Few things in life are black & white

creative documentary

But a very public sexual assault should not be celebrated, reproduced, or reenacted

love and war

five letters - one powerful statement

On February 19, 2019, two days after the death of “the kissing sailor” an unknown activist properly added a blood-red #MeToo hashtag, similar in color to the famed LIFE magazine logo, to Sarasota, Florida’s 25-foot tall “Unconditional Surrender” statue. The statue, fabricated by Seward Johnson, has graced (or disgraced, depending upon your perspective) the city bay front since 2004.

A brief history of life in these Times

August · 1945
Times Square, NY
V-J Day

The length of time it took for Alfred Eisensteadt to shoot these four frames amounted to seconds. After four years of global war that claimed upwards of 70 million lives, drunk with joy (and, he admitted, plenty of alcohol), a sailor on leave in New York grabbed a stranger and kissed her so invasively that she recalled hoping she could breathe.

The apparent context of the unconditional forced surrender of Greta Zimmer's bodily autonomy was disclosed in the caption which appeared in LIFE magazine. But images speak directly to pathos - not logos, and a generation wrote its own stories of vanquishing and triumphs, love and loss, past and future, into Alfred Eisenstaedt's indelible image.

Sixty years later, a WWII veteran, with deep love for his departed wife and servicemen, made a very big mistake and waged battle to force Sarasota to embrace a pirated, fictionalized figurine falsely romanticizing the celebrated incident in Times Square.

August · 1980
Opposed to Pose
LIFE reunites claimants
When LIFE invited them to Times Square in 1980, Greta refused to reproduce the pose

When when LIFE magazine introduced them in Times Square in 1980 George Mendonsa once again impetuously grabbed and kissed Greta Zimmer  without her consent.

As before, George's wife was present, although Greta's husband was not, and that was one of the reasons she cited for not wanting to re-create the forced act of intimacy.

I didn't want to re-enact the kiss... I didn't want to redo that pose, said Greta in recounting her experience to the Veteran's History Project.

And yet, her words go unheeded as Sarasota dupes visitors into re-enacting a non-consensual act of conquest incorrectly identified as love.

June · 1998
Brokaw Bestows Greatness
The Good War & "The Greatest Generation"
Cover image - Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation book

Former news anchor Tom Brokaw coined the phrase "The Greatest Generation" to encapsulate the spirit of those Americans who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II, or whose labor helped win it.

Brokaw argued for the superiority of this generation over all others because they fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the "right thing to do."

Baby Boomers, disillusioned by unwinnable wars abroad (Korea and Vietnam) and at home (as civil rights and women's rights movements made inroads on White Christian heterosexual male hegemony), elevated their forefathers from the realm of human strengths and foibles into demigods cast in their image.

January · 2004
Seward's Folly
A Copycat gets inspired
Seward Johnson with Unconditional Surrender in Times Square

J&J heir J. Seward Johnson couldn't draw, was tossed out of the family firm by his uncle, and later disinherited by his father. The dyslexic Johnson served a 4-year stint in the Navy, where he learned to weld.

Seduced as a teenager by friend of his socialite mother, and aware of his sister's report of sexual abuse by their father,  Johnson's objectifying statues reflect a confusion of conquest and consent.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Johnson flattered not only gifted photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, but also appropriation artist and self-proclaimed "King of Kitsch" Jeffrey Koons by swiping not an obscure black and white copyrighted picture, but one of the most acclaimed photographs in history.

July · 2009
Jack Curran's Giant Gesture
Monumental Mythmaking

A life-size styrofoam version of the pirated statue was originally brought to Sarasota on temporary loan as part of the Season of Sculpture. Jack Curran,  then an anonymous local veteran, decided to purchase a gargantuan version in tribute to his fellow service members and departed wife, Margaret, who loved the Eisensteadt photograph.

Because of a sizeable pledge to the art school by Tom Savage, Dr. Larry Thompson, president of Ringling College Art & Design, aided a local veterans nonprofit in negotiating the purchase and framing it as a hyper-realistic counterpoint to John Henry's abstract modern sculpture: Complexus (derided as a pile of French Fries by the populists).

Seeking to promote a broader discussion of the nature of art, while failing to address an issue of creative authorship, Dr. Thompson asserted that "art evokes emotion" (a circular argument which leads to the conclusion that anything which elicits feeling is therefore art).

May · 2012
Mysterious Figures Revealed
Time-Traveling Sleuths

Written by a high school history teacher and Navy aviator, this book used forensic analysis to definitively identify Eisensteadt's sailor and "nurse".

For a generation steeped in the narratives they wrote into the long-mysterious photograph, the truth was a let down. So they stuck with their 1940s movie plots romanticizing and glossing over the war's miseries.

The authors explain, while corny and clichéd, such scenarios sit well with a sentimental public. Often people's fictional plots surrendered to fantasy. The photograph brims with perceived unbridled passion and sexual tension, and invites viewers to participate in the frolic. Many cannot resist the temptation. A victorious nation celebrates gleefully—embodying America's vision of itself.

February · 2019
A Sea Change Comes to Sarasota
U.S. labelled #MeToo moment

In 2005, New Yorker Tarana Burke, survivor and activist, first used the phrase "Me Too" to convey empathy and raise awareness of women who had been subject to sexual violence. But not until 2017, when Ronan Farrow's painstaking investigation revealed the blind eyes Hollywood turned toward producer Harvey Weinstein's decades of serial sexual abuse did the phrase enter popular parlance.

On February 19, 2019, two days after "the kissing sailor's" death, an unknown activist properly labelled the Unconditional Surrender statue as depicting a celebrated, and "celebratory" according to the accompanying sign, #MeToo moment of forced surrender.  Although George Mendonsa's actions were a different order of magnitude from Weinstein's, it is inarguably true that the statue valorizes, in the present day, a long ago act of public forced intimacy.   Adding insult to injury, the romanticizing flowers and scintillating flare which Johnson added to the Greta figure's skirt makes her seem a willing participant in this misunderstood moment.

The city of Sarasota made no statement about the now well-established historical truth that the photograph, and hence, statue illegally copied from it, depicts a non-consensual act, and instead, power-washed the truth away while lamenting the defacement of the debauched and debasing super-sized figurine.

November · 2020
Kiss Off Sailor?
Politicians Plant False Flags

Ignoring the pleas from survivors to set sail to the pirated booty anchoring the city of Sarasota to a fictional past, the proud boys of Florida's supposed cultural coast played patriot games.

The sound of their own voices proclaiming a conquesting colossus as reflective of love of country was music to the ears of several craven politicians who equate flag pins with honor, and don't mind pledging allegiance to a giant lie, while excoriating and dismissing those who dare speak out about the huge trauma trigger standing on public land.

December · 2021
Sign of the Times
Big Lie Defines Era of Trumpian Truthiness

Loving the idea of America - the unrealized promise of this bountiful and beautiful land, means acknowledging the good, the bad, and the ugly, of what got U.S. (both these United States and this stolen sculpture) here.

The conquest, exploitation, and destruction of native lands, cultures, and peoples, and the enslavement of others, are big part of the story of America. So are Greatest Generation virtues and ideals such as honesty, bravery, ingenuity, and sacrifice—all of which Unconditional Surrender makes a mockery of.

It is time to return to our founding ideals and end this tragic-comic monumental misunderstanding by at least providing it with a truthful sign describing the fuller history of what it depicts, or returning the misleading and harmful statue to its manufacturer's land of the giants.