Most people who know me also know I’m a naturist. Sometimes, someone will suggest that I’m a member of a really small group…also sometimes with the implication there is something “wrong” with being part of a small, relatively invisible group. There’s a problem with that.
When someone says “I don’t know any naturists” my first response is “You don’t know whether you do or not….you could be surrounded by them.” The resulting look of surprise becomes one of a searching appraisal of others in the room when I suggest that because naturists are so “closeted” we could be right next to one or more card-carrying naturists.
For naturists “passing” as a textile (someone that likes wearing clothes) this isn’t a good thing. Acceptance comes slow to those who try to quietly assimilate or “pass” for something they aren’t. African-Americans suffered the trials of persecution, discrimination and bias long after the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13 ,14th and 15 Amendments. Just “trying to fit in” wasn’t working so well. It took Rosa Parks, the Little Rock Nine, Martin Luther King. But it also took Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X and his “by any means necessary” approach. It required the many heroes of the civil rights movement using both non-violent and confrontational practices to stop the discriminatory laws, culture and treatment by whites. African-American practices of sit-ins, voter organizing and “freedom rides” were augmented by the Harlem, Watts and Detroit riots. While we are far from the “prize” …there has been great progress.
Gays, lesbians bisexual and transgender people “passed” as straight for years utilizing a strategy of non-confrontation and education. It didn’t work for them either. American treatment of LBGT people prior to 1969 was more discriminatory and legally prejudicial than that of Warsaw Pact countries. In 1969 the New York City cops, in a not unusual tactic of “rousting the gays”, raided the Stonewall Inn…a known gay/lesbian bar in Greenwich Village. They were just out to have a little fun…bust some heads and throw some “fags” in jail. Only this time the gays fought back…fed up with the bashing, hate speech and homophobic behavior characteristic of the times. The resulting “Stonewall Riots” galvanized the gay community, leading to the creation of activist groups and the first “Gay Pride” parade in 1970. We’re not to a position of full acceptance here either…but the progress from 1969 has been remarkable.
Other groups have not gone through this “trial by fire” to win acceptance and some are still suffering as a result. Who is still on the outside looking in?
Interestingly, women, who lead organized marches and enlisted influential leaders of the day to support the suffragette movement never engaged in the same level of violence as was evident in the Civil Rights movement or the Stonewall Riots. And, many argue, women didn’t achieve (and many would argue still haven’t achieved) full acceptance or true parity in American society to this day. Were women too nice about it?
Does that mean it takes civil disobedience, violence and confrontation to change the racist or bigoted parts of our society? I’d like to think it doesn’t. But our history isn’t encouraging. While we like to think of ourselves as open, fair and treat people equally there is plenty of evidence to suggest that view is a self-congratulatory conclusion based on members of white systemic privilege talking to each other.
If we really want our society to treat all of its members as equal, we will have to engage in that “tolerance” I spoke of in my first column. You know…the “interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own…” Putting ourselves in the shoes of a person of color, a disabled person, or a naturist (shoes would be all that you would wear) can change perspectives pretty radically, pretty fast.
And, naturists, disabled, people of color, etc. will have to stop “passing”, stand up and demand they be recognized.
The development of reality TV is a function of money, not market demand. The cost of quality TV drama is high — $1 million to $2 million per episode. The cost of an average reality show ranges from $100,000 to $500,000 per episode. Therefore, lots of these shows are flooding the many cable channels that have an almost inexhaustible demand for product. Of course, two things tend to be sacrificed: quality of the idea and quality of the execution. The result is even less quality TV than we were getting, which is difficult to imagine. Oh, where have you gone Newton Minnow? He was the 1960s FCC Commissioner who will live on as one of the first to decry the “vast wasteland” of television.)
Because reality shows are cheap, there is little risk in trying something daring or on the fringe. If it doesn’t work it goes away and if it does, syndication follows and there tend to be spinoffs. Take the “Real Housewives of …” which has naturally led to the “Real Husbands of …” Seriously. Or “The Bachelor” and of course, “The Bachelorette.” Where is “The Dumped Boyfriend?” Want drama without ceremony? “Bad Girls Club” or “Sister Wives.” There are the “dumpster diving” reality shows, the junkyard dog offspring of the nicely done PBS series “Antiques Roadshow.” So, “Hardcore Pawn,” “Auction Hunters” and “American Pickers” allow us to vicariously live downscale via 21st century foraging through pawn shops, unclaimed storage units or auctions.
