Friday, April 13, 2012

Ramblings on the Naked Rambler

Anyone familiar with the Civil Rights movement knows about that famous day in December, 1955 when Rosa Parks stepped onto a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  Later told to give up her seat to a white passenger, Parks refused and was promptly arrested. That, in turn, touched off the Montgomery Bus Boycott---one of the more significant chapters in the story of black efforts to achieve equality in the United States.

But what if no one had noticed Rosa's act of Civil Disobedience, or worse, didn’t care?  What if she was arrested and forced to pay a fine or serve jail time and nothing changed in Alabama?  What if she boarded yet another Montgomery bus a month later and the same refusal—arrest---jail--release cycle repeated itself?  Then repeated again.  What if each time angrier and angrier judges ratcheted up the penalties until Rosa Parks was facing three years’ imprisonment or more by the time she captured public attention?  And still nothing changed.

Bare Platypus asks these questions as we turn to the subject of Mr. Steven Gough, also known as the Naked Rambler in the United Kingdom where he resides.  Perhaps we should state, more precisely, where he does jail time for repeatedly violating indecency laws by walking the roads of the UK countryside bare bum naked.  Each time Mr. Gough is released from the hoosegow he gets only mere feet down the road before he drops trou and begins walking nude again.  Each time the magistrates before whom he appears get a bit angrier and angrier and punish him with longer sentences.  Each time his plea is the same:  There’s nothing wrong with the human body.
You can read a Wikipedia entry about him by clicking http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Gough
When Bare Platypus first learned about the Naked Rambler years ago we may have judged him too harshly.  We then thought he was a publicity hound, or worse, an exhibitionist who got enjoyment from shocking people.  But as we read more, and as Mr. Gough is arrested again and again, we’re not so sure. … In fact, Mr. Gough starts looking a bit heroic to us.

For one thing, many of the Naked Rambler’s ramblings have taken place on rural country roads where there aren’t all that many people present.  For another, he does not appear to have targeted any person(s) (e.g. kids waiting at school bus stops) with his nudity.  He is also willing to serve lengthy stints behind bars out of deeply held convictions.  Finally, he served his country as a Royal Marine and, presumably, has a priority claim on freedom given that he was prepared to defend it with his life.   (There are some things we’re not so sure about, including the fact he has children who don’t have dad at home through all of this.)

For now Steven Gough’s chief problem seems to be that there aren’t many others prepared to “get on the bus” with his nude walking venture, or to express outrage over his perpetual imprisonment for something as simple as living bare.  But perhaps history will remember the Naked Rambler as a champion for bodily rights.

As NURBA recently wrote on Twitter, “History LOVES envelope pushers.”