In particular, we all know the adage that "sex sells". So, in some respects, it is definitely unsurprising to find advertising which uses some element of nudity in order to convey its message, since nudity is so closely associated with sex in the minds of so many. On the other hand, because of this very fact, advertisers are generally careful to use nudity only with great caution, given the potential of offending and alienating many potential customers who do not make any distinction between sex and nudity, and who have negative attitudes on both.
In view of this, by observing how advertisers use nudity we may get some understanding of how they perceive likely public reaction to their message. Advertisers will certainly avoid spending large amounts of money if the net effect is to alienate customers. So they (and the professionals in the advertising business) go to great lengths to keep their fingers on the pulse of their audience. And consequently, any change in the ways or the frequency they use a theme such as nudity can be a good barometer of how "the public" is thinking. Since the acceptability of any particular theme or approach in advertising obviously depends also on the audience and the expected customers for the product in questions, it's also interesting to observe what sort of customers the advertiser seems to have in mind.
Some news stories recently have noted that there are wide variations in the use of nudity and other elements in European advertising. In Great Britain, for example, nudity in most cases is a taboo, along with disparate other themes like death, homosexuality, and "private bodily functions". In France, on the other hand, things are much more free-wheeling, and nudity may be used in a wide variety of contexts. The same is generally true of Germany, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries. (Though the Germans are said to be much more business-like and disinclined to use humor in their advertising.)
And what of the U. S.? Although this country has something of an "anything goes" attitude with regard to most themes which can be used in advertising, nudity is a conspicuous exception. It occurs, of course, and when it does, advertisers know they can expect outraged condemnation from the vast nudity-averse population here. When they do use nudity, it's always a carefully calculated move to appeal to a fairly specific audience.
Because U. S. gymnophobes see far more nudity in advertising than they want, as things are now, they might be astonished to know that U. S. advertising is considered, by much of the rest of the world, to be quite conservative and bland in this regard. At the 44th International Advertising Festival held in Cannes, France last June, this fact was noted as seriously hurting Madison Avenue's chances at winning top awards. While this probably isn't of serious concern to most people, it definitely is to advertising professionals, and they're quite well aware of the dilemma. One U. S. advertising executive was quoted as saying, "The U.S. is so repressed, it's scary. It's madness."
Why are provocative themes like sex and nudity used in advertising at all? For some products, of course, they are completly appropriate - condoms and bath products (or even, paradoxically, clothing), for instance. But what about other things, as seemingly unrelated as automobiles, food, or books? There are various reasons - it doesn't take much to come up with a list. Whatever theme is used it should, first, attract attention, and keep the audience from turning the page or changing the channel. It should in some way help sell the product, by suggesting what needs a person might satisfy by parting with his/her money for the product in question. And it should create a lasting impression, something the audience will remember - brand awareness, name recognition.
Beyond all that, advertisers know that the most effective ads are those that deal with issues of serious concern to their target audience. They must say something that at least purports to offer satisfaction of urgent wants or needs. Advertising often shows children and families, for instance, to suggest that you should buy a product for "their" sake, even if you wouldn't consider it for yourself. In this light, it isn't surprising at all when ads include sex. But it would be quite worthy of note when nudity is used without blatant sexual implications. It might mean that the advertiser expects the audience to find some appeal in nudity itself as an important need. The widely published Norwegian Cruise Line ads which promised "I will be naked more" are a perfect example of this.
With all this as background, let's consider a couple of recent examples. The October 1997 issue of Wired has an ad for Izod "Extreme Leisure" clothing. (Wired gets a lot of the more creative advertising due to its own artsy design and the supposed affluence of its subscribers.) The ad is basically just a double page spread showing three young adult couples enjoying a game of strip poker. The Izod label is plainly visible on articles of clothing being worn, or already removed. Only one person (female) is completely unclothed, and she is strategically concealed by an aquarium, except for her bare butt.
The message, which is not so terribly subtle, is that if you wear Izod clothes you'll be popular and get invited to fun parties where you can take it all off. Certainly not a message which is completely innocent of sexuality. On the other hand, you could also read it as saying that a little light-hearted nudity is a nice touch at a casual party where people are simply having a good time. So what you read into this really is a function of your own expectations. It need not be anything "morally" objectionable, apart from the nudity itself.
A very different example is found in an ad for the Quality Paperback Book Club in the October 6th New Yorker. The message, in bold red letters: SHOP NAKED, over (and mostly concealing) Goya's portrait of the Naked Maja. The text says: "You get to shop at home.... fax your order 24 hours a day in your birthday suit." There isn't any sexuality at all in this (unless you are incurably puriently minded). It simply plays off the increasingly well known fact that many people who work at home actually do work naked sometimes. (See our Quote of the Week.)
Since, as explained above, the use of nudity in advertising seems like a revealing gauge of our society's attitudes towards nudity, there will be reports here in the future of new advertising using nudity that we find.
And one final point: it isn't merely a passive indicator we are dealing with here. Advertising, by its very nature, it designed to influence and persuade. Every time a new ad appears that somehow involves nudity in other than a purely sexual role, the audience is being acclimated and accustomed to seeing nudity as a part of everyday life. Which is just what it should be.
The harsher provisions, which had been promoted by the far right Representative Randy Ball (who happens to be chairman of the committee) were not seriously intended to solve a problem, but instead to outlaw all nude beach usage in Florida, which the Legislature has repeatedly declined to do in the past. Reason has again prevailed.
Cambridge, Ontario, in particular was adamant in prohibiting topfree activist Fatima Pereira Henson from swimming topfree in the city pool. Fatima was arrested twice, but both times prosecution was abandoned before trial. On October 14, the City Council gave up their losing fight, and passed a bylaw that "allowed" women to swim topfree in public pools.
