Naturists – Are We An Acceptable Target (and Should We Be Bothered)?

12 Sep

Being a naturist blogger is sometimes a surprisingly difficult task.  For example, thanks to the internet, I’ve today had to watch an interview with Simon Cowell.  I’d really rather have not had to do that but it’s important to research something before you write about it, I think.  The things I do for you people…

Anyway, the reason I’m watching an interview with Simon Cowell is because the cosy chat, with Ellen DeGeneres on her Ellen show, has caused a minor bit of fuss in the online community of naturists on Twitter and elsewhere.

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In the interview, Simon discusses his new lady friend, and brings up that the venue he chose to escape the lenses of the paparazzi was a well-known nude beach (clothing-optional beach would be a better description, as Simon and his lady love kept their cossies on throughout).  There follows a somewhat predictable bit of guffawing by both host and guest on the idea that people might go naked on a public beach, and the aesthetic qualities of the people who do.

In a nutshell, Ellen and Simon make a comment that in terms of looks, people who become naturists would probably be better keeping their clothes on.

The inevitable response from the naturist community online was; “hey, did Ellen and Simon Cowell just call us all ugly?”

Now, I’d be the first to admit that the interview with Simon Cowell was hardly the high point of Ellen’s comedy career (it’s worth remembering she is a professional comedian interviewing a talent show judge; neither are people who should always be relied upon to be making serious points).

And it’s certainly quite a derogatory set of comments to make about a group of people who had certainly done nothing to deserve such scorn; so it is perfectly understandable that someone who is a naturist might feel slighted by the remarks.

But in making naturists the butt (sorry) of a joke about physical appearances, was she really being offensive?  And does the lack of outcry from anyone other than naturists suggest that naturists are considered acceptable targets for (somewhat cruel) comedy?

Naked people are funny.  That is one of the less dramatic social reactions to nudity (certainly preferable to the “think of the children” screaming moral defensiveness that usually accompanies any notions of nudity being brought into the public sphere).  Being naked is seen as humiliating for the naked person (therefore we laugh at their embarrassment), or awkward for everyone else (so we laugh at the embarrassment of others).  Jokes about naturism tend to fall into the second category; the naturist in comedy is portrayed as oblivious to the fact that other people might be uncomfortable with his or her nudity, mining humour from situations where a “normal” person is therefore confronted with a person who is naked and unconcerned by the reactions of others (naturism is also played for laughs in cheekysaucy-postcard ‘seaside postcard’ humour but there the jokes are actually about bodies: bums and willies and big boobs and male reactions to attractive women with no clothes on: the nude beach is the setting for the joke, but not the subject).

Ellen’s jokes about people on nude beaches (which are basically “these people are naked and they look awful and they just don’t care and we don’t want to see that but when we do it’s awkward for us”) are in that same spirit.  As host, Ellen bonds with her subject and audience by exaggerating, for comedic potential, how “normal” people feel when confronted by the naturist unapologetically displaying their body without concern over whether they are attractive or not.

Naturism in comedy forces “normal” people into visual conflict with naked people; from Inspector Clouseau at a nudist club in The Return of the Pink Panther, through to modern comedies like the film Act Naturally (about two estranged step-sisters who inherit their recently deceased father’s nudist resort) and the episode of Family Guy where the Griffin family visit the home of new friends Jim and Dottie to discover that, as nudists, they are constantly naked.

There’s even a new sitcom (Clothing Optional) coming soon to Fox which was announced this week, which has as its scenario a family forced by hard times to relaunch their failing hotel as a naturist destination (itgoes without saying that the show will probably be terrible).

Even pro-naturist humour, such as The Bare Pit, mines comedy from the culture clash between the happy naked people and their friends (and enemies) who belong to the ‘textile’ world (although here, the joke is usually on the textiles for getting naturism completely wrong in their heads and then being pleasantly surprised).

The question is, where is the line between being the subject of a joke and being made fun of?  And, as members of the naturist community, how do we relate to and engage with people attempting to mine humour from our lifestyle choices?

