Writing for the Washington Post, columnist Monica Hesse examines how our understanding of the famous V-J Day photo of George Mendonsa kissing Greta Zimmer Friedman have changed between then and Mendonsa's death this week:
Within 24 hours of his passing, a Sarasota, Fla., statue that re-created his and Friedman’s famous kiss was defaced. On Friedman’s aluminum leg, in red spray paint, someone had written, “#MeToo.”
As much as any image, the picture of Mendonsa and Friedman has defined American perception of romance. It’s Richard Gere nipping at Julia Roberts’s fingers with a jewelry box; it’s John Cusack with a boombox beneath Ione Skye’s window. Mendonsa’s grip around Friedman’s waist is fervent; her body is limp as if overwhelmed by the passion of his embrace. Behold, the superlative ideal of a perfect kiss.
Maybe it could be wonderful and exciting to be kissed, by surprise, by a stranger, at the end of a long and terrible war. But when you hear Friedman’s description of it, the whole thing starts to sound unpleasant. The whole photo starts to look unpleasant, too: the way her head is locked into the crook of his elbow, unable to move or avoid his lips.
I’d like to think of it more as a statement of fact. Today, this iconic photo might be considered an assault. It doesn’t mean Mendonsa was a monster. It doesn’t mean humans were bad in 1945. It just means that stories don’t always behave as we’d like. Our fantasies can be punctured by the reality of other people’s feelings.
Friedman said she and Mendonsa kept in occasional contact and exchanged holiday cards. When a Life photographer invited the pair to reunite in Times Square in 1980, she went. But she said she didn’t want to reenact the kiss.
A kiss based on one person’s joy and another person’s non-consenting shock isn’t really a perfect kiss. And actually, it never was.
What images from 2019 will look weird in 2094? Someone with a time machine, please let me know.