FYI: Streaking has become an accepted attention grabber. How did it come to be regarded as such?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 December, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 December, 2005, 12:00am

To gain exposure (pun intended) for an unpublished book he had written, Mongolian Li Suolun recently took to the streets of Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, in his birthday suit. He didn't get far before being apprehended by the police, but he did manage to get his picture taken and published in the South China Morning Post.

Dedicated streakers differ from nudists in that they want to be noticed and will choose a place with a large audience for their act. Nudists just want to get naked, whether they are observed or not. Streakers will shed their clothes to protest (it is a favoured tactic for anti-fur campaigners), to attract attention, as a forfeit for losing a bet or, as is usually the case, for the sheer hell of it.

While people have undoubtedly realised the potential their naked flesh has to turn heads since time immemorial, the practice was popularised in the 1970s, becoming a symbol of the decade.

Students - perhaps because they are likely to possess better bods than their elders - are particularly fond of running around au naturel. The record for the most streakers at one time is held by the University of Colorado in Boulder, in the United States, with 1,200 bare bodies. The University of Michigan has hosted the Naked Mile, in which the last day of class is celebrated with a group streak across campus, since 1986. Hamilton College, New York has gone so far as to have a 'Varsity' streaking team, which, according to its website, 'has championed its way through six undefeated seasons', although how competitions are scored remains unclear.

Even in Taiwan, students feel compelled to bare all. Last year, Chang Gung University in Taoyuan county chose to punish a student, stopping just short of expulsion, who streaked on campus after losing a bet. However, students nationwide held rallies to 'defend campus democracy' and even Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou chided the university's administration for being 'overly severe'.

Perhaps the most widely seen streak in history was in 1974, when 33-year-old Robert Opal ran across the stage naked on American national television at the 46th Academy Awards. Recovering quickly, host David Niven quipped, 'The only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping ... and showing his shortcomings.'

American singer Ray Stevens profited from the incident with his song The Streak, the catchphrase of which, 'Don't look, Ethel!', became a kitschy joke and an instantly recognised reference to streaking. More recent pop practitioners of public nudity include Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink-182 and Japanese screamers Electric Eel Shock, whose drummer was arrested in Hong Kong for playing naked at the Rockit Festival in 2003.

Streaking is perhaps most synonymous with major sports events, with cricket matches being particularly popular. The most recent cricket skin 'scare' took place during the first test of the Australia versus ICC World XI, when a naked man darted towards the pitch, causing a brief halt in play.

The more decorous sport of golf is not immune either. New Zealander Michael Campbell had to regain his concentration after a streaker sprinted across the 11th green to reveal her charms as he was lining up a three-metre putt to lead at the World Match Play Championship in England in September. Despite, or maybe because of, the unexpected thrill, Campbell went on to bag the

#1 million ($13.5 million) first prize.

One streaker even used Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction' as the basis for his defence when a spot of naked high jinks landed him in court. Andrew Getzey was arrested for running across the field at a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game in June last year, wearing only a Ronald Reagan mask. If Jackson hadn't been arrested for exposing her breast at the Super Bowl half-time show four months previously, then why charge Getzey, his lawyer argued. It was to no avail; Getzey was found guilty of lewdness and indecent exposure.

Fortunately for the voyeurs among us, as long as the naked form continues to attract interest, people with all sorts of agendas will dare to go bare.


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