Friday, January 13, 2012

Authentically Mad

"I don't want to facilitate the power structure with my conformity." ~ Andrew Martinez

One of my heros, one of the people whom I and many with views similar to mine have looked to with admiration, was Andrew Martinez. Andrew Martinez was able to achieve this admiration and respect, and some amount of national media attention, by insisting on attending classes at the University of California at Berkeley naked. He, because of this, became dubbed by the media as ‘the Naked Guy’. He inspired not only nude-in’s on campus but public nudity in the city of Berkeley as well. When charges against him were dropped because no anti-nudity law existed, the school instituted its own dress code mandating that students wear clothing. When Andrew refused, he was expelled.

Andrew, who had dropped from the public eye, surfaced once again on May 18, 2006 when it was reported that he was found dead in his jail cell in San Jose after committing suicide by placing a plastic bag over his head. According to the media stories Andrew had been suffering from incurable mental illness for years. I questioned the veracity of mental illness as a reason for Andrew’s actions at the time I read these reports. I believed there was more to Andrew’s story then could be accounted for by a facile diagnosis of mental illness and subsequent reading and research has only succeeded in cementing these beliefs further. Was Andrew mentally ill, or was it society which refused to allow him the freedom to live his life as he saw fit the illness?

Andrew first walked nude in public at the age of seventeen when he was living with his parents in Cupertino, California. He had fallen under the spell of nonconformist Henry David Thoreau, but before he began his naked quest he first went door to door, fully clothed, to ask all of his neighbors if they would mind. Soon he was walking down Highway 9 wearing only a backpack and a sign that read, “I was born naked, so were you.” It wasn’t long before he was stopped by the police who requested that he put his clothes on. He did.

Andrew started attended classes at Berkeley naked because he felt that clothes were useless in a warm environment except as “a tool for class and gender differentiation”. Andrew explained in the Oakland Tribune, "When I walk around nude, I am acting how I think it is reasonable to act, not how middle-class values tell me I should act. I am refusing to hide my dissent in normalcy even though it is very easy to do so."

Andrew started a movement in Berkeley. At the height of his naked activities he created several nude-ins on campus. At one nude-in he held, it was reported that he had 10,000 people cheering him and what he stood for that day, a society without racism, greed or oppression. Andrew had a following that including the performance group the X-Plicit Players and he inspired several other students to begin attending classes naked as well. More and more people began appearing on the streets of Berkeley naked until, like the university, the city government enacted an ordinance banning public nudity.

After being expelled from school Andrew continued to hang around Berkeley and People’s Park, but he progressively became angrier and angrier, frustrated that he had been expelled from school and by the fact that his peaceful efforts for body acceptance were thwarted. He hoped to file a lawsuit against the university, but could not find a source of funding which such a suit would require. He wrote, “I merely need to take off a four-ounce piece of cotton and reveal something that I have, everyone knows I have, half of the population has as well, to change from an average 20-year-old guy to a sex-offending criminal.” He began to wander Berkeley pushing a shopping cart filled with rocks. He would place piles of rocks at different intersections so people would have weapons for when the revolution he thought was coming began. Andrew wanted to renounce our manner of living in what he called cells, concrete eating up the world and nature, cars and pollution. He lived in a tent outside The Chateau, the Berkeley housing co-op where he lived, and made it his task to demolish the concrete driveway with a pick ax and a sledge hammer so the earth could return to a garden. It was actions like these, according to Debbie Moore, co-director of the X-Plicit players that lead to Andrew’s diagnosis of mental illness.

All of these pieces of evidential behavior used to support Andrew’s diagnosis may, if we take a Foucaldian view, actually constitute what was for Andrew his limit-experience, his living for himself an intensely true, moral and authentic life. Seen in this light it is society which manifests the tragic division of the lived experience, the world of the desired into normal and abnormal, and in doing so it is society itself which creates the mental illness. Mental illness does not exist in Andrew Martinez.

What was in actuality sick was the University’s refusal to listen critically to the logic that informed Andrew’s desires to not be bound by the irrational conventions of a culture which he saw as morally bankrupt. What was sick was the withdraw of support by the masses, myself included, who would not stand with Andrew Martinez when society cast Martinez as a “type”, and in doing so criminalized him and his authentically lived limit-experience. By being cowards, by not standing with Andrew we have relegated ourselves to those cells which Andrew strove to renounce. We are prisoners once again of the sickness of a society which would construct dungeons of moral conscious in which to incarcerate us. Andrew, a Pied Piper of his age, strove to show us the means to escape but we refused to follow.

Sunday, January 1, 2012