Tuesday, December 10, 2013
During the summer of 1990, between his junior and senior year at Monte Vista High School in Cupertino, Luis “Andrew” Martinez began to ponder his role in life. Standing 6’ 4” Andrew played on his high school football team, wrestled, and held a black belt in Judo. He was a popular student with many friends.Sitting on a park bench next to his best friend on a very hot day, Andrew thought about the total inanity of having to wear clothing in such weather. He realized that, in spite of the obviousness of this truth, he was prohibited with the full force of an entire nation, and of virtually every person he could conceive of from taking the next seemingly logical step. For Andrew, this moment, sitting on a park bench on an unbearably hot day next to his best friend would have lasting repercussions. Andrew would begin to question and critique the entire structure of western capitalist values. Indeed, he came to the realization that nudity could be used to illustrate an entire system of unquestioned and thus rarely challenged political beliefs. For Andrew, “the relationship between the self, politics, the state and nudity [was] so telling that [he] could pick [that] one symbol to sustain his critique.
Andrew Martinez wrote that he hoped to begin an “enormous struggle for body liberation” by appearing naked except for sandals, the ubiquitous student backpack, and a peace sign and house key that dangled from a chain around his neck on the University of California, Berkeley campus on September 10, 1992. Once the commotion from his initial appearance died down, he became a standard fixture on campus, even acquiring the moniker of “the naked guy.” No one really seemed to notice and, according to one of Andrew’s professors, John Tinkler, not noticing was something of an unwritten law on campus. But someone must have noticed because, according to Jesus Mena, Berkeley University’s media director, “his behavior really was beginning to disrupt the educational process.” Some students and staff felt “very offended.”
On January 23, 1993, Andrew Martinez received an expulsion letter from the University of California at Berkeley. According to UC spokesperson Jesus Mena, student and faculty complaints played a role in Andrew’s expulsion. Students felt they were being harassed and complained about it, Mena claimed. Some were threatening to drop out of classes. Mena said there were complaints of the same type from staff as well. Andrew said no one ever complained face-to-face to him. He felt students who were offended should have talked to him about it or “gone to a psychologist. It’s just the human body.” According to reporter Julie Aquilar of the Daily Californian, many students were unhappy about Andrew’s expulsion. Students expressed such sentiments as: Andrew didn’t bother the student body, the expulsion is evidence of how much the university controls everything we do, and it is unfair considering how Berkeley is known for supporting individual rights.
Andrew Martinez received a medical diagnosis of schizophrenia in 1997. He would spend the next decade being shuttled between jails and mental-health facilities. In January of 2006, he was living in a half-way house when he was charged with battery and assault with a deadly weapon and was placed in solitary confinement in the maximum-security section of the Santa Clara County jail awaiting trial. His mother, Esther visited him in early May and Andrew told her how very tired he was. He had had enough. Esther called the prison when she got home and asked them to check on Andrew. The prison informed Esther that he was fine. She called repeatedly and each time received the same answer. Andrew was found dead in his cell on May 18, 2006, with a plastic bag tied around his head, an apparent suicide. Esher Krinn filed a wrongful death suit against the county of Santa Clara for ignoring her repeated calls warning of Andrew’s despondency. The County of Santa Clara settled for $1 million and altered its policies regarding notification of family members for suicide attempts.
Andrew Martinez did not want his legacy to be just “the Naked Guy.” For Andrew, nudity was the perfect symbol through which he felt he could communicate all that he saw wrong with current political and social constructs. The capitalist fueled madness of unlimited consumption and resource exploitation from a resource limited planet, our unwillingness to accept and recognize ourselves as mammals whose survival depends on our relationship with all other species on the planet, and our inability to live in the moment; to realize that our lives are not what we remember of our past or plan for our future, but right now.
Yet because of the media’s exploitation of a subject with so many intersecting possibilities for “infotainment:” nudity, youth, beauty, sex, and the “craziness” the media views as quintessential Berkeley; Andrew quickly became known globally as “the Naked Guy,” and thirteen years later his death received media notice for that reason as well.
Since 1992 the Body Freedom movement has emerged on a global scale with activists such as Stephen Gough, known as “the Naked Rambler” for having walked the length of Great Britain, from Land’s End to John O’Groats, in 2005. Stephen was arrested once he arrived in Scotland for breach of the peace. He refused to get dressed. Since then, he has been released and rearrested when he steps outside the prison gates naked, so that now he has spent nearly seven years incarcerated for refusing to get dressed. According to Stephen, “The human body isn't offensive, If that's what we're saying, as human beings, then it's not rational.”
