philosophers have been grappling with this eternal question since
Plato first ran nude through the Acropolis, a great many theories
have emerged regarding exactly why it is that some people feel the
urge to dash naked through public places.
The first impulse is to blame it on insanity, however this is usually an inaccurate suggestion. Most people not in possession of their wits are more inclined towards mumbling on subways, bombing government buildings or going into politics. Not even the mantle of temporary insanity can really encompass the urge to streak, though this has often been used as an excuse in the witness stand. The temporarily insane are more suited to soccer riots, game shows and polling booths.
So just what creates the desire to expose oneself in public, albeit quickly?
My special correspondent from Puerto Rico David Miro has suggested that streaking was originally a very literal interpretation of New York City ordinances which stated that nudity in public was only obscene if you stood somewhere without clothes. Thus, running without clothes was considered to be OK. Interestingly, until the advent of the musical Hair, it was an accepted convention that a woman could appear on stage naked, so long as she didn't move, which made her less alive and sexual, and more like a nice, arty sculpture.
Indeed, the sexual aspect of streaking is always something that, erm, pops up in any discussion of motives. It is clear that streakers are neither flashers nor rabid sexual exhibitionists. A streaker with an erection is not a good look. Groups of male streakers insist on minimum numbers to remove any hint of homosexuality.
In the 70's the fad was so prevalent as to inspire a number of scientific studies. The Journal of Perceptual and Motor Skills published "A Note on Student's Reactions to Streaking" and concluded that: "Streaking was not seen as deviant behaviour, nor streakers as deviant by nearly all respondents." This conclusion was reached after surveying over 200 university students who somehow managed to take it all seriously.
The British Medical Journal came down from its lofty perch to make a comment on the fad, suggesting that "though exhibitionist in the widest sense, no-one has so far suggested a sexual motive… it is the antithesis of flashing. There is no chance to catch the look of dawning interest that the flasher so vainly hopes his victim will show." No one was willing to admit to writing the half page piece, although they did manage to create five footnotes out of it.
"The streaker is breaking a taboo and the shock of that is
what makes us laugh," said Doris McIlwain, a psychology lecturer
at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. "Nudity is a
great leveller in a way." She went on to suggest that it is
an infantile form of attention getting, in a Freudian kind of way.
Then she wanted to know about my mother, so I left at that point.
The fact remains that streaking eludes most intellectual explanations. It's most often the result of a bet, a dare, or a pint. Or a pint and three bourbons followed by a Pimm's chaser with a Bloody Mary on the side, on top of a six pack of cider and a pizza. A large number of one-off streaks are the end product of one-too-many, as alcohol removes the inhibitions far better than any other substance. There have been negligible examples of stoned streakers, probably due to the paranoid fear the Harvey the purple rabbit will chase their bare ass and haul them in to the cops.
The thrill of streaking does rival drug taking or risky adventure activities such as nude bungy jumping for sheer thrills. Without doubt the rush of adrenaline, combined with the attention of many can be a potent mix. Speaking from my own experience, I was high for three hours after running naked through a city park, with only a single witness to the streak (I suspect he was high for at least ten hours afterwards). Erica Roe, who ran onto a rugby field at half time in 1976, described it as similar to feeling like a movie star. Whether movie stars ever feel like streakers has yet to be investigated.
Without doubt the most succinct explanation for streaking emerged in Australia, following a streak by a man and woman at the Doncaster Handicap horserace in April 1974. Dave Cook and Allana Kereopa were hauled before the court on indecent exposure charges. Allana's excuse rivals that of Sir Edmund Hilary's "Because it was there" for sheer existentialism. She told the judge: "It seemed like a good idea at the time." This hereafter became known as the streakers defence, and it sums up the very essence of streaking. It really does seem like a good idea.
At the time.
- Originally written in 2000