The Iconic, Yet Ironic, V-J Day Photo
In her novel, “No one is Talking About This,” Patricia Lockwood fantastically illustrates the various images, references, and feelings that emerge as the viral social media protagonist browses “the portal.” In the opening scenes, the author describes the Internet as a “blizzard of everything” (Lockwood 1) and the protagonist’s irregular thoughts are controlled by the foreign language of this new “portal” that she encounters.
The author exemplifies this new lingo with the implementation of vivid imagery and subtle pop culture references like “a girl applying foundation with a hard-boiled egg” and “a ghostly pale woman posting pictures of [her] bruises” (Lockwood 8).
On page 11, Lockwood recounts the “iconic photograph” of “a woman being bent backward and kissed by a soldier on V-day” as a preeminent example of one of the social media uproars that the author briefly explains in the beginning of the text. The protagonist claims that although the majority of users thought that they understood the “firework it captured” in that the two locking lips were lovers; however, in actuality, the woman tells an interviewer years later that “she didn’t know the man at all” and that she had ‘never seen him before in her life’ (Lockwood 11).
World War II came to an end on August, 14, 1945 and thousands of Americans congregated on the streets in celebration for what became known as “Victory in Japan Day” (“V-J Day”). The iconic kiss from this day between a sailor and a nurse has been all over social media and magazines for decades symbolizing the happiness and celebration of this day (Lewis, 2016). The photo has become omnipresent; couples re-enact the photo in New York and it is available for purchase on valentines day cards and posters (Christensen, 2012). The two stars of the image were later identified as sailor George Mendosa and “nurse” Greta Zimmer Friedman in the 1960s (Lawford, 2020).
Ironically, the supposed “happy couple” did not know each other prior to when Alfred Eisenstaedt captured this photo (Lewis, 2016). The sailor, George, was said to have been on a date with another woman named Rita (his future wife and also pictured in the back of the photo) at Radio City Music Hall before the photo was captured. George was said to have ‘popped quite a few drinks’ and when he and Rita stepped onto Times Square he spotted a woman in a white nurse uniform. He said that he remembered when hundreds of nurses bravely worked on the soldiers buried by the Japanese Kamikaze planes on May 11th (Callahan, 2016). The New York Post states that George “grabbed the first nurse he saw, spun her around, dipped her, and kissed her.”
Although the drunken sailor meant the kiss out of gratitude and appreciation, dental assistant, Greta Zimmer Friedman felt otherwise. She said that she heard about the end of the war, walked out to Times Square to see the celebration, and was forcefully grabbed. She recounts that “[she] was not kissing him. He was kissing [her].” Greta claims that “it wasn’t a romantic event” and it was just a kiss saying ‘thank god the war is over” (Lewis, 2016).
Some critics refer to this seemingly passionate kiss as a case of sexual assault; the photo captures a strong man who forcefully touches a woman without her consent. A closer examination of the image illustrates George’s constricting grip, smirks of sailors, and Greta’s clenched fist, which further supports this claim. Others say that the photograph is a representation of the misogynism of this era in which women were objects to men and “in the context of war,” they supported men “sexually” (Christensen, 2012). Furthermore, a statue was created of the famous kiss after his death; however, it was spray painted with the hashtag #MeToo to show the public’s disgust for George Mendosa’s drunken, non consensual kiss (Lawford, 2020).
Lockwood’s description of ‘the hummingbird of her left hand, the uncanny twist of her spine, and the grip on the soldier’s neck’ not only illustrates the fact that the woman did not know the man but also represents how she did not want to be touched physically by him (Lockwood 11). Moreover, her recount illustrates social media’s aggravation with George’s sexual misconduct in this encounter. The protagonist overall delineates the event as a misleading photograph in which some may interpret incorrectly without a closer viewing and added historical context.
Berman, Eliza. “V-J Day Kiss in Times Square: Go behind the Lens of That Famous Photo.” LIFE, January 14, 2020. https://www.life.com/history/v-j-day-kiss-times-square/.
Callahan, Maureen. “The True Story behind the Iconic V-J Day Sailor and ‘Nurse’ Smooch.” New York Post, September 10, 2016. https://nypost.com/2012/06/17/the-true-story-behind-the-iconic-v-j-day-sailor-and-nurse-smooch/.
Christensen, Wendy. “The Kissing Sailor Photograph: An Iconic Image of War, Not Romance – Sociological Images.” The Society Pages, October 5, 2012. https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/10/05/the-kissing-sailor-photograph-an-iconic-image-of-war-not-of-romance/.
Lawford, Emily. “The Unexpected True Story behind That Famous VJ Day Times Square Kiss.” Evening Standard, August 15, 2020. https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/vj-day-kiss-sailor-photo-true-story-a4522766.html.
Lewis, Danny. “The Woman in the Iconic V-J Day Kiss Photo Died at 92, Here’s Her Story.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, September 14, 2016. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/woman-iconic-v-j-photo-died-age-92-heres-her-story-180960435/.