Photographer Spencer Turnick travels the globe photographing women and men naked against various backdrops, from civic centers to deserts, to glaciers. In 1992, while working in New York City, he was arrested five times, after which the artist filed a Federal Civil Rights Law Suit against the city, which wound its way up to the Supreme Court on appeals. The Court affirmed Spencer’s first amendment right to make his work. However, the City of New York has subsequently denied Spencer a permit to work there, so he has since taken his work abroad to avoid arrest.
In 2003, Conrad Schmidt conceived of the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR), which has grown into an international clothing-optional bike ride in which participants plan, meet, and ride together to deliver a message of a cleaner, safer, body positive world. In 2010, the WNBR occurred in 74 cities, in 17 countries around the globe.
Apparently, Body Freedom is a movement which is not going away, but rather seems to gain strength each year. Growing concern with climate change and species extinction has resulted in many questioning the efficacy of global capitalism in its current form with its patterns of unlimited consumption and unlimited growth. Examining our place within the closed ecosystem we inhabit, how we view it, and how we view ourselves, I believe, is so imperative to our survival, that even historians must face this challenge. It is possible that Andrew Martinez, his vision and his message were prophetic.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
How often do you pay attention to the voices in your head? This was just one of the thoughts that ran through my mind last evening as I lie in bed, unable to fall back to sleep. How many voices does one hear? Is it just one voice, the “interior you” that you listen to when, unable to sleep, that voice runs through a list of everything you need to do and consider in the days and weeks ahead, or spends what seems like hours suddenly rehashing long forgotten, sometimes regrettable, episodes in your life, leaving you to question the validity and your actual memory of said episodes? I would like to believe this voice is my mind sorting all the clutter of daily projects, attempting to make some sense of innumerable chores and lists and questions and half-answers scattered around my mind.
My current project, which of course came up in that interior dialogue last night, is an examination of Andrew Martinez, Berkeley’s famous “Naked Guy’ of the early 1990s, and his possible influences on the growth of the Body Freedom Movement. Andrew heard voices, he described the process in an interview I was reading yesterday. When asked to describe what he said to himself the first time he went naked, Andrew replied, “In my head, I say to myself, ‘OK, Andrew, you know, this is something you can do, you’re willing to do, you want to do, it’s right to do. So do it!’ And then there’s still part of me going [using a singsong voice] ‘No, oh, I don’t wanna go, oh shit, uh, oh, God!’”
Now I believe that we all have this mental process going on. What has me perplexed, however, is whether it is all a matter of degree. Most of us are capable of quieting the voices, or at least rationalizing their logic. Because Andrew was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, this raised several questions for me. Andrew believed in and pursued a way of living that was non-normative. He bravely chose to pursue this way of living rather than altering his behavior to conform. Could it be possible that Andrew’s insistence on living his life his way, free of the restrictions of “normality” led to a diagnosis of mental illness?
I have a friend who is diagnosed with schizophrenia, so I do understand a little about the debilitating nature schizophrenia can have. I sometimes find it difficult to spend more than a few minutes with my friend. On the other hand, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at about the age of 11 or 12. I know that I was a very disturbed child. This was forty-five years ago, before Stonewall and the Gay Liberation Movement. I was the biggest sissy at my school, tormented by both my peers and a few of my teachers. Everyday I would have to suffer gross ridicule at school, then I would go home to parents who could not understand why I could not be more of a man, could not be “like the other boys,” who did everything they could think of to “make a man out of me.” I survived by being as different from my tormentors as possible, which not only served to increase their torment but gave me a perverse sort of satisfaction, and by withdrawing into a half imaginary world of fantasy, envisaging what my adult future might hold.
When I look back on that period in my life, as I did last night –– yes, those (voices) trains of thought –– it is difficult to remember exactly what did transpire. Which only raises more questions, like layers of sediment that seems to line the interior of my mind. Am I forgetting what happened because of the natural occurrence of time and age, or am I forgetting what happened because it is too horrific or embarrassing to remember? I have lived my adult life assuming my “diagnosis” was informed by my survival mechanisms, and therefore my “diagnosis” was incorrect. The world I inhabited was one of my own making, I was in control and therefore I was not schizophrenic. Wasn’t I? Is the nature of reality and disorder so liminal? If so, what does that mean for those of us who refuse to actively conform?
Saturday, September 21, 2013
As I walked down the street he said to me, "You know, you are not the center of attention you think you are."
"Excuse me?" I replied. I am always a bit taken aback when complete strangers start telling me things about myself on the street.
"You are only doing that because you think it makes you the center of attention."
"Why do you think you have the ability to know what my motivations are?" I asked.
"For christ's sake," he swore, "why ELSE would you be walking around like that. There are children here, you ass." he said pointing at two children who were with a woman who seemed to be amused by the entire encounter.
Of course, I replied that it does not hurt the children.
"You know, you really led a fucked up life!" he told me.
"That's the most oppressive and bigoted think I've heard in a long time, " I told him.
