FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Banning Nudity in San Francisco

by BINOY KAMPMARK

The naked guys have been called our “canary in the coalmine”… what are we going to ban next? Leatherwear that’s too revealing? Scary drag queens?
Joshua Alexandr, San Francisco, October 2012

The law might be an ass, but its parents tend to be unwise law makers.  A nice, even depressing example of this is the attempt by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors to make it illegal for anyone over five (why not six, seven or eight?) to “expose his or her genitals, perineum or anal region” in public locations, including places of transit.  Knowing, presumably, that they are legislating for the wise, merrily deranged citizens of San Francisco, exceptions are made for various street fairs and events (Folsom Street Fair, and the annual gay pride event, to name but a smidgen). More on point, the supervisors don’t want to fall foul of the First Amendment.

The unfortunately named district supervisor Scott Wiener is at the wheel of this morally indignant measure, reputedly averse to the practice of some nudists to wear “cock rings” and the like.  “I don’t think having some guys taking their clothes off and hanging out seven days a week at Castro and Market Street is really what San Francisco is about.”

What an astonishingly ignorant proposition.  San Francisco has been a caricature of itself since it began its pretensions as a city of gold gazing across the Pacific, the liberal base for “anything goes”.  Any supervisor should be thrilled to know that his constituents are happy to go starkers, however flimsy their philosophical basis for doing so might be.  San Francisco is a Rabelaisian epic of a city, where bowels and genitals are courtiers keeping company.  It features the fallen, the deranged, the crippled, and the extravagant.

Through the site Change.org, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has been petitioned by a certain “Mitch Hightower” to stop any measure that would ban public nudity.  “This important freedom has contributed to the continued success of many long-running and popular street events including Bay to Breakers, Pride, World Naked Bike Ride, Up Your Alley Street Fair, Nude In Body Freedom Demonstration and Folsom Street Fair.”

Comments by supporters are instructive. Kristina Moseley makes the point that, “My body is not for you to govern.”  A certain Christopher Cronin is happy to throw in the commentary of previous thinkers on the body.  Michelangelo: “What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more notable than the shoe, and the skin more beautiful that the garment with which it is clothed?”  Oscar Wilde: “If man was meant to be nude, he would have been born that way.”

Specific interest in this measure seems to have developed because of a growing number of men who have congregated in and about the public plaza in the Castro. For one of SF’s representatives of hedonic charm, McCray Winpsett, “A few lewd exhibitionists are really running it for the rest of us.”  Presumably, for a poor choice of cock ring.

For all this silliness, Wiener has revealed his fundamental misunderstanding as to what being naked and being nude is. The nude is a construction, itself a product of spectatorship.  That, historically, has tended to be a male gaze, history’s ogling patriarch.  Digging deeper in the vaults of antiquity, and the Greek concept of the nude is fundamentally linked with one of integrity, Olympian pomp, pulsing muscles and wielded spears.  While the term “integrity” is unlikely to wash in the exhibitionist élan of San Francisco’s events, it is worth mentioning.  Reaction is key.

For more down to earth types hanging to the spines of law books to get their fix, it would suffice to simply say that being naked need not itself be “lewd” as stipulated by Penal Code Section 314(1).  Since the 1970s, it has been settled in Californian law that “mere nudity” is not “lewd conduct”.  In re Smith, 7 Cal.3d 362, 497 P.2d 807 (1972), Mr. Smith was entitled to habeas corpus relief because, in the words of Justice Mosk, the “necessary proof of sexual motivation was not and could not have been made in the case at bar.  It is settled that mere nudity does not constitute a form of sexual ‘activity’.”  Measures to combat indecent exposure are considered more than sufficient given that the Smith case sets the test as to what “lewd” might be – cock ring or no cock ring.

Christina DiEdoardo, a legal eagle retained to challenge the proposal, is forensic in her query into the proposed ordinance.  Three questions need to be asked: whether the ordinance targets a “protected activity”; whether existing state laws are sufficient to restrict that behaviour; and whether state legislation already pre-empted the field of regulation of nudity in public places (Law Offices of Christina DiEdoardo, Oct 3).  The nudists can win on the first two.  The last part, concedes DiEdoardo, is the most problematic one, though the scope of regulation proposed by Wiener is broad and might violate the “pre-emption” premise.

Being naked is a weapon.  The flesh bared is a magnified protest, an affirmation, a signal against controlled spaces.  Bugger the layers, I want to be free.  Tampering with that aspect of it shows a degree of ill health and boredom in the polity.  Wiener exemplifies this.  “Free expression in the abstract is really nice… until it comes to your neighbourhood.”  And the regulator, once unleashed, can never stop.  With one ordinance comes another.  Exceptions will be made, but others will be removed in the name of annulling “abstract” concepts such as free speech.  The passage of the latest ordinance on public nudity – albeit by a narrow margin of 6 votes to 5, is simply the beginning.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail