So, what are we to make of Richard Gere kissing Shilpa Shefty in public? As you know, Richard Gere—one of the most responsible HIV/AIDS activists—was in India and, in a parody of his “Shall We Dance” movie—embraced and kissed actress Shilpa Shefty. Some Hindu groups were offended and claimed this was public obscenity which, in India, can result in up to three months in prison, a fine, or both. So, if Richard Gere—clearly as knowledgeable and as culturally sensitive as any celebrity can be—can violate a cultural norm, what hope is there for the rest of us? And it also made me wonder why we can’t just recognize that incidents like this happen—not because someone wants to be offensive or culturally incorrect—because cultures are different and as a result conflicts such as these are inevitable and nothing to get so upset about. And it made me wonder why the media have done so much with this story—they seem to love to harp on such cultural issues which only seems to make them worse than they really were and are.
But, this incident also made me think of how it could be used in a communication class or in several classes: If I were teaching PR, I’d ask the students to write a press release for Richard Gere. If I were teaching mass communication (perhaps comparative media systems), I’d ask the students to analyze the ways in which the media in the West and the East handled the situation. If I were teaching public speaking, I’d ask students to write a speech of apology (goodwill) for Gere to the people of India. If I were teaching intercultural communication, I’d ask students to write about cultural differences in public displays of affection. If I were teaching interviewing, I’d ask students to “interview” Gere on this issue. If I were teaching small group communication, I’d ask students to discuss the issue as a problem to be solved/resolved.