"You have a really fucked up life." by know he was yelling and his boyfriend was pulling him away, saying, "Just leave it alone."
I turned around at the intersection of Eighteenth and Castro and saw the Sisters on one corner and drag queens on the other corner and thought, oh my, so who gets to choose who is acceptable and who is not?
NUDIST POWER NOW!
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Lyman L. Johnson, editor. Death, Dismemberment, and Memory: Body Politics in Latin America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 2004.
Lyman L. Johnson, in Death, Dismemberment, and Memory: Body Politics in Latin America, asks, “Why is it common both in traditional Christian iconography and in Latin American political discourse that the defeated, the tortured, the assassinated, and the executed have exercised such an enduring hold on popular imagination?” (xvi). To answer this question, he assembles nine essays that discuss the political meanings associated with the bodies, or body parts, of martyred heroes in Latin America. Embedded in these stories is the struggle for control; by governments, their political enemies, and the common people –– as when the Spanish placed the head of the executed Túpac Amaru on a pole in the center of Cuzco for all to see that the Inca, and everything he represented, was truly dead, and any other “rebels’ could expect the same. Alas for the Spanish, as Foucault so eloquently shows us in Discipline and Punish, the people must be willing to participate in such displays, and in Cuzco in 1572 they were not. Rather then being horrified, as the Spanish hoped, the indigenous population came to mourn and worship the severed head.
While the veneration of the dead is not unique to Latin America, Johnson attempts to show a set of distinctive regional characteristics that are rooted in Latin America’s culture and history. Johnson surmises that the reason for the veneration of dead bodies in Latin America is due to a confluence of symbolic language informed by Catholic Christianity, the experience of conquest and colonization, and the complexity of cultural practices derived from indigenous, African, and European origins. Johnson shows how social and economic injustices are also central to the region’s history, allowing dead bodies to speak of protest and resistance.
Along with the political meanings of death and memory, the question of both death’s and the dead body's meaning traverse these essays. Samuel Brunk, writing about Emiliano Zapata, remarks that death is the most important moment of a persons life marked by ritual and the very source of religious feeling, because of the fear that it generates as well as the mystery that presses for some sort of explanation. Most human societies have practiced ancestor worship, and it is this ancestor worship along with the ability to imagine shared ancestors that helps to give meaning to national identities and cultural roots. In this way, Brunt shows, the state is able to use ancestors as agents of state power by employing them to persuade the people they seek rule of the legitimacy of their regimes (144-5).
Julie Livingston, in Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana, explained that bodies are necessary but not sufficient elements of personhood. Once death has occurred, personhood ends. All that remains is the memory of ones’ personhood, maintained by the survivors and the body. This is the moment when the mythologizing process begins, whether it is for Che Guevara, Eva Perón, or Maria Soledad Morales. Along with this mythologizing process, the twentieth-century has introduced a commodification process, as has been pointed out by Donna J. Guy and Paul J. Dosal. Dosal effectively deconstructs the commodification of death in his essay on Che Guevara when he speaks of the ways in which the people who worship Che have largely turned away from everything that Che believed in. As Dosal points out, the American bourgeoisie have adopted as a symbol of their “allegedly rebellious past a dead guerrilla who despised their materialism and self-absorption” (319).
Recently I saw a political cartoon which showed a war veteran who had lost both legs watching a television news story about George W. Bush, and the announcer is saying, “Ten years after the invasion, President Bush is kickin’ back painting his feet.” Monday, the day I finished reading Death, Dismemberment, and Memory: Body Politics in Latin America, explosions rocked the Boston marathon. The New York Times headline screamed “So Many People Without Legs.” Meanwhile, that same Monday in Iraq at least 50 people were killed and nearly 300 more were wounded in a series of bomb attacks just days before the first scheduled elections since the United States withdraw in 2011, and that was barely mentioned by the U.S. press. What these examples reinforce is that bodies, and body parts, are political, whether they are living or dead, no matter what geographical region they belong to, and are therefor subject to the politicization of myth making.
Friday, March 1, 2013
On Wednesday February 27, 2013, at noon, Gypsy Taub, George Davis, and myself engaged in a public nude dance performance at Harvey Milk Plaza. According to Judge Edward Chen, who refused to bloc the nudity ban because "nudity in and of itself is not inherently expressive" also said that nude dancing would be considered protected speech under the first amendment. All three of us were cited for public nudity, Gypsy Taub and George Davis were arrested for refusing to sign their citations, although at the time I was informed by an officer that I would be arrested if I did not put something on after receiving my citation, which I chose to do. All three of us are planning on pleading not guilty at our arraignment.
The naked human body is natural, harms no one, and should not be illegal.
The naked human body is natural, harms no one, and should not be illegal.
Photo courtesy of Mikal.
Photo courtesy of BNIP