This is all fine and I don’t watch any of it, but now that they have started filming nude TV reality shows my antennae go up. Nudists have a tough enough time being seen as normal without “Naked and Afraid” and “Naked Castaways.” Lots of sensationalism is attached to dumping two strangers nude (always an attractive man and woman) in an alien environment with a challenge to “survive.” These obvious nude spinoffs of “Survivor” seem more ridiculous than the original (also ridiculous). And “Buying Naked” is the spinoff of one of the many versions of “House- hunting” shows. Now, there is, naturally enough (no pun intended) going to be a nude dating show “Dating Naked.”
The Hollywood Reporter interview with the producer describes it this way: “We created this show based on marrying a provocative idea with a back to basics philosophy. “With all the dating options in the world, what happens if you take one man and woman and strip them of all their pretenses?” Bad ideas often spring from some good concepts.
Real nudists wouldn’t be scandalized by meeting someone for the first time nude. And since naturism de-sexualizes the environment, it actually is a great way (if you are a nudist) to find out if you have shared interests, values and enjoy the personality of the potential partner you are meeting. This TV show will do the opposite, taking non-nudists (“textiles”) and put them in the uncomfortable position of being nude (traumatic enough by itself for many non-nudists) and adding the stress of meeting a potential partner.
The problem with all of this is producers are using nudity as a sensationalist element to titillate an audience satiated with dating shows, survivor shows, etc. Why not do “Nude Real Housewives” or “Nude Dirty Jobs”? There really isn’t any idea a cynical TV producer couldn’t lift from the schedule, take everyone’s clothes away and start filming.
I was interviewed by a reporter from the Washington Post who wanted an official nudist organization response to the trend of nude reality TV. My response suggested sometimes “daring” ideas such as nudism actually do have an intrinsic interest for viewers. If the subject is treated reasonably seriously and viewers become more familiar with an idea it no longer seems so far-fetched or unrealistic. That is the good news.
Some reality shows treat topics like nudism seriously. Others play it for laughs. No matter which reality show you watch, if the subject stirs your interest (treasure hunting, flipping houses, decorating a la Salvation Army), don’t be put off by the unreality of the way it’s treated. Look beyond the reality to see if underneath the veneer of exploitation there isn’t something of substance you might want to know more about.
In 2014, I was invited by Richard and Shirley Mason, founders of South Florida Free Beaches, to visit Haulover Beach, the nude beach they created and persuaded the Miami-Dade County parks department to legalize in 1991.
Just a third of a mile long, Haulover is bounded by “textile” beach (the word nudists use for those wearing clothes) on both sides and is separated by a waist high snow fence at each end. Located in North Miami and rarely controversial now, the beach was a leap of faith for all concerned back in 1991. Today, Haulover Beach is known the world over as the most successful, safest and enjoyable nude beach in the US. To give you an idea, go to my Facebook page (Bill Schroer) and you will see a photo of the two sides of the beach (nude and “textile”). The difference is astonishing. Looking at the entire span of beach from a three story lifeguard tower (where I was given permission to photograph as one of Richard and Shirley’s Beach ambassadors) there is almost no one on the textile side of the beach. Those few textiles looked quite alone. The nude side was solid people.
As a first time visitor to Haulover Beach, I was struck by the astounding normalcy of it all. There was nothing special… nothing out of the ordinary. People were doing exactly what people do on a beach… play frisbee, lay in the sun, read under a beach umbrella, play with the kids, etc. They just didn’t have clothes on. No one was gawking or acting stupidly. People were on the beach enjoying the day. And the stark contrast with the emptiness of the textile beach told me that is an option many people prefer.
