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San Francisco:
America's Smartest City?

Why it's really, really smart to allow nice people to be naked in public

E
Editorials

May 2001

OPINION by JIM W.

As San Francisco gears up each year for its Bay to Breakers race, it's time to think about why this venerable tradition is so accepting of nude runners.

Admittedly, the nudies are not a big percentage -- perhaps 150 out of a total of 50,000 or more -- but they always get more than their share of the publicity. And why?

Why? I'll tell you why:

  • Because nudity in a race like this is still cutting-edge.
  • Because it's perfectly innocent.
  • Because it's perfectly controversial.
  • Because no matter how sophisticated or jaded people pretend to be, they still like to see real live naked people.

And because it sells papers!

Because it sells papers

Well, duh! We've always known that nudity sells papers, and papers like to sell copies, so what's surprising about that? The answer, of course, is that there are lots of things which sell papers which most newspapers never do, because they're illegal or will upset readers or the police or something. Most cities have newspapers which would sell more copies if they covered nude runners, but most cities still don't have nude runners. So what's special about San Francisco?

Several nude runners

For several years now, the Bay to Breakers race has informally permitted a number of nude runners and walkers to take part in the 7.5-mile event. Every year, without exception, the number of nude runners is noted in the newspaper stories and media coverage of the race. Every year, without exception, the sponsoring newspaper has two or three pages of photos of the runners -- and there is always at least one, usually two or three, photos of the naked folk. It's fun, it doesn't hurt anyone, and it sells papers. What could be better?

It's also my very strong impression that the nude runners are one of the major draws are one of the major things drawing spectators to the race. Let's face it: When is the last time YOU went to go see a footrace? Unless you're a runner yourself, or the parent of a high school athlete, the answer probably is, "a very long time." Am I right?

Nude runners

Nude walkers

In fact, if you just happened to walk by a street where a footrace was underway, what's the chance that you'd bother to stop to watch it? Unless you're a runner yourself, the answer probably is "not very high" -- or maybe even "zero." Am I right?

But in San Francisco, the Bay to Breakers race is different.

Everyone who talks about the race the next day mentions, almost always, how many nude runners they saw, how many men, how many women, how many cute, how many ugly. Just about everyone who talks about the race the next day compares the number of nude runners this year with the number that they saw last year. In San Francisco, people are happy to talk about such things even if they don't admit that the nude runners are one of the most important reasons -- if not the most important reason -- why they bothered to show up and watch in the first place.

Me and Trey

Many gay events in San Francisco are no different.

Me getting naked
Free pic!

It's not exactly common, but it's not exactly rare, for a few guys to march naked in San Francisco's annual Gay Pride parade. I've done it; I know a few guys who've done it. I heard a rumor (unconfirmed) that a local gay naked group once tried to sign up officially for the parade, but their application was turned down.

Is S.F. Gay Pride accepting of sensible, moderate, nonsexual nudity in their parade? Apparently so.

It's not exactly common, but it's not exactly rare, for a few guys to walk around naked at San Francisco gay community events like the Castro Street Fair, the Folsom Street Fair, and the Dore Alley Fair. I've done it; I know a few guys who've done it. I've seen guys be asked by the police to cover up, and I've seen police look the other way (literally and figuratively) when they've been near stark naked citizens.

Is the gay community in S.F. accepting of sensible, moderate, nonsexual nudity at their street fairs? Apparently so, to some extent.

Nude bearded guy

So what's the problem?

Nude runners

Frankly, there shouldn't be a problem. And usually in San Francisco, there isn't one. Unless children are pulled off the sidelines or adults are fornicating, everyone realizes the truth:

  • Casual, nonsexual, sensible nudity in public is not a threat to anyone.
  • Casual, sensible, nonsexual nudity in public is just fine.
  • Sensible, nonsexual public nudity draws tourists, citizens, and wonderful people of all shapes and sizes to see what's up.

Why can't every city be this way?
Why can't everyone be so sensible?

 

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