Monday, 15 February 2010

Hetero sailor's kiss - that San Diego statue

In San Diego last month I saw J. Seward Johnson's famous 'Unconditional Surrender': sailor kisses nurse. It's supposed to be celebratory of V-J Day (Aug. 14, 1945) and is a 3-D replica of the iconic photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt, taken New York's Times Square that day.

The image has interested me for years, because it's a representation of sailor's sexuality (my subject), and because On Our Backs, the lesbian erotic magazine, staged such an interestingly sexualised re-enactment of it on the cover (Oct 2001).

So I saw the real thing, out there in the sunshine by the sea. And it's huge - 25 foot high - and therefore bigger than one of the plastic bears some pubs have in the kiddies' play gardens. And it's just as Disneyfied. And it's significantly at Mole Park on the waterfront (where those oh-so-embarassing guys sleeping rough get tidied away by the police each morning before the cruise ship passengers walk by), just opposite the Pacific Fleet's base, and right by the maritime museum.

But... isn't it just another loud public insistence that heterosexuality is desirable? (No gay embrace would be similarly sanctioned). Isn't it just another formal affirmation that it's OK for men - especially 'our Boys' to master any woman, in the name of passion and victory?

Touring that bay, our skipper announced as we passed the statue by US Midway that actually 'the lady' (Edith Shain) grabbed by the unknown sailor that day was said to have been displeased by the assault. Ho ho. Tee hee. Tut tut. Oi vey!

But try turning that around. How would a male professional - say a doctor, say a skipper - feel about some boozed-up stranger coming up and invading their mouth without warning? Affronted, I think. It certainly wouldn't be celebrated at public expense.

And actually the statue is designed so that it's a formal invitation to look up a woman's skirt. Among the world's thousands of statues of famous men looking noble, upright and very inviolable, have you ever seen one that offer passers-by the chance to peer inside men's trousers?

If men are going to be respected, then why not women too? (and I would like it to be possible to stop repeating this simple point soon. A century-long protest is quite enough.)

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