Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Nudity is so unnatural! Wait, what?

The San Francisco Castro area is long known as a place where people act peculiarly. There are frequently sightings of men or women walking naked in this zone, and it was not only perfectly legal, but widely accepted. Until recently when Scott Weiner and some uppity shits decided that this one small part of our country that allowed for the human body to be freed needed, instead, to be converted into the homogenaity of all the other places where nudity is considered shameful and wrong.
Then in the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf challenged this notion that blanket bans on nudity was even remotely moral. Why do I post this into a blog about biblical bullshit?Conor takes a columnist named Denis Prager to task, who tried to claim biblical values were important in such a discussion. But also, that biblical values insist we act above animals, whereas exposed genitals means we’re indistinguishable to animals. And I’m thinking of Mr. Prager can’t tell the difference between his genitalia and that of a horse, well… that makes me want his phone number!
But I have a feeling he flatters himself. Just as we have a feeling that Scott Weiner’s only real beef is that nobody wants to see his weiner. Penis jokes aside, the argument by Friedersdorf is pretty good:
As is [Prager's] habit, he began with sweeping generalizations about “Leftism” and the agenda of its adherents that bear little resemblance to the beliefs of the vast majority of actual people on the American left. That characterization flows directly into his argument:
Two of the many areas of conflict between Judeo-Christian values and leftism concern the separation between the holy and the profane and separation between humans and animals. The essence of the Hebrew Bible — as transmitted by Christianity — is separation: between life and death, nature and God, good and evil, man and woman and between the holy and the profane. The reasons to oppose public nudity emanate from this Judeo-Christian list of separations.
When human beings walk around with their genitals uncovered, they are behaving in a manner indistinguishable from animals. A major difference between humans and animals is clothing; clothing separates us from — and in the biblical view, elevates us above — the animal kingdom. Seeing any animal’s genitals is normal. Anyone who demanded that animals’ genitals be covered would be regarded as a nut by the most religious Jew or Christian. But one of our human tasks is to elevate us above the animal. And covering our genitals is one important way to do that. The world of the left generally finds this animal-human distinction unnecessary.
The last sentence is especially absurd, but let’s set it aside in favor of addressing a larger point. This idea that people are behaving in a manner indistinguishable from animals when they’re naked in public is close to the opposite of my limited experience. Visit a nude beach in Spain or Italy, a sauna in Germany, or a co-ed hot springs in Oregon or Northern California, and you’ll find a lot of men and women with ideological notions of how civilized naked people ought to behave.
As one clothing-optional spa in Portland puts it, the center is “a place where we try to model the change we want to see in the world. Most of our bathhouse hours are open to people of all genders. We also offer men’s night and women’s night weekly, plus a monthly trans and gender queer night.” Typical patrons range in age from young adults to octogenarians. The rules:
Respect and uphold your own privacy and the privacy of others. All wellness sessions and services you receive … are strictly non-sexual. We encourage patrons to focus on their own experience, enjoying the calm atmosphere and quiet company of friends who came with them. By respecting privacy we create a space where people are able to relax, with or without bathing attire, and be free from sexual issues or innuendos.
That spa is about as far removed from a state of nature as is imaginable. Everyone is expected to exercise their higher brain functions and to keep their “animal impulses” tightly under control. And they do! In contrast, there are communities where people believe that if the women do not cover up their whole bodies, the men will be unable to control themselves sexually.
I find the Portland spa far more elevating and humanizing than extremist societies with enforced modesty.
Says Prager, later in his column:
The San Francisco Examiner reported about one of the protesters at the San Francisco Supervisors vote: “As he pulled his pants up, a nudist named Stardust said the legislation sent the wrong message. ‘It’s telling people they should be ashamed to be naked, and that’s totally wrong,’ he said.”
But to those who believe in Judeo-Christian values, telling people to be ashamed about being naked in public is not totally wrong. It’s the whole point. The first thing Adam and Eve discovered after eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was that they were naked. And the first emotion they ever experienced was shame over their nudity. San Francisco, America and the west are going to have to choose whether Stardust or the Bible is right.
Actually, I see nothing in the Ten Commandments that suggests public nudity ought to be prohibited, and I think Stardust’s view is not at all inconsistent with the New Testament verses, “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” As for Adam and Eve, it was God that put them on earth without clothes, distinguishing them as human, distinct from all other creatures, before they bit the apple and thought to cover themselves. Prager’s biblical arguments fail even in biblical terms. (The Bible actually seems more concerned with fancy clothing and accessories than nudity.)
I know a lot of people have a visceral reaction to the idea of public nudity, and that they’re inclined to trust their gut, even after they concede that none of their arguments are quite persuasive. I know people worry about their kids having to encounter naked creeps, though we’d all be immeasurably better off if creeps really did all walk around naked. (It’s people who blend into trusted positions like priest, stepfather, and coach that prey on children, not eccentrics knowingly making themselves the most highly visible person on any street they’re occupying.)
It saddens me that Americans sometimes put so little value on the preferences of cultural minorities, even when they aren’t doing any harm. So I have one final argument to make on behalf of making space for some public nudity: It really improves way clothed people conceive of their own bodies. Talk to someone who has been to a nude beach, or read the Yelp reviews for spas where people are naked together, and you’ll keep coming across comments like this one:
Odd as it may sound, it’s really refreshing to spend an hour being naked amongst other naked women. I don’t spend a lot of time looking at nude female bodies aside from my own, so it’s a nice reminder that we’re all essentially the same, yet unique. By the time I leave, I’ve seen so much variety that I don’t even care that I have a mole on my butt.
Americans are bombarded with images of semi-clothed people all the time. It just happens that they’re all beautiful actors and actresses, magazine cover girls, television underwear models, and porn stars. The average person sees lots of naked bodies, but very little real variety. While that may be more aesthetically pleasant, it skewers our notion of what a normal human body looks like. In an age of Victoria’s Secret in the mall, substantial nudity on primetime television, and ubiquitous YouPorn, a ban on nonsexual street nudity begins to seem absurd. Society needs some relatively unattractive people to be naked in public now more than ever before.
Far as I’m concerned, Prager trying to force us to decide whether Stardust is right, or the Bible is, is easy. Stardust lives here and now, in a time when we’ve seen centuries of what Prager-style moralists have done to this world. His penis exposed does nothing to harm me, but Prager’s beloved book has harmed millions. It’s no contest. Stardust wins with a flawless victory.