For those who feel being a naturist makes them a part of a persecuted minority, it can be hard to stomach being the butt of anyone’s jokes.  There are a great many reasons why someone who is a naturist might justly feel persecuted or misunderstood in society.  Nudity is, after all, such a harmless thing, yet it is given some appalling reactions from many quarters.  From the naked people banned from public nudity in San Francisco, to nude beaches being closed due to complaints of lewd activity, to the Naked Rambler languishing in jail for his beliefs, it seems sometimes like the world really is against us.  So to turn on your TV and be called ugly by a popular chat show host just because you like to wear nothing on the beach must smart a little, to say the least.

For some it is particularly galling because Ellen DeGeneres has been, for close to two decades, a prominent figure in the acceptance of homosexuality in American mainstream media.  For the naturist who feels like a persecuted minority, it must seem particularly unfair that someone who routinely fights to have her sexuality accepted would stoop so low as to ridicule another minority group on her show (I almost feel it is needless to point out here, but being a naturist is not the same as being gay – naturism is a lifestyle choice, like drinking only decaf coffee, or moving to the country: something we want to do because we like it and it is better for us, but that if we chose to or were forced to, we could stop).

Except that Ellen has also often used self-deprecating humour to win acceptance for her homosexuality.  After her initial coming-out took place on Oprah, Ellen also chose for her sitcom character to also come out as gay.  Ellen’s coming-out was a pretty a brave act in front of millions of viewers, but it was clear Ellen was determined that it wouldn’t entail the sacrifice of her comedy.  The remaining seasons of her sitcom were absolutely chock-full of jokes about Ellen being gay (to the point where other shows began to lampoon the fact that all Ellen did was gay jokes).  Even as she retired from sitcom and made the transition to popular chat-show host, she never stopped sending herself up.  Ellen is proud of her sexual identity, but she is never humourless about it.

Perhaps instead of unthinkingly leaping on Twitter to call her a bigot when she makes fun of us, we could learn a little from her.  We could learn to be proud of the lifestyle we have chosen and the philosophy we have adopted, but without being humourless about it.  We could learn that there is sometimes power in taking things a little less seriously, in being a little less precious about things and a little less quick to take offense at a joke (after all, we are often among the first to offer criticism when someone assumes that because something involves nudity, it is offensive to then and, because they are offended, it shouldn’t be allowed).  We could remember that we are not a persecuted minority fighting for our right to exist, in the same way racial minorities and women and gay, lesbian and transgender people had to fight and are fighting (although many of us are also in those groups as well as being naturists); rather, we are a bunch of folks who like to take off our clothes and hang out naked and unashamed, wobbly bits on show to the world.

As a proud naturist myself, I am happy to acknowledge that there is plenty about that which is funny, and probably always will be.

You aren’t wrong if you feel upset by Ellen’s comments.  Nobody likes to feel like they being made fun of, and nor should you put up with it without complaint.  But maybe if we also learn to laugh at ourselves a little more, we can feel better protected from being laughed at by others.

11 Responses to “Naturists – Are We An Acceptable Target (and Should We Be Bothered)?”

  1. genevieveharvey18 September 12, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    I’ve finally had a chance to catch up with this. I haven’t watched the video, I’ll just take your word for it. I don’t want to have to watch Cowell if I can help it. You may not have read my blog from way back in the summer about celebrity reaction to the WNBR in London. Here it is in case: http://genevieveharvey18.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/radio-side-kick-emily-dean-brands-naturists-filthy-freaks/. I was fuming when I heard this but I was surprised at the lack of response from the nudist community to the derogatory phrases used.

    I think that to a certain degree nudists are used to being treated differently and having the finger pointed and thought of as being sexual deviants (depending on who is reacting of course). I think a lot of it is water off a duck’s back. Naturists who take it to heart are probably newbie’s still grappling with a new lifestyle (maybe).

    Ellen and co were probably rabbits caught in the headlights, in front of an audience and taking the sheep mentality which was to side with the majority and not stick their necks out and say ‘Hey, this is okay. Stop being so closed minded’.

