By Vernon Felton
I'm not a scientist, but I know this much—you can't stop global warming by showing strangers your genitals. I suppose that sounds obvious, but over the past decade thousands of people around the world have given the above proposition their very best shot.
This past weekend, in fact, cyclists in 25 countries and 70 cities decided that old folks and young children needed to see their junk as they pedaled around as part of the World Naked Bike Ride.
In it's tenth year now, the annual event was originally intended to be "a protest against society's dependency on oil." While that is still a claimed goal of the global event, the naked ride has also become a catch-all platform for causes including "…exposing the vulnerability faced by cyclists and pedestrians on our streets."
Reducing our consumption of oil and all the ills associated with that (increased pollution, fighting pointless wars, etc.) is a noble goal. Ditto for bringing attention to the fact that our streets are practically designed to make riding your bike a dangerous activity. I wholeheartedly support those initiatives, but let's be honest with ourselves here: showing people your johnson or hoo-hah ain't going to make those things happen. It's like trying to save baby seals by creating an ABBA cover band.
Gandhi, Martin Luther King Junior, Mother Theresa….none of these people changed our world for the better by getting naked. Social change involves hard, tedious work and an incredible amount of self-sacrifice, which is precisely why most of us don’t do it. Getting naked, on the other hand, is simply….fun, which is hard to argue with. I get naked several times a day—it's good stuff—but let's not gild the lily here and claim that we are making the world a better, safer place by flopping our dangly bits about in public.
This whole "I'm saving the world with my penis" thing probably wouldn't annoy me if I hadn't grown up in Northern California during the 1970s, an era in which you couldn't throw a rock without hitting someone who looked a lot like a naked Charlie Manson. The place was just crawling with clothing-averse hippies and, if that sounds exciting, it wasn't. Trust me, the last thing you want to see in the grocery store is some naked dude bending over as he combs the dairy aisle for goat's milk yoghurt. And just as I was getting over my early scarring experiences, I had the unique opportunity to attend a university that didn't require clothing. Whether UC Santa Cruz was ever officially "clothing optional" is open to debate now (the school is much more mainstream these days), but I can tell you that it certainly was once a campus where you could walk around naked without anyone questioning your fashion sense. While that, again, sounds kind of interesting, the novelty wears off quick. You soon wind up annoyed by people who claim that they are saving the world by showing up at the bookstore without shoes, underwear or deodorant.
So, if you want to get naked, go for it. Nudity is fun. The wind on your skin, the opportunity to show off your rabbi's handiwork with a scalpel… What's not to like? I'm all for it, and clearly so are the people all over the world who keep showing up to beaches and rallies and events without their pants. But if you really want to stop wars, pioneer alternative sources of energy or make our city streets safer, showing off your junk isn't going to actually do anything other than give small children nightmares. In fact, it's kind of insulting to the people who devote their lives to doing the good, hard work that benefits the rest of us.
People get naked because people like to get naked. It's not noble, it's just a fact.