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Holland Park Press

A Small Thingy

11 December 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

After a linesman in the Dutch amateur football league was kicked to death, and in London a nurse committed suicide because two Australian DJs played a bad joke on her, I was in desperate need of something frivolous. Luckily there was news from San Francisco.

During the past two years nudism has been proliferating in the Castro district of San Francisco. In Castro you run into naked people, mostly men, every day. Some people consider it a tourist attraction. I would rather call after them: ‘There goes Uncle Eddie taking out his Fidel.’

In other parts of the city, too, they like to stroll around in the nude. This has been a feature since the hippies in the 1960s, but in those days it was mostly associated with pop concerts or happenings in a park. Freedom was removing all your clothes while being stoned.

The city council now wants a total ban on nudity and took a vote last week on a law prohibiting nudity in public. The debate between the eleven counsellors eligible to vote was hilarious in itself.

Scott Wiener, who tabled the bill banning public nudity, said that he had received numerous complaints from Castro residents during the past two years. I can imagine that it’s uncomfortable if the other customer in the greengrocer’s, looking at the same apples as you want to buy, is stark naked, or if you have to queue behind six pairs of naked buttocks at the butcher’s.

Another counsellor, John Avalos, was concerned about the impact on civil liberties. ‘Sometimes there is a little weirdness about how we express ourselves but that’s part of what is great in this city.’

The outcome of the vote was six against and five in favour of the ban. This hit headlines around the world, because after the announcement of the result in the city hall some of the demonstrators removed all their clothes. They felt the result restricted their constitutional rights.

On American TV, when reporting cases like this, private parts are shown fuzzy. It is after all the land of Nipplegate, the 2004 incident in which Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson’s breast for half a second during Super Bowl halftime. In the UK no one bats an eye when contestants appear with near-naked bums on Strictly Come Dancing.

How would I react if people starting walking naked down the street in my town? As I write this it’s just starting to thaw, but even so.

Look, it wasn’t a problem for the Romans. Italy is full of naked statues, and there is Manneken Pis in Belgium.

I’ve stood in front of Michelangelo’s David. Because you have to look up at it, David has an outsized head and hands. But why does he have a very small thingy? Maybe Michelangelo had run out of marble.

The male sexual organ is mostly a rather small affair; in other words, it’s often a bit disappointing. Certainly in the case of men of a certain age. You’d rather not see the Beach Boys stark naked nowadays. Actually, you would if Lucian Freud were still alive to paint them.

I assure you, Manneken Pis is a lousy tourist attraction. It doesn’t deserve a detour; it’s not a patch on the Eiffel Tower.

Still, I’ve got nothing against naked statues in public spaces: this is stylised nakedness. So I don’t mind even the most controversial art, either, as long as it’s in a museum.

All freedom has its boundaries, which brings me right back to the linesman. You don’t touch him. Or think of the unsuspecting, hard-working nurse. You don’t play a joke on her, and you shouldn’t force nudity on someone who doesn’t like it.

It could well be that I’m composing this column in the nude, but you don’t have to picture it. Actually, it’s better if you don’t.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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