by Grace Hatton, Reverb Editor
Nudity is and most likely will always be a heated topic. There are those who wish we could all frolic around campus in our birthday suits, those who wish the air was just a little cooler so everyone would stay bundled up, and those somewhere in the middle. Everyone of these opinions is valid and has merit. Yet it is my humble belief that there are certain times and places where the body should not be revealed in all its naked glory to the world. A public poetry slam where anyone with any stance on nudity could attend is one of those places where I feel we should all try to get our pants on.
Just before the Thanksgiving break my friends and I attended the Poetry Slam in Sage Café. I smiled and laughed at the humorous poems and was sobered by many of the poems that addressed serious issues. Yet one poem in particular made quite an impression on the crowd. At the end of this poem the poet declared with his last line “I am not who you think I am” before he threw off his hat and then proceeded to unzip his jacket, pull of his shirt and take off his pants to reveal everything. He stood in front of Sage’s audience as bare as the day he was born.
The crowd’s reaction was mixed, and the judges gave the poet a low score. On a personal level I did not appreciate the unwarranted nudity. Nor did many in the crowd as far as I could tell as mutters and murmurs drifted through the room.
“It seemed pointless, as though he just wanted attention,” said a first year student who was at the event, but wishes to remain anonymous. “It was inappropriate for the event. As a woman I’m constantly bombarded with sexual images and guys think we want to see that, but we don’t.”
There was no warning at the beginning of the event or at the beginning of the poem that there may be nudity involved. Nudity is not something that usually occurs at a poetry slam and therefore most of the audience was not expecting someone to strip at the end of the poem. Indeed there was no clue that unless you averted your eyes quickly enough your vision would be confronted with genitals.
Some may argue that the nudity was for the sake of the art, and a warning would ruin the essence of the poem. However I’m sure the poet could have still gotten his point across if he stripped down to his underwear versus stripping to complete nudity and the poet could have easily told the student activities crew when he signed up what he was going to do so they could have a quick warning at the beginning of the event. And aside from that there is a vast difference in seeing nude art i.e a nude painting, a film containing nudity or nude photos versus seeing someone strip in the flesh. There is a distance involved with most 2D nude art—an invisible barrier that the paper, paint or screen can create that is not present when someone is standing naked in front of you.
Many would said that nudity is sexual and for many nudity is closely linked to sexual abuse, and seeing a naked man can for many be a trigger forcing them to relive memories and emotions they may not be ready to deal with.
“Overall I think he was being thoughtless of other people,” said the first year student. “Nudity affects a lot of people especially women because many of us are survivors. He was being unnecessarily dramatic without thinking about how it would affect people in the crowd. And as far as for the sake of art, that’s bullshit, you can say it’s art to get away with anything.”
This potential discomfort at public nudity is perhaps why indecent exposure is written into the college’s sexual misconduct policy, under the category of sexual exploitation. EW Quimbaya-Winship, director of the RISE project, declined to comment on the situation. Whether the poet knew about this policy and its implications before making the decision to strip at the end of the poem or not is unclear.
What is clear however is that unwarranted nudity and public events do not go well together. If there had been a warning it would have been a different situation because attendees like myself could have made an informed decision about whether we wanted to view the nudity or not. It’s different if I go to an art show or performance focusing on nude bodies because I am making that decision to view those things. But at the poetry slam the poet decided to just expose himself and thus took that choice away from me and other audience members.
I’m not against nudity as whole. Feel free to skinny dip in the river or dance around your room naked, but all I am saying is that there is a time and a place for nudity. A public event is not such a time or a place. I believe that we should, as members of this accepting college, not assume that everyone in a crowd at a public event will feel the same way about nudity. By stripping at the end of the poem the poet did an arrogant and nonconsensual thing because he assumed everyone in the crowd had the same stance on nudity as him.
I believe that we as members of a community should think about the effect our bodies have on others. We should be aware of the harm an impromptu naked session could have on survivors of sexual abuse. And if you believe that public displays of nudity at a public event is simply art with no further implications, please take a moment to think about who could be in the crowd at that event and how what is being presented as ‘art,’ whether it be nudity or something else, could affect the audience in a positive or negative way.