Monday, February 19, 2018
Opinion

The quiet violence from the unwanted kiss

In photos from last Thursday's amfAR gala at Cannes, it might look like auction host Uma Thurman wasn't perturbed by the surprise open-mouthed kiss she fielded from "playboy industrialist" and Fiat heir Lapo Elkann. With a gracious smile, she stood for the cameras as he pressed his sweaty face against hers.

Elkann, who formerly worked as the CEO of Fiat and a personal assistant to Henry Kissinger, had placed the winning $196,000 bid for two tickets to the Victoria's Secret fashion show. When he posed for celebratory photos with Thurman, he went in for the kiss.

Those pictures belie the reality of the situation: As Thurman's rep later made clear, the kiss was "not consensual." "It is opportunism at its worst. She wasn't complicit in it," Thurman's rep said in a statement. "Somewhere in his head [Elkann] must have thought it an appropriate way of behaving. It clearly wasn't. She is very unhappy that this happened to her and feels violated."

Elkann's behavior springs from the prevalent belief that while an unwanted kiss might be uncomfortable, it's benign; that since it doesn't involve sex organs, it's not sexual assault; that it's okay to take the kiss first and ask permission later. Elkann's actions also were informed by the idea that celebrities owe the public some intimate part of themselves, a notion furthered by the routine obligation for celebrities (especially women and people of color) to remain composed in front of the cameras or risk embarrassing the company that hired them and coming off as frigid, angry, ungrateful divas.

Another famous example: The surprise kiss Adrien Brody planted on Halle Berry at the 2003 Oscars. When he stepped onstage to accept the Best Actor award, Brody overtook Berry by dipping her into a full-on kiss. "I bet they didn't tell you that was in the gift bag," he began, as if she'd be crazy to object. "It's obvious from the tension in Berry's closed eyes and the way she sort of disgustedly wipes her face as he begins his speech that the incident wasn't pre-planned or welcome," wrote Stacia L. Brown at PostBourgie in 2008. "I'm still left wondering, even after all these years, why there wasn't more controversy or fall-out surrounding this moment."

Indeed, the general response to Brody's forced make-out was one of amazed admiration. USA Today published Susan Wloszczyna's weak-kneed homage to the "swooningly smooth" nonconsensual kiss. Wloszczyna wondered, "Who could blame women for wondering in unison, through tears and smiles, 'Who is that guy?'"

The "surprise stranger kiss as romantic gesture" has roots as American as "V-J Day in Times Square," the iconic photo of a World War II sailor smooching a nurse. It's long been hailed as the epitome of patriotic romance, though a 2005 interview with the nurse, Greta Friedman, revealed it was more akin to a sexual assault. "Suddenly, I was grabbed by a sailor. I did not observe anybody taking pictures. I was anxious to get back to work," she recalled, calling herself a "bystander" to the incident. "It wasn't my choice to be kissed. ... The guy just came over and grabbed."

Friedman's body language — her limp left arm, contorted right arm and tight fist — is visibly tense and uncomfortable, like Berry's. The sailor exerts his physical will on her by clutching her face, like Brody grabbed Berry's, and like Elkann seized the back of Thurman's head with both hands. The world reacted to "V-J Day in Times Square" with sentimentalism; the audience at the 2003 Oscars and the media critics applauded Brody's bold display of joy and lust, barely, if ever, stopping to question whether Berry enjoyed it — and even if she did, whether Brody ever gained her consent. The other sailor in "V-J Day" laughs at the spectacle of his compatriot snatching an unsuspecting woman on the street; Jack Nicholson and Nicolas Cage, whom Brody beat out for the 2003 Oscar, cheered Brody on.

The kiss Elkann forced on Thurman has aroused far more controversy than the one Brody foisted upon Berry. This can be explained by four social phenomena. For one, mainstream media has recently engaged in far broader and deeper conversations around rape culture, which likely gave Thurman more leeway to voice her anger. There's also a nascent celebrity trend of speaking out against haters and violators. The fury for Thurman that Berry never saw is indicative of an imaginary hierarchy of sexual assault, which says that Brody is handsome, talented, and swoon-worthy, so Berry should count herself lucky. Since no one's swooning over Elkann, Thurman seems more justified in her protests. Berry, the only woman of color to ever win a Best Actress award, also faces more and stricter barriers to raising a fuss.

But the most disheartening part of these images is that the women remain composed and gracious, even as their bodily autonomy is invaded. Thurman went along with Elkann's too-close hug at first. After Brody grabbed and kissed her, Berry turned around with a good-natured laugh.

Elkann, Brody and the "V-J Day" sailor took the risk of forcing a kiss on an unsuspecting woman in places where they knew they'd face at least temporary impunity: a charity gala, an awards show, a bustling public square brimming with patriotic zeal, a space in front of the camera's watchful eye, where women would be unlikely to scream or sock them.

And the audience clapped.

   
Comments
PolitiFact Florida: Have Democrats gained 50 seats formerly held by Republicans since Trump was elected?

PolitiFact Florida: Have Democrats gained 50 seats formerly held by Republicans since Trump was elected?

President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager had a prescient message for Republican voters: Get out and vote, or risk losing more seats to Democrats.Corey Lewandowski traveled to Sarasota on Feb. 11, along with former Trump deputy campaign manage...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: Trump’s rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trump’s rising deficits and misplaced priorities

It’s not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Column: Constitution does not bar sensible gun rules

Column: Constitution does not bar sensible gun rules

The use of the Second Amendment to block consideration of sensible gun control measures is a national disgrace. And conservatives themselves have explained why this is true.For decades, conservatives have objected to the use of constitutional provisi...
Published: 02/16/18
Editorial: Story of Brandon priest belies demonization of unauthorized immigrants

Editorial: Story of Brandon priest belies demonization of unauthorized immigrants

That a Hillsborough County man brought to this country illegally as a child has dedicated his life to helping others serves as a reminder of the urgent need to work toward comprehensive immigration reform in the long run, and in the short run, to ren...
Published: 02/16/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighter’s case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighter’s case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, it’s time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bay’s job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
PolitiFact: The facts behind Donald Trump’s exaggerations on immigration, MS-13 and crime

PolitiFact: The facts behind Donald Trump’s exaggerations on immigration, MS-13 and crime

President Donald Trump has linked illegal immigration to the violence of the MS-13 gang, claiming "open borders" have caused the deaths of many people in the United States.During his State of the Union speech, Trump highlighted the 2016 killings of t...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial cartoons for Feb. 17-19

Editorial cartoons for Feb. 17-19

These cartoons are from various Times wire services.
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
School shooting survivors beg for action: ‘When you’re killing children... you’re killing our future.’

School shooting survivors beg for action: ‘When you’re killing children... you’re killing our future.’

PARKLAND — The air was ripe with gunpowder, and the floor was wet with blood. In the hallways of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on a Valentine’s afternoon, backpacks lay scattered where they fell while unanswered cell phones continued to ring a...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings aren’t enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings aren’t enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18