FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Banning Nudity in San Francisco

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

More articles by:

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

August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
Fred Gardner
Exploiting Styron’s Ghost
Dean Baker
Fact-Checking the Fact-Checker on Medicare-for-All
Weekend Edition
August 10, 2018
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Militarizing Space: Starship Troopers, Same As It Ever Was
Andrew Levine
No Attack on Iran, Yet
Melvin Goodman
The CIA’s Double Standard Revisited
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Grifter’s Lament
Aidan O'Brien
In Italy, There are 12,000 American Soldiers and 500,000 African Refugees: Connect the Dots 
Robert Fantina
Pity the Democrats and Republicans
Ishmael Reed
Am I More Nordic Than Members of the Alt Right?
Kristine Mattis
Dying of Consumption While Guzzling Snake Oil: a Realist’s Perspective on the Environmental Crisis
James Munson
The Upside of Defeat
Brian Cloughley
Pentagon Spending Funds the Politicians
Pavel Kozhevnikov
Cold War in the Sauna: Notes From a Russian American
Marilyn Garson
If the Gaza Blockade is Bad, Does That Make Hamas Good?
Sean Posey
Declinism Rising: An Interview with Morris Berman  
Jack Dresser
America’s Secret War on Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Use and Misuse of Charity: the Luck of the Draw in a Predatory System
Louis Proyect
In the Spirit of the Departed Munsees
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Alex Jones and Infowars
Mundher Al Adhami
On the Iraqi Protests, Now in Their Second Month 
Jeff Mackler
Nicaragua: Dynamics of an Interrupted Revolution
Robert Hunziker
Peter Wadhams, Professor Emeritus, Ocean Physics
David Macaray
Missouri Stands Tall on the Labor Front
Thomas Knapp
I Didn’t Join Facebook to “Feel Safe”
John Carroll Md
Are Haitian Doctors Burned Out?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail