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The naked truth is nudity doesn't hurt

By Jules Quartly | China Daily | Updated: 2012-09-05 09:33

I'm OK with naked protests. It's a peaceful way of making a point. And after all, there's nothing more natural than the human body and showing it off hurts no one. Yet, it offends public decency and so becomes a high impact form of protest, guaranteed to generate headlines.

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The most recent example concerns His Royal Highness Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales, who was photographed partying like it was 1999 in Las Vegas. Pics of the prince barely covering his crown jewels caused ructions in the British establishment and, as is customary on these occasions, the country's press was muzzled and prevented from publishing the offending shots - though they were online for anyone to see.

The naked truth is nudity doesn't hurtWhile Harry wasn't protesting anything - indeed he hasn't got anything to complain about - his fans adopted the power of social networking to show their support for the 27-year-old who is third in line to the throne.

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As such the former British soldier Jordan Wylie initiated the "Support Prince Harry With a Naked Salute" Facebook group. To date, about 33,000 people, mostly servicemen and women, have supported Harry's right to get deliriously drunk and parade in his birthday suit, by taking and uploading naked pics of themselves saluting the royal.

Au naturel as a campaign tool is not new. Wikipedia's listing for "Nudity and Protest" suggests one of the first to do so was a group of Russian pacifists at the turn of the 20th century; but the example of Lady Godiva, who paraded in the buff on a white horse through the streets of Coventry to protest taxation in the 11th century is an obvious earlier example.

Latterly, the Ukrainian feminist group Femen has organized nude protests against oil companies, and prostitution during the European soccer championship, among other campaigns. Meanwhile, PETA members often strip off to promote the ethical treatment of animals. Naked cyclists and ramblers have also made their points by dressing down, all the way.

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And China is not immune. On Aug 19 at Beijing's Chaoyang Park a woman took off her top to protest against a company in Jilin province that was promoting ginseng. Why? I don't know and who cares? The point is she showed off her breasts in public.

It's tempting to feel sorry for the authorities that have to deal with such protests, because they are put in an indefensible position. While most people don't want to see erogenous zones over their breakfast cereal, they equally don't want people to be jailed for drawing attention to a cause by simply taking off their clothes - something we all do most nights.

Typically in the media, we see an embarrassed policeman trying to cover up the streaker and there's a lighthearted headline making fun of the situation.

On a wider level, "celebrities" like the auto show model Gan Lulu and even major artists such as Lady Gaga and Madonna can gain significant column inches of publicity by flashing the flesh. Even smarter, they pretend it's a wardrobe malfunction a la Janet Jackson.

There's little that can be done to prevent this, so the game goes on. An artist or a protester shows more than they should (according to the morality of the day) and this brings attention. After all, it's not like the majority of people are against nudity or even porn - as the number of related websites suggests.

Logically speaking, you could argue nudity should be a non-issue, since we are born naked and it is after all our natural state. Yet the authorities have a duty to draw the line, defend public decency and make an example of those who transgress. This creates the paradox whereby nudity has commercial and political power.

I guess that if people do want to draw attention to a cause then nudity is preferable to violence or some other forms of protest. So perhaps we should all welcome the status quo.

Contact the writer at julesquartly@chinadaily.com.cn.