Tag Archives: ellen degeneres

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.