So began each episode of the television series Star Trek. Prior to its launch we had Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers. On the “strange phenomena” side of things viewers were treated to The Twilight Zone. Since that time, there’s been a veritable buffet of science fiction and fantasy shows ranging from Fringe, to Eureka, to The X Files, and at least three other Star Trek series (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager). Some of you may recall Sliders where a team of travelers kept jumping dimensions into parallel universes and alternate time periods. Let’s not forget Dr. Who, which has aired on the BBC since the 1960’s.
All of these shows explore alternate realities, new species of aliens and beings, as well as thinking that’s clearly outside the box. There have been dopplegangers (your body double), shape shifters, Klingons, Vorgons, Tribbles, you name it.
Yet, with a few very limited exceptions, there’s one reality that all these shows rarely explore: nudity. More specifically, while they are perfectly willing to consider that lizard people could inhabit a planet, or an entire civilization be fixated on a book about Roaring 20’s America (remember that Star Trek episode?) the idea of a race of human-like beings that simply elect not to wear clothes “frightens” the writers and producers of movies and TV more than the end of the universe…. Which is so overdone.
Now, we can already hear the geeks among you talking to your computer monitors about the exceptions. The cartoon series Futurama, for example, once visited a planet with the most famed nudist beach in the galaxy. Sliders began an episode where the team was just leaving a nude version of the whole city of San Francisco (this was one of those lead-ins before the credits that lasts about 15 seconds). Counselor Troy of Star Trek the Next Generation had a mom who insisted on being wed in the Betazed custom of nude nuptials.
But how come Captain Piccard was never challenged with visiting a race of people living completely naked where his crew would have had to visit in their birthday suits to avoid violating the prime directive? (For those non-geeks reading, the prime directive is a mandate that Starship crews not interfere with the natural development of civilizations by appearing as unique visitors from space so as to upset the apple cart for people not ready to accept that there’s life on other worlds.) Why is it that so few, if any, parallel universes have naked worlds?
The simplistic answer is that “the censors wouldn’t allow it” but that doesn’t really address the question completely. Science Fiction never steered from controversial topics such as human sacrifice, intergalactic warfare, the end of the universe (did we mention that’s so overdone). Moreover, no one is suggesting that they would have to show genitals, or even buttocks, on camera. Carefully designed camera angles and props could deal with that.
Finally, there’s certainly more than a fair share of R rated movies and cable channel shows that don’t have the customary limitations of network TV. Why can’t any of those explore a civilization where the men, women, and children just lived free and natural?