    For the rest of us, we just pity their ignorance and blinkered mentality. The thing is the people who embrace nudity are those who accept people for who they are and what they look like and have also come to terms with their own imperfections. When I hear seemingly nasty comments like this I just think how sad that they can’t accept the human for what it is. Gee, they must really hate looking at themselves in the mirror.

    And that’s the only way I can react. Because you can’t change people. They have to want to change and that’s down to them. So, yes you are within your rights to get annoyed at them and ask why, but is it worth getting upset about. Probably not.

    • getnakedgetawesome September 13, 2013 at 7:06 am #

      I think that’s why I am struggling to become angry over this. I can understand why people would but to me, these comments come out of ignorance and seem so removed from the reality of my own experience that they don’t really motivate me to correct them.

      If I have a position when it comes to naturism, it is to be reasonable, practical, respectful – to show by my words and actions that negative stereotypes of naturists as weird deviants with an unhealthy nudity obsession are incorrect – that we are in fact ordinary, normal and diverse as a group.

      I think not coming across as reactionary and humourless is an important part of that.

      • homeclothesfree September 14, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

        The thing is ignorance can and often is the source of dangerous behavior. I think when we just ignore that kind of ignorant comment rather than use the opportunity to educate we in a sense give tacit approval to the comment whether that is our intention or not. So there is a unspoken social agreement that derives from this that the hurtful comment and behavior are ok. That is why I think it is important to address.

    • αNaturist September 14, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      They are ‘taking the sheep mentality’ – well said. This is really not cool for supposedly witty TV presenters.

  2. All-Nudist.com September 13, 2013 at 6:40 am #

    A well written and thoughtful article, as usual, but misses the point. By trivializing this insult to not only nudists, but all those who ‘shouldn’t be seen in public’ because they are physically ‘unattractive’, you are essentially saying that this is a too small insult to a minority to be important. ‘Oh, nevermind, it’s no big deal.’ By that thinking, nor are jokes about ‘retards and crips’ or ‘spics, dagos, or wops.’ Just small humor, no big deal. Polack jokes replaced moron jokes at one time. Dumb blond jokes live forever.

    We used to casually joke about rubbing the nappy head of ‘pickaninnies’ for good luck; was that small stuff to be easily dismissed as inconsequential?

    Resentment over those ‘small things’ resulted in a revolution of changed thinking in the civilized world. Must that revolution end now? Must nudists accept public ridicule from national celebrities without taking offense? Why?

    We have the option now to make our feelings known on a national, no, worldwide stage. AANR has openly expressed the opinion that Ellen has acted in a bigoted fashion and has requested an opportunity to present our position on national television.

    Do you find fault with that? Is it wrong that millions of good people have been ridiculed publicly and their only representative demand recourse?

    It might be time to rethink this position; it’s not just a small thing a few bloggers are griping about. This could be an opportunity to present our argument for social nudism on a world scale. Be part of it, not a a minor hindrance, please. We need you.

    • getnakedgetawesome September 13, 2013 at 7:00 am #

      I don’t think I’m missing the point. I write this blog to ask questions and encourage debate, not to provide black-and-white answers.

      I ask these questions not in criticism of those who are angered by Ellen’s remarks but to urge people (as I always have) to show that naturists are reasonable, normal people from diverse walks of life, capable of coexisting with non-naturists without detriment to each other’s way of life.

      I don’t feel angry at Ellen’s remarks. Even if I try, I feel no anger. And I certainly can’t work myself up to the frenzy of pointing and shouting ‘bigot!’ at her. It isn’t my nature.

      If you can and do feel that way, great. Go off and fight the good fight.

      All I ask is that you also consider some of the points I make in this blog – in particular, to not lose our sense of humour about ourselves. To not appear the same as the humourless, po-faced, quick to take offence people who often criticise us for our own activities.

      We can use this as an opportunity to look better than those who denigrate us.

    • getnakedgetawesome September 13, 2013 at 7:09 am #

      Also don’t put words in my mouth on the subject of racist or sexist humour. We’re both better than that.

      • All-Nudist.com (@All_Nudist) September 13, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

        I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth, those were examples of other ‘trivial’ insults that everyone used to take for granted until enough people stood up and pointed out the pain they cause and the attitudes they foster.