The statistics are even more dramatic. Looking at visitor counts and parking revenues the third of a mile nude beach at Haulover generates over 1.4 million visitors per year. Over $30 million in tax revenue and $1.2 million in parking revenue alone is generated. The nude beach at Haulover is like a Division 1 college football team whose revenues support other city parks and beaches. When Richard and Shirley have a beach ambassador training, the Miami-Dade Parks are present, the police send a senior sergeant, the rescue/lifeguard service sends a representative as all are working to make this, the nude beach, safe and enjoyable.
The Beach Ambassadors patrol the beach to ensure there is no inappropriate behavior and, because a plurality of visitors to the beach are first time visitors, the ambassadors share nude beach etiquette. No gawking, being stupid or inappropriate behavior is tolerated. One reason Haulover is so popular is because with the 8,000 visitors on a normal weekend day, the beach is safer and the visitors better behaved than occurs on most textile beaches anytime. Richard and Shirley have emphasized with the privilege to be nude comes the responsibility to behave.
Given the clear preference of visitors to Haulover Beach to pick the nude side, the tremendous economic impact of the nude beach and the thoughtful decision of Miami-Dade county to offer beach users a choice, what is the lesson for Michigan? With over 3,126 miles of shoreline (not as much as Florida… but not bad!) is there not room for a one-third or half mile section of nude beach somewhere in this state? Florida has five nude beaches totaling multiple miles of waterfront, and two more are being proposed (Jacksonville and Ft. Pierce). For those who don’t want to see “ugly, naked people” or have other similarly narrow views… you don’t have to go. Because some people don’t want to use a nude beach doesn’t mean it isn’t a legitimate option for others.
Non-sexual, family-friendly nude use of public lands is an option that is as legitimate as the government set aside land for snowmobile, cross-country skiing or horseback riding trails or public boat launches. While most of us don’t care about using those amenities, we don’t protest against them. A nude beach in the beach friendly state of Michigan is long overdue.
The ad agency for Kraft Foods, makers of the iconic “Mac and Cheese” recently decided to promote the brand in honor of National Noodle Day (Oct. 6) (Did you know National Noodle Day even existed?) The campaign promoted primarily virtually was entitled #SendNoods, urging customers to bestow boxes of their Kraft powdered mac and cheese to loved ones who might benefit from comfort food during the pandemic.
Video and print ads featured Vanessa Bayer (of Saturday Night Live fame) who offered: “In these strange times, people are in need of extra comfort. That’s why it’s always a nice gesture to send noods, so they know you’re thinking of them,” Bayer also repeatedly emphasized she was talking about “noods”, not “nudes”. Unfortunately for Bayer, Kraft and “Mischief” (the ad agency), viewers were not amused:
“I do not want my boys growing up and seeing a commercial where they joke about the exploitation of children!” commented one. Others talked about the sexploitation of children. One parent blamed Kraft for a marketing tactic that “grooms children into believing it’s OK and even FUNNY to ‘send noods,’ ” they claimed.
Somehow, even though children were never featured in the commercial and Bayer emphasized it was “…noods, not nudes”, the Kraft Food Company just got a lesson in the paranoia around the concept of nudity that infects this country. It gets worse.
The post was quickly overtaken by conspiracists who stoked fears of widespread, high-profile child trafficking — one of the prevailing theories of QAnon supporters — and implicated Kraft as a complicit player in the alleged criminal scheme, adding the telltale hashtag #SaveTheChildren to their comments.
Hashtags such as #BoycottKraft and #CancelKraft began to appear. In response Kraft removed all traces of the latest campaign throughout social media after their attempt at a tongue-in-cheek viral moment prompted the above backlash. Had a nudist been on the Kraft ad team, he/she might have warned “There are lots of things you can joke about…but Americans do not find nudity funny or “tongue-in-cheek”. It is a regrettable fact of life Americans, by and large, are so uptight about the concept of nudity that they cannot envision it to be fun, liberating or a positive and healthy philosophy of living, let alone an acceptable topic for humor. It is the reason why the Naturist Action Committee and especially, the Naturist Education Foundation exist… to imbue Americans with a sense of perspective and appreciation for the positive aspects of non-sexual nudity and nudism as a positive life force… or at least something people can have a tongue-in-cheek moment about without going ballistic.