Proud to Be Nude

Marty Kent is one of the directors of the X-plicit Players. Respond at [email protected]





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In 1992 a wave of public nudity began to rise in Berkeley. The X-plicit Players started with a "top-free" picnic at Martin Luther King Jr. Park that June. Inspired by overwhelmingly positive public response, by August we were walking naked through the downtown area almost every day. At the same time, though independently, a UC Berkeley student named Andrew Martinez began a comparable practice, attending classes and walking the campus neighborhoods nude.

None of us were doing this "just to be naked." We weren't trying to "beat the heat" or avoid tan lines. Our nudity demonstrated our willingness to reveal ourselves and be seen, to be approached, talked to and touched. Also, we were displaying our unwillingness to participate in social practices of concealment, dishonesty, covertly commodified "sexuality" and the endlessly boring "coolness." Our nudity demonstrated a deep personal, interpersonal and social philosophy, and the great majority of people who actually met us were able to "get it" very easily, even intuitively, without a lot of explanation.

Like many people who've lived in Berkeley for a while, the X-plicit Players found the university rather distasteful, and we had a strong tendency to avoid it. But Martinez asked us to help him put on an event on campus and the bonds of our friendship drew us to stand with him.

In September we held a "Nude-In" on the steps of Sproul Hall. The crowd in attendance overflowed the plaza, and filled the balconies of the facing building. The feeling was tremendously celebratory, and many people climbed the steps to undress and join us in a group embrace. We asked everyone there to keep protecting this freedom on campus in days to come and to "watch over Andy."

Shortly afterward, the X-plicit Players were invited by the dramatic arts department to do a "lecture-demonstration" for a class and to stage a full-scale performance in Durham Theater. It was a very exciting time. It seemed as if even the university, notoriously oppressed and oppressive, was undergoing a renaissance of the spirit.

But it was not to be. Within a month, the grand high poobah of the university issued a declaration - no nudity would be permitted on campus. Not only were Martinez's freedoms to be "chopped off," but even nude modeling in art classes was now verboten. And, of course, the X-plicit Players' campus performances were out of the question.

This autocratic declaration was no surprise to the X-plicits; we had been expecting some kind of repressive move on campus for quite a while. But what did surprise us was that of all those university people who cheered and celebrated at the Nude-In, of all those university people who talked animatedly with us during the summer and fall, when the authoritarian stench rolled down over Andrew Martinez, none of them stood in solidarity with him. Not a single one.

Let's talk philosophy for a minute ... We still believe that many students come to the university in search of good ideas - to learn about those of others and to practice coming up with their own. You believe that life can be made better for many of us if good ideas can spread out and be taken up by people, influencing the way things are done. And we very much share this belief.

But the "culture" of the university treats ideas almost entirely as artifacts to be written and talked about, de-emphasizing or even denigrating the value of direct experience. So you end up with a "community" built around hearsay. As the old saw says, "talk is cheap," and nowadays, with the mass media and the Internet, both talk and writing are incredibly cheap - and mostly worthless. In such an era of rampant bullshit, talking and writing about good ideas is not enough. We all have to act them out, test and demonstrate their goodness to ourselves and each other. There's really no way around it.

Another problem with the university "culture" is that it stigmatizes ignorance, despite the fact that all of us remain ignorant of almost everything for our entire lives. To be embarrassed and ashamed about ignorance is to reject our basic state in life. Ignorance is as fundamental and inescapable as embodiment. The worst thing about this institutional condemnation is that it makes you afraid to reveal your own ignorance and prevents you from conducting the experiments-in-living through which you could actually advance your knowledge.

From outside, this all just looks silly. We feel like students are missing out on a lot of good opportunities, just because they're afraid to be laughed at. And this is a shame, because being laughed at is no big deal at all. You really shouldn't let it stand in the way of your education.

Since the days when the university banned nudity on campus, the X-plicit Players have staged more than 250 nude events in the streets and parks of Berkeley. These have included "morality plays," expositions of body philosophy, experiments with group body, ritual celebrations of place and season, and even "political protest." Most recently, the "How Berkeley Can You Be?" parade included "tunnels" and circles of nude bodies in which the X-plicit Players embraced hundreds of joyful parade attendees.

We continue to tenderize and enthuse the place where we live. Many people have joined us and participated in these celebrations and experiments, but very few have been "university people." We wish more of you would have some fun with us!

If you want to know more about what we're doing, you can call us at (510) 848-1985, or examine our Web site at xplicitplayers.com. Let's work together on art that motivates social change - and art that is social change.

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