THE BLOG
09/28/2011 09:12 am ET Updated Nov 27, 2011

State of Undress: Is Nudity Still Newsworthy?

The conversation around San Francisco's recent "Nude-in," held to protest a proposed law that would limit public nudity, which is currently legal in the city, raises an interesting question: When a practice arrives at the point where it has a system of etiquette, has it lost its shock value?

According to The New York Times, one of the objectives of the Nude-in was to draw attention to a proposed ordinance -- introduced by Scott Wiener, a city supervisor -- that would prohibit nudity in restaurants and require unclad people to put a towel or other material down before sitting bare-bottomed on public seats.

What I found funny wasn't that Weiner felt he needed to nix bare-cheeked seating, but that the protesters were insulted at the idea that they would do anything so uncouth and inconsiderate: George Davis, who the Times reported is a "self-described 'urban nudist'" and "campaigned in the buff" during an (unsuccessful) run for mayor, said that putting that towel between your backside and the bench is "basic nudist etiquette," rendering legislation requiring it "totally unnecessary."

Basic nudist etiquette? We all know of another famous Weiner who didn't play by the rules, sending images of his barely-clad body into the Twittosphere. We can safely agree that sharing unauthorized nude photos is a no-no (see the recent brouhaha surrounding Scarlett Johansenn's nude pics hacked from her phone) and it might be a good idea to check with the owners of private property before baring it all on their land (see this farmer's reaction to pop star Rihanna going topless in his corn field) but is public nudity still all that risque?

I remember where I was when Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" happened on live TV and how much it shocked the world, but does anyone care to remember where they were when what's-her-name had a similar wardrobe malfunction on "Dancing with the Stars" this week?

Demi Moore's nude pregnancy photo was revolutionary when it appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991; now every celebrity has a similar photo to share with the world (see exhibits A, B and C).

The shot of a woman baring some or all for the cause has become a stock feature of awareness campaigns -- see Elisabetta Canalis and Bethenny Frankel posing nude to raise awareness of animal abuse, or these
750 Australian women posing naked for this aerial photograph to protest war -- but with so much skin being bared, does nudity really shock us anymore? And if not, has it lost its power to make a statement? How dramatic -- or effective -- is a Nude-in in a city that already condones public nakedness?

At the very least, the event prompted the editors of The San Francisco Bay Guardian to run their story on the protest with an accompanying cut-out page: a 100% recyclable seat guard for the protestors. The phrase splashed across it read, "If you go bare, put 'er there."