The True Story Behind the Most Famous Kiss of America
Photography is an art that has the ability to alter humanity’s collective conscious. There is a story to every picture that is taken, whether it be a memory with your friends or a life changing moment in history. When you see a picture, do the colors and subjects capture your attention or do you want to dig deeper into what was happening during that photo. THESIS
August 14, 1945 was a day not many will ever forget. Alfred Eisenstaedt, a German photographer, captured one of the most iconic photos in history on this day. The photo was taken in Times Square right after the announcement of the Japanese surrendering and World War II finally coming to an end. New York City was swarming with cheerful people. At the time, people only knew that the man was a returning sailor from the war and the woman was dressed as a nurse. The identities were released in 2012 and they came forward with their version of that day.
The man, George Mendonsa, was out on a date with a woman named Rita Petry. They went to the movie theater in Times Square but never got to finish the movie. It was interrupted, mid-way through, when the workers busted in with confirmation of Japan’s surrender. George and Rita were ecstatic and ran out of the theater into the crowded streets. George caught glimpse of a young woman in a nurses uniform, Greta Zimmer. This woman brought nostalgia to George because it reminded him of the nurses that constantly tended to the countless wounded soldiers. With his mind on the hard past and also the promising future, he grabbed her and kissed her. In that spontaneous moment, Eisenstaedt grabbed his camera to document it. Unaware at the time, he caught the feelings of pure relief and people letting go of all their inhibitions.
Everyone found a way to relate to this photo. There were over 16 million men that served for WWII. The man intrigued families that had loved ones away at war and the excitement for their return home. For women with their husbands gone, it allowed them to relate to the extreme passion in seeing their significant other for the first time since they went away. They can find a common place in the passion because they are able to replace the woman with themselves. The picture showed the true beauty of the wars end and the instant happiness the world cultivated because of the announcement.
Much like the hookah, there’s underlying ideologies that this photo represents. It transformed from one of the most romantic moments of the post war era to revealing underlying social issues. The real truth came out once the identities were made apparent. The kiss was obviously spontaneous but the ambiguous fact was that they were actually strangers. The most prominent observations of this was the body language of the two. The woman obviously didn’t comply, she was clutching at herself not him. He has clenched fists and his back arm completely wrapped around her head to force her into it. She was swung off balance and her feet are trying to catch herself from falling. When Greta was interviewed, she claimed it was a kiss she would never forget and she said, “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.” By referring to him as “that man,” she’s implying that they don’t know each other. Now when George was interviewed, he claimed he was so drunk that he can barely remember the kiss fully. He said how it was a mere celebratory action, not a romantic one. Both subjects had completely different experiences because the man didn’t put too much thought into his actions.
A social issue and even ideology that people tended to tiptoe around is how women were still subordinate to men in the 40’s. Men still had an insane amount of superiority over women. This photo depicts a sense of sexual assault that was very common in that era. This gives every woman who has felt dehumanized by a male and commonplace to relate to others like themselves. Women empathize with others that have experienced the same mental or physical abuse that they have. Society saw how unequal people were treated and became proactive to provide the equal opportunities for all that we have in the United States today.
Even though this ideology and belief isn’t still a huge issue in the United States, it is still a prominent issue in other countries and presents a kairotic moment for this poster to represent the women gender. For example, women in the Middle Eastern countries and the religions that inhibit that area face gender discrimination all the time. Under the Muslim faith, the women must obey their husbands under all circumstances. This makes women feel powerless and used while men still hold a place in themselves that makes them think this is okay. Just like the 1940’s in the United states used to be, countries still are treating women lesser than men.
As you can see, this poster has emically affected society. At first, it represented war, loved ones returning home, and true passion but when you dig deeper into the photograph, your attention is diverted to something so important in the world. It gives women a place to challenge society’s views and not feel isolated. This poster has allowed women to gain ownership of their rights and push for equality in the United States.
Callahan, Maureen. “The True Story behind the Iconic V-J Day Sailor and ‘Nurse’ Smooch.” New York Post, New York Post, 10 Sept. 2016, nypost.com/2012/06/17/the-true-story-behind-the-iconic-v-j-day-sailor-and-nurse-smooch/.
Zhang, Sarah. “The Unromantic Truth Behind the VJ Day Kiss Photo.” Mother Jones, Mother Jones, 24 June 2017, www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/10/unromantic-truth-vj-kiss-photo/.