Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Naked Civil Servant

(Tip o' the biretta to Quentin Crisp.)

Mark Musselwhite, former mayor of Gainseville, Georgia, was arrested for public nudity this week. He is alleged to have been walking down the road drunk and naked, and was picked up by rangers at a campsite, where he was drunk, naked, and with a young lady in similar condition.

He claims he wasn't the guy on the road. And who knows? Maybe everybody in Georgia walks around naked.

But okay, ha-ha, let's all make fun of the politician caught with his pants down, or in this case off. Now let's move on to the more important subject: Why is it a crime to be naked?

Seriously. Public drunkenness bothers us a great deal, and often poses a genuine safety hazard near streets and parking lots. But nakedness? We just don't see the problem. Or rather, we see a few problems, but they are problematic primarily for the unclothed person. Musselwhite, for example, is 43; he looks healthy enough in his headshot, but we'll bet he's got a bit of a paunch, and his biceps aren't what they used to be. The next time he faces the voters, one bad picture could lead to endless ribald hilarity, especially given his name. But isn't that his problem?

And sure, as an aesthetic matter, we don't want to see most people naked. But we don't want to smell their cigarette smoke, either. There are some people we don't want to see, period, even dressed in a Brioni blazer. Our desire, however, doesn't make their puffing on the public sidewalk, or their unfortunate facial configuration wherever, illegal. It doesn't give society just cause to keep them locked at home until they stub it out or wear a mask.

Yes, Adam and Eve were ashamed, post lapsus. (Who knew that one piece of fruit would put on thirty pounds?) But it seems like a jump to go from that to the blanket conclusion that nudity is shameful, and a bigger jump still to impose a clearly religious definition of decency upon a secular state. Could we restrict the religious practice of, say, sky-clad Jains, if they were to set up a community here?

In the case of Mayor Musselwhite, the fellow was at a campsite. Granted, he wasn't alone in the roaring wilderness; this was the sort of campsite where there are people around. But if they can't avert their eyes, or get over their shock at a middle-aged man with no clothes, is that his problem or theirs?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

yes. some things are just so other people's problems i.e. just no problem at all. thank you for writing about real problems and hanging the non-problems out to dry.