        We now know they are wrong and don’t do it anymore, at least not publicly. When other wrong things are done or said, it’s our duty as citizens to attempt to right the situation, not just shrug it off and allow it to continue.

        In this circumstance, it’s our community that is being wronged and if we don’t speak out, who will? Ellen? Perhaps she will if AANR has their way!

  3. Wayne September 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Well said, all of us, these days take such pleasure at being offended. Good grief, we should all just grow up a laugh at ourselves. If comediennes (and comedians) can’t poke fun at people of whatever type we are all in for a dreadfully dull and boring life.

  4. n@ked j@mes (@nakedjames) September 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Thank you. I have been troubled by this energy to “out” Ellen as a bigot over this issue amongst a small number of naturists. I don’t want to discount others’ beliefs and opinions, but in the more wider context of naturism, is this really an issue that will make an impact? Seriously?

    Were the words said by Ellen offensive, I can see how they may be, however I really think that Ellen was reflecting on a much more widely held belief that she doesn’t really know as she’s never been. Were they bigoted (as some have suggested)? No, not in my thinking. Merriam-Webster defines ‘bigot’ as, “a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group).” Does Ellen hate naturists? Has she taken to the stage on a campaign to express her dislike for naturists?

    The more offensive language comes from Simon Cowell when he suggests that naturists are ugly. The reality is that this is Simon Cowell (not making an excuse for him) and this is what he does (it’s his “thing”). There are plenty of others “out there” who make the same ignorant and baseless comments; are we to start policing them all, or is Ellen an easy target.

    One commenter shares that “[w]e have the option now to make our feelings known on a national, no, worldwide stage.” Really? Has anyone really thought that through. Sure Ellen has serious segments (i.e. without comedic relief), but the whole premise of her show is based on humor. That commenter goes on to say that “AANR has openly expressed the opinion that Ellen has acted in a bigoted fashion and has requested an opportunity to present our position on national television.” If AANR had decent PR guidance, they would have expressed concern (without name calling), and offered to educate Ellen on the naturist lifestyle. But no, they call her a bigot and demand air time. Way to advance our cause!

    Like you, I can’t get angry over this when I look at the context of the segment. Could it have been done differently, yes. Have we – as naturists – taken the time to reach out to educate people who hold ignorant views, not really. Well, not appropriately. It’s almost like a group of us have taken the role to campaign against Ellen and her thoughts in a strong way, and we are refusing to accept her right to hold whatever views she has. Isn’t that what Merriam-Webster defines as a bigot?

    (Comment cross-posted at http://nakedjames.com/2013/09/ellen-and-naturists/)

  5. Nick Alimonos September 30, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    Sorry but I do not agree with much of your article. Ellen made fun of herself for being gay, just as many black comedians joke about being African American, but that does not mean that she would have appreciated heterosexual comedians making fun of her homosexuality. The two things are entirely different. The other major problem here is that, when it comes to humor, there needs to be an element of truth to it. Dishonest comedy is never funny, especially when it is directed toward a group of people. Simon made it sound as if he simply could not escape these crazy naked people. I have been to nudist beaches all around the world and never had a problem delineating the textile from the nudist section. Nudists are typically polite and respectful and go to great lengths to avoid offending others. Simon talked about these nudists like they were were exhibitionists out to ruin his vacation. I am certain what happened was that Simon felt curious and wandered over to the naked section and was offended by what he saw. By talking about this on Ellen’s show, it really paints nudists in an unfavorable and untruthful light. As for being ugly, I have known my share of attractive naturists. The majority at resorts and beaches may be up in their 60’s, since younger nudists, like myself, tend to stay home. We have families and may not wish to expose them to the lifestyle. Also, while being a nudist is a choice, that should make no difference whether it is OK to make fun of them. It would not be right to make fun of someone for the job they do, clothes they wear, or the political party they are affiliated with, so why is it acceptable to make fun of someone who chooses to be a nudist? Nudists deserve the same respect as anyone in the LGBT community.

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