The Weekly Nudesletter
Vol. 1, No. 9
February 9, 1998


Article: Robert Heinlein and Nudity

New and interesting Web pages

Nudity in the news

Quote of the week

Robert Heinlein and Nudity

In our last issue we took a quick look at the (perhaps surprising) affinity of a famous American author for nudity. This week we'll look at another author, nearly as famous, and much more contemporary.

Valentine Michael Smith, the protagonist of what is probably Heinlein's most widely-read book, Stranger in a Strange Land, is a human by genetics, but thoroughly a Martian in outlook. Smith, as an infant, was the sole survivor of the first, ill-fated human mission to Mars. He was raised by the native Martians, and thus became heir to an alien culture half a million years old. One of the pleasures of the book is that, through Smith, we can share the point of view of the Martian elders that Earth's infant "civilization" is of little note, yet requires careful watching lest the Earthlings get too rowdy and disrupt the neighborhood.

As in a lot of good science fiction, the alien viewpont allows us to see ourselves as others (might) see us. For instance, this capsule summary of what Freud took quite a few more words to express:

All human behavior, all human motivations, all man's hopes and fears, were heavily colored and largely controlled by mankind's tragic and oddly beautiful pattern of reproduction.
Though Smith is able to adapt when he is returned to Terra, even towards the end of the book he remains puzzled by the human custom of wearing clothes: "... he's still grokking the nature of clothes. He groks mostly that they're a wrongness that keeps people apart." (See our Quote of the Week.)

Stranger introduced the word "grok" into English (at least as an informal usage), and was very influential with young Americans when it was published in the 60s. Along with Woodstock, it probably had more than a little to do with a distinctly greater acceptance of nudity among young people in the late 60's and early 70's as compared to now.

Stranger had other effects on the youth culture of that period. For instance, the communal sort of living arrangement that Smith established for his close followers was one of the models for many "hippie" communes - including the frequent casual nudity. One character, a latecomer to the "Nest" soon

had seen enough to be fairly certain that clothing, any clothing, inside the Nest was as unconventional, by these conventions (and possibly as rude), as hob-nailed boots on a dance floor.
Toward the end of Stranger Smith has become a messianic figure who (what else?) starts a new religion to get his message across. Nudity is an integral part of the ritual of this religion. As another character recalls an initiation ceremony, which involves "sharing water" (i. e. a "baptism"):
We walked into the Innermost Temple and a spotlight hit me and our robes were whisked away ... and they were all in the pool and calling out to us in Martian to come, come and share the water of life - and I stumbled into that pool and submerged and I haven't come up since!
Casual, non-sexual nudity is incidental, though not so important a part of the story, in a number of other Heinlein novels, especially Glory Road, The Door Into Summer, Time Enough for Love, Farnham's Freehold, Friday, and The Number of the Beast. You can find a few notes on these stories on my page about Nudity in Science Fiction.

But there is one other novel where nudity is a very important part of the story. That is the early novel, The Puppet Masters, which was originally published in 1951. The plot is (a now rather trite) alien invasion story. The aliens arrive in flying saucers and have the form of large slugs, which attach to their human victims and take complete control of the victim's behavior.

In order to more easily recognize such alien-controlled puppets, the government first decrees that everyone may no longer wear shirts or other covering of the upper body (except very brief bikini-tops for women). It is later discovered that the slugs can attach themselves to any part of a human body - so the government makes nudity or near-nudity mandatory. (G-strings are allowed, but most people don't feel a need to bother with them.)

So great is the general horror of the populace at the threat of the slugs that there is hardly any opposition to these decrees. Heinlein posits the notion that giving up centuries of cultural clothes-compulsiveness is no large matter at all. The main character observes:

One thing I did not notice consciously until much later: after the first block I was unaware of my own nakedness. I noticed other people long after I had forgotten my own bare skin. Somehow, some way, the American community had been all wrong about the modesty taboo and had been wrong for centuries. When tackled firmly, it was as empty as the ghost that turns out to be a flapping window drape. It did not mean a thing, either pro or con, moral or immoral. Skin was skin, and what of it?
Would that it were so easy! Perhaps it is just wishful thinking. On the other hand, it has been the experience of most people who do in fact incorporate nudity into their lives that, after the fact, it is usually impossible to understand how it ever was or could have been difficult to give up the compulsive wearing of clothes.

Heinlein himself, with little doubt, enjoyed casual nudity. It has been suggested that he was introduced to nudism by another great early science fiction writer, L. Sprague de Camp around 1940. (De Camp's own stories often involve nudity.) Heinlein lived, for a time, in the little town of Bonny Doon in California, just a few miles away from a part of the coast which even today has a number of well-known and popular clothing optional beaches. Undoubtedly he knew them well.

But whether or not he was an active nudist, his philosophical stance is clear. It is the notion of "indecent exposure" itself which is indecent. As Lazarus Long notes in Time Enough for Love,

Of all the strange "crimes" that human beings have legislated out of nothing, "blasphemy" is the most amazing, with "obscenity" and "indecent exposure" fighting it out for second and third place.

