our children. What’s the polarizing practice that’s making
waves around the world? Hugging.

In one corner we have ‘Juan Mann,’ the Australian innocent who
scrawled ‘Free Hugs’ on a sign and videotaped the results of people
pushing aside their personal space needs for some human contact
with a stranger. The video was a hit on
YouTube, and copycat schemes have cropped up
around the country. Writing for the alt weekly
City Pages, Jim Walsh explores the
motivations of Minneapolis’ Hug Brigade, a troupe of embracers
sporting the now-notorious ‘Free Hugs’ sign. ‘I was sitting
around thinking ‘How can I make a difference?” says hugger
Carrie Rupp. ‘And I thought, ‘I really like giving hugs, and I’m
really good at it, so why not just go stand out there and spread
some love?”

Not everyone is comfortable with the hugging lifestyle, though.
Writing from Milan for
Spot-On, Nicole Martinelli suggests
that despite the reputation that ‘Italians touch a lot,’ those
handshakes and air kisses still leave some space between bodies.
Some intrepid Italians have been hitting public spaces with free
hugs, leaving Martinelli to speculate that ‘it just may be
awkward hugs all around here, too.’

It’s not even just a comfort thing. Earlier this month, Chinese
police swooped in and detained Shanghai huggers, a fate shared by
some Beijing arm-spreaders a few weeks before. Reporting for
China Daily, Cao Li writes that
these participants were brought into custody for lacking a
certificate to organize in a public place. Organizers are
pessimistic that the powers that be in China will provide proper
documentation for future hugathons. ‘Why can’t we melt the
coldness in people’s hearts with our hugs?’ asked Shanghai
organizer Baigu.

Hugging isn’t just causing problems in the streets; it’s also
started affecting schoolchildren. Steven Morris reports in the
Guardian on Callington Community
College, a school in southwest England, where the headteacher,
Steve Kenning, recently asked students not to hug each other
anymore. Apparently some youthful hugs have been deemed
‘inappropriate’ and can be excessive to the point of ‘making
youngsters late for lessons.’ While the penalty for school
embraces has not officially been announced, students report that
huggers have been ‘named and shamed’ and slapped with detention.
Parents and outsiders have been concerned about the problems a
hugging ban could cause. ‘Surely it is better [that] youngsters
get the human contact they need innocently,’ says David Cohen,
author of the book Body Language in Relationships, ‘if
you ban it they are far more likely to seek it round the back of
the bike sheds.’ Still, headteacher Kenning is looking out for
the ‘victim[s]’ of school huggings and beseeched students on the
school’s website: ‘To avoid putting anyone at risk please avoid
hugging.’

Go there >>
Hug It Out, Bitch

Go there too >>
Hip Huggers
Huggers End Up in Police Custody
Stop Hugging, School Head Tells His
Pupils

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