Although few women in Ontario, or the rest of Canada, seem to have taken advantage of their new freedom this summer as forthrightly as Henson did, this is one important step on the way to more rational public policy as to what is acceptable swimming attire for both women and men.
Visit the Topfree Equal Rights Association Web site for more information.
Should these protests remain ineffective, the next step is to call for a full-scale boycott of Barnes and Noble during the Christmas season. The activists say they aren't book burners, though. They say they only want to "remove pages from a book." After all, they note, "We didn't want to look like a bunch of wild-eyed book burners."
What does Terry himself say? "We have a moral obligation to be as bold and as courageous and as intolerant as we possibly can be."
Entertainment at the wedding included dancers wearing only body paint. "I want to show that nudity does not have to be pornography; nudity can be art," Hsu was quoted as saying.
Asian countries like Taiwan aren't noted for their tolerance of public nudity. But if Taiwan has room for someone like Hsu in its public life, why can't we in the U. S.?
Fortunately, Barnes and Noble bookstores persist in believing customers should have the right to purchase completely legal books. Naturists should support them to the hilt in this belief. Quite apart from the political aspect of this controversy, Sturges' work is an eloquent statement on behalf of naturism itself. It is beautiful photography. Naturists should take a look at any Sturges books they can find - and perhaps affirm their values by purchasing one or two titles for their own library.
Why should naturists be especially alarmed about this vigilante right-wing terrorism? Reason enough is that Sturges is a naturist himself, and that almost all his subjects, living mainly in France and California, are too. It is more than enough that his work is the very opposite of pornography, because it celebrates people in their uniqueness and their wholeness. People who happen to be living naturist lives. No apology is needed that many of the subjects are young and female. This is a demographic category that is widely supposed to be inherently too shy and fearful of their own bodies and the opinions of others to participate in naturism. Sturges exposes this as a lie. It's a stage of a person's life which holds its own unparalleled joys and uncertainties. It's part of the story of existing as a human being that fully deserves to be told. And the naturist context presents the story in a whole additional dimension beyond what is commonly known.
But there is still another reason that naturists need to pay very careful attention to what is going on here. Just read this article in the ultra-conservative World magazine. These self-described book-rippers, contend that Sturges' work is "child pornography". They are completely wrong, at least according to any accepted legal definition of the term. But they are not the first people who have made this mistake - police and the FBI in 1990 raided Sturges home/studio, confiscated all his equipment, prints, and negatives, and attempted to prosecute him. Their case was so groundless, when all this evidence - the work of many years - was examined, that they could not even obtain a grand jury indictment, much less a conviction from a trial jury. There isn't any question about the legal situation - Sturges has been found to be 100% legal.
Real child pornography is morally wrong, of course, because of the harm that is done to children in making it. But we have to be very concerned about how the aversion to this moral wrong can be twisted and contorted into opposition to things which have nothing to do with child pornography and are in fact good in themselves rather than wrong - naturism in particular. If you read the article cited, you will see that Sturges' antagonists base their hysteria on the idea that this photography might be used by a real child molester to "lower the inhibitions of children" and to "normalize what a child otherwise would know better than to do."
Undoubtedly, there are molesters who have used child pornography, adult pornography, Sturges' work itself, and who knows what else to facilitate their predation on children. But it is going much too far to criminalize anything and everything that might be misused in this way. Just as it would be to criminalize hammers and screwdrivers because they can be used by burglars.
Still not convinced? Then notice that the same kind of logic can be used - and is used - by opponents of naturism itself. Potential child molesters could use naturist literature, even if it contains only photographs of adults, to persuade children to take off their clothes as a ruse to molest them. Even if no pictures were involved, they could show older children literature that extols naturism as a healthy family activity, hoping to persuade the children that all the molester is trying to do is to practice harmless social naturism. Therefore, naturism itself, by this logic, should be criminalized to avoid its misuse in this way.
Perhaps people who make this argument really believe it. Some of them, at least, are well-intentioned. But they go way too far. Naturists need to counter this argument wherever they find it. Will it be possible to reason with the people who accept this argument? Probably not, at least as long as they believe like Randall Terry that "We have a moral obligation to be as bold and as courageous and as intolerant as we possibly can be."
Returning to the Sturges issue itself, it may be worth pointing out that the current activists are largely ignorant of the facts of the whole case. They don't know that the whole legal question was thoroughly resolved in 1990-91. They have no idea that Sturges and his subjects are all genuine naturists. (One protester is quoted as saying, "The questions that I thought needed to be answered were who are the kids in the pictures, and how were these photographs obtained? Were the kids modeling for him? What led them to model for him in these poses?")
It is very, very sad, but symptomatic of the state of mind of this sort of person, that they act first and ask these questions later. The answer, in fact, is that the kids are naturists, and both they and their families are close friends of Sturges. All families of children portrayed in Sturges' work are highly positive about the quality and value of his work.
Other naturists should be also.
Case law is made up of court decisions. There is relatively less information presented on this page itself, but there are links to the full text of various important decisions. If you can manage to wade through the legalese, you will gain some appreciation of the intellectual contortions that people go through trying to "reason" when they attempt to treat nudity as a "problem".
"I was lucky enough to have friends to help ease me into my first public nude experience at a semi-legal nudist beach (now legal, by the way) many years ago. Since that time my own self-esteem , self-image and acceptance of others has improved and grown immeasurably."
Scott Adams, The Dilbert Future: Thriving on Stupidity in the 21st Century
Back to The Weekly Nudesletter Front Page
Copyright © 1997, All Rights Reserved