Friday, August 25, 2006

Nudity in Vermont

There's a lot going on in Vermont, newswise. Over the last week we've had a crazy woman from Braintree pee on a plane, a tragic shooting at an elementary school, and now this headline from Reuters, 'Nude Teens Raise Eyebrows'.

Apparantly, some rascally teens in Brattleboro have started walking around in the buff this summer. And the bset part of it is that public nudity in the town is only illegal if it's done to arouse sexual gratification.

All the nudity has set up a first ammendment rights fight between the town and the naked teens.

When the weather grew hot this year, a couple of dozen teens took to holding hula hoop contests, riding bikes and parading past the shops wearing only their birthday suits.

Nobody, including the police, seemed to take offense until one local, Theresa Toney, went before the town government in August to complain about a group of youngsters naked in a parking lot.

"The parking lot is not a strip club," she said. "What about children seeing this?"

Town officials asked their attorney to draft an ordinance to ban such displays for the Select Board to vote on in September. When the teens heard about it, some staged a nude sit-in.
The whole problem with first ammendment controversies is that a person's right to self expression must be balanced with another's right to not participate in that expression. For example, adults have the right to rent a pornographic movie, but these movies are situated in a location where someone looking for the latest Disney flick isn't going to run across it. It's also the same reason groups like the KKK are protected under law to stage a rally, so long as they do so non-violently. Likewise, certain forms of expression have been outlawed because of the harm to others. You cannot yell 'Fire!' in a crowded theater. Protesters at an abortion clinic cannot physically bar entrance to the clinic.

Given the teens' comments, they don't understand this.

"I don't see why it's such a big deal," said Alec McPherson, a recent high school graduate as he sat at a coffee shop table, browsing a thick volume of artwork from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Everyone's naked in this book."

His companion, Jeremiah Compton, a high school junior who plays in a local metal-and-punk band, agreed. "It's just that we're bored and expressing our right," he said.
"We have a nuclear power plant a few miles away and a ridiculous war in the Middle East, countries getting bombed," said Ian Bigelow, a 23-year-old who had gathered with some of his friends outside a bookstore. "So why's it such a big problem if we chose to get nude?"
Personally, I don't have a problem with nudity. I know what the human body looks like. I'm also under the impression that everybody looks silly completely naked. No matter how attractive that person may be, there's going to be dangly bits hanging out, things flopping, a little jiggling, and possibly some hairy bits. I find it amusing. The teens are obviously going for the shock value. That's fine.

What's troubling is that someone who didn't want to see naked people was forced to view them. The argument 'she doesn't have to look' doesn't hold in this case. If the teens are walking around all over town, then the woman has no idea where they will be so she can avoid them. In the pornography example I used, you still have the right to rent the porno, but that does not mean that everyone has to go beyond the little curtain at the video store. How this will pan out in the town ordinance could be amusing. They could have a designated nude district or a special naked day.

I question my liberalism when I begin to think about cases like this. The teens are just having a little rebellious fun, not really harming anybody. Am I the old stodgy who tells them they're wrong? The problem I have is the carelessness with which the first ammendment gets thrown around. When you wield your rights, you must take responsibility to not harm others in the process.


BlueMule said...

I see where you're coming from. But, I would have to say that if Vermont doesn't want to see other people walking around naked, it needs to amend the state constitution to control that.

Yesterday the Bennington Selectboard declined to take up a proposed nudity ban in town. They commented that with winter coming, it will probably be a moot issue. If the problem persists, they'll address it.

The way I look at is this: If a majority of people find public nudity offensive, then they need to sign a petition and force their town to ban it through a townwide zoning ordinance. This is how our government works. We have the power to change these things and yet most people don't choose to act.

I cannot argue that these kids are just doing it to try to tweak people out, no matter how they cloak their choice in free speech. But, that cloak does fit!

Personally, I think everyone should just be nude.


Anonymous said...

I can't imagine that some rednecks from southern Vermont actually look good naked, so my vote is "Keep yer fricken' clothes on!" My main problem with public nudity however, is hygiene. I'm very freaked out that people are going to sit their naked butt cheeks down on a park bench and leave some fecal DNA. I don't care how clean these people are....unless they're hunkered over a B-Day for 20 minutes, they're leaving some lingering spackle from their latest digested meal wherever they sit. Think about that the next time you innocently sit on a park bench in Bennington.