Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Naked Prophet

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. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013