In my talk radio days I found some topics that could get the phones ringing every time. One was public nudity. The bulging forum around last week's column says that not much has changed. The column, set against Ashland's latest naked-man drama, asked this question: What is it about the human body that we should be sure our young children don't see?
I hunkered down for a pounding on the reader forum that never came. I counted one sarcastic posting — "Oh Jeff, you are so right again. Please show us the way by discarding your earth-destroying clothes nature boy" — and another that mentioned the column's title and might not qualify as fan mail: "I must say that before I read his comment, it made me laugh out loud to see the photo of Golden, under which are the words STILL CLUELESS AFTER ALL THESE YEARS." The other three dozen chose to grapple with the issue. Since I've been known to grumble when people toss around more stinkbombs than ideas on this forum, I have to say that it's great when the opposite is true.
One comment made me wonder if George Carlin's still around: "I've noticed that naked people never walk, never stroll, never run, never meander, never amble, never jog, never promenade, never hike, never march, never tramp, never trek, never sally, never saunter, never ramble. They always 'parade.' If you've been reading the articles on this episode as well as the Naked Lady episodes of last summer, you'll notice that naked people only know how to 'parade.'"
There was a brief professional duel: "In my social work days, we learned that sexual abuse begins with voyeurism, progresses to exhibitionism and proceeds to verbal contact and physical contact." countered by "As another Social Worker, I disagree. I think this "domino theory" has been debunked for years. MSW, Michigan State University 1976."
The thread running through most of the commentary was that we're dealing here with context and intent more than anatomy. Readers made the point different ways: "There is plenty of room to define a dress code for specific situations — protective clothing in the workplace, a suit and tie in the mayor's office, [Mayor Stromberg will get a kick out of that one] etc. Even children readily understand context — church clothes, school clothes, snow suits, etc. No clothing is really just being very informal."
"It "¦ is the MOTIVATION behind the actions that scares people "¦ Trust me, parents are not shielding their children's eyes in the locker room at the YMCA or the Daniel Myer pool. Why not? because everyone is naked and it is expected. No one in those places is trying to get their jollies out of shocking people."
"In this case of public nudity I believe it all comes down to social convention and what's expected. Since everybody knows it's a hot-button topic (in our culture, however uptight and repressed), then why push the envelope so fast that the seams tear apart in panic? "¦ That being said, my word, what a lot of self-induced anguish!"
This one focused my attention in a hurry: "Do you have young children or grandchildren, Jeff? Tell you what, tell me where they live, I'll get naked and walk their street, and if they happen to venture out to play, I will not hide my genitalia from their view nor turn away. You OK with that?" No. You help me understand what the others have said about the importance of intention. From the intention I pick up beneath the words, I don't see anything good for my kids here (though at 23 and 25 now, they make those calls just fine without me). I don't know the notorious naked man's intention.
And not knowing that, to answer you honestly, I would have a qualm about his contact with young kids. That's not because he's naked. It's because he's deviant, in exactly the Merriam-Webster sense of "deviating from an accepted norm or behavior." If I didn't otherwise know him, I just might wonder if there were other norms, like protecting and respecting children, that he'd ignore.
Another reader who talked about community norms said "It's just the way society has evolved over the centuries. That doesn't make it wrong, nor does that make it right. It just IS."
Okay. But why is it? That was what spurred the original question, and I don't think the forum discussion, lively as it was, directly answered. So I'm still asking: What is it about the human body that we should be sure our young children don't see?
Jeff Golden is the author of "Forest Blood," "As If We Were Grownups" and the novel "Unafraid," with excerpts available at www.unafraidthebook.com.