New and interesting Web pages

The X-Plicit Players' Home Page
The X-Plicit Players is a controverial Berkeley "street performance" group that has vigorously asserted artistic and expressive freedom by staging performances and protests on the streets near the University. Their site gives some of the history, focusing especially on topfree equality for women. Deb Moore, leader of the group, explains that "My breasts and chest carry feelings straight from my heart. Some kind of antenna works better when my shirt is off."
We follow a pathway to draw out each others' inner bodies; exposing the skin behind clothes; exposing bodies of feeling, bodies of emotion and bodies of thought behind the skin. We experience vulnerability, abandon and loving availability; we pay strong attention to each other and take great care of each other. Our experience of each other is full of magic when we expose our inner natures as well as our bodies.
Harvey Drouillard
As reported in our last issue, Harvey Drouillard specializes in pictures of ordinary people appearing to go about their business in ordinary urban settings - in the nude. His Web site displays a considerable selection from his work.

Beachfront USA
Based in southern California, Beachfront USA describes itself as the "third national nudist organization in the United States", after The Naturist Society and the American Asociation for Nude Recreation. Although far smaller than either of these, BFUSA seeks to take a far more assertive stance on naturists' rights.
Our emphasis is on offensive, as opposed to defensive, legal action. We exist to initiate aggressive lawsuits designed to force state and federal courts to come face to face with the question of the right of the state to establish dress-codes and enforce compliance with them by police action.
Their position as the most activist organization for naturist rights merits careful consideration and support. Membership is only $15 per year and includes a bimonthly newsletter

The artwork at their site - a pencil sketch of a nude Statue of Liberty - is most striking.

The attractively-designed NetNude is the latest "full service" naturist Web site on the Net. It has a little of everything - basic introduction to naturism, small photo gallery of some of the Webmistress' friends, chat room, message board, shopping mall, and links page.

There's somewhat more unusual material as well, such as comics and a treatise on snail flinging.

NetNude has been open only about a month, but if Webmistress Jan can continue to find the time, it should have a great future. (Upload her some chocolate as incentive.)

Nudity in the news

Nude Protest for a Nude Beach in Australia
About 300 men, women, and children stripped to demonstrate their convictions at a Nude Ain't Rude rally January 26 (Australia Day) at Byron Bay, Australia. The rally was organized as a protest of the Byron Shire Council's refusal to designate some local beaches as clothing-optional. Police watched but made no arrests, though they cautioned some protesters who walked to the rally in the nude. The rally featured a nude surfing competition, dance theater, poetry, and beach games.

Although there are many clothing-optional beaches in Australia, this event received considerable media attention. An article was posted on the CNN Web site, including two pictures, a 10-second Quick Time video, and even a link to a U. S. nudist Web site. News of the event was carried on U. S. TV stations - with some film clips lacking the usual pixellation to hide the nudity.

Nudity in Nike Super Bowl Ads
Nike was ready with ads featuring discrete nudity of various athletes for the "Super Bowl" event (a match between two American professional football teams) on January 25. Paradoxically, the ads promoted Nike athletic clothing as the "next step in the evolution of skin". Although the premise that clothing could be a significant improvement on skin was pretty silly, it was perhaps encouraging that well-known athletes would agree to appear nude (though pretty well concealed) for the large audience that typically (but inexplicably) watches this particular event. If popular athletes, who are role models for many, can appear in the nude, however fleetingly, why can't others...

Unfortunately, it is reported that the ads originally produced by Nike included more nudity, but suffered censorship by the network (NBC).

Fatima Swims Again
Fatima Pereira Henson, the young woman from Cambridge, Ontario who defied arrest last year by swimming topfree at the municipal pool has announced she'll be back for a first anniversary swim on Saturday, February 21. Previous judicial decisions in Ontario had established that female top-freedom was not illegal, but the town of Cambridge nevertheless tried to cite Ms. Henson. They failed in two attempts, both of which were dropped before trial.

Supporters of topfree rights are hoping many other women will help celebrate this first anniversary by joining in this exercise of their freedom.

A Step Forward in South Carolina
Narrowly and at the last moment an attempt was thwarted that would have used new zoning regulations to close a nudist facility which was well-regarded in its South Carolina community. The Cedar Creek Nudist Park was established in 1989, and since then had aquired a positive reputation in the community, including membership in the local Chamber of Commerce. Yet in May of last year, the County Council passed new zoning regulations aimed to discourage "sexually oriented businesses". The regulations were worded in such a way to apply even to Cedar Creek and would have forced it to close.

Cedar Creek's owners fought back, making good use of their local business connections. But even that was not enough. Only considerable amounts of expert legal work, much of it donated pro bono by a nearby nudist attorney, with the additional assistance of an expert in constitutional law from the University of Richmond, managed to turn the tide. On January 12 the Council narrowly approved an exemption for Cedar Creek, by a 5 to 4 vote.

The case was watched closely by the national AANR and regional ESA nudist organizations, which are hoping that the legal arguments developed in this case can be used if - and when - similar threats arise elsewhere.

Quote of the week

Clothes separate us from our own bodies as well as from the bodies of others. The more society . . . muffles the human body in clothes . . . camouflages pregnancy . . . and hides breastfeeding, the more individual and bizarre will be the child's attempts to understand, to piece together a very imperfect knowledge of the life-cycle of the two sexes and an understanding of the particular state of maturity of his or her body.

Margaret Mead

Back to The Weekly Nudesletter Front Page

Copyright © 1998, All Rights Reserved