Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Kiss: V-J Day

Just about everyone in the US has seen this photo. It's probably the best known symbol of the end of World War Two. It's also in some cases been seen as an snapshot memory of a better time, when America unambiguously won conflicts. For some people this photo is the pictorial paragon of a time where optimism was in the air and there was nothing that this country could not do. The photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt took this picture in Times Square of a sailor kissing a nurse shortly after the announcement of the Japanese unconditional surrender and end of the war. Growing up I naively thought that both of the people were either married to each other or were dating. That wasn't the case. The sailor and nurse were strangers to each other. That nurse, Greta Friedman (Zimmer) recently passed away. Greta Friedman, who said she was grabbed and kissed by a sailor in a euphoric moment that made for one of the most defining American photos of the 20th century, died on Thursday in Richmond, Va. She was 92. The cause was pneumonia, her son, Joshua Friedman, said. In 2012, a writer on the website Crates and Ribbons argued that the picture depicted not a moment of romance, but a “sexual assault by modern standards,” pointing to Ms. Friedman’s description of the kiss during her interview with the Veterans History Project. “I felt that he was very strong. He was just holding me tight. I’m not sure about the kiss,” Ms. Friedman said. “It was just somebody celebrating. It wasn’t a romantic event.” In an article in 2014 about the photo, Time, whose parent company discontinued the monthly publication of Life magazine in 2000, noted that “many people view the photo as little more than the documentation of a very public sexual assault, and not something to be celebrated.” Ms. Friedman did not shy away from the photo or her role in it, her son said. Mr. Friedman said he believed she understood the argument that it was an assault but did not necessarily view it that way.

Standards and mores change of course. There probably aren't too many people today who would venture to grab someone and plant one on their lips without prior consent, some sort of signal or an ongoing relationship. That said though when once in a life time events occur people do feel emboldened to do or say things they otherwise wouldn't attempt. By today's standards this would be some sort of assault but even then there are people who wouldn't feel that way if it happened to them. Knowing the story behind this photo I just think it's a Rorschach test on how our concepts of masculinity, femininity and consent have mutated over the years.
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