Sunday, October 19, 2008

Naked vs Nude

That phrase: rode naked.

It’s the juxtaposition of the two words. Rode, not walked. Lady Godiva walked naked round the streets of Coventry. Nope. Doesn’t work. Rode; elevated; on show. Public. Not hidden or obscured in the crowd. A combination of dignity (rode) and potential shame (naked.). Humiliation A perversely ?erotic? combination which reveals something sick at the core of European thinking about women.

Rode naked.

English preserves a distinction. Nude always means without clothes. (Why “in the" nude?) It has ‘elevated’ connotations because of the institutionalized perving of the art world. Naked, however, has a range of meanings. A General is naked if he steps outside without the insignia of his rank. The OED quotes examples of people being ‘naked in their shifts”.
It’s possible that Lady G rode naked, clothed simply without the trappings of her rank, but then as the Earl’s wife she had no rank and so no insignia. (Tennyson gets this wrong and uses it in his poem). But naked also has connotations of vulnerability and exposure that nude doesn’t. You’re supposed to look at a nude.

“Leofric rode naked through the streets of Coventry” would probably never have created much of a story.

In Medieval Europe the naked body is problematic, but the naked female body even more so. Even now the issue of public nudity is tangled. As far I’ve been able to find out, it’s not illegal to ride round Coventry without your clothes. You can only be charged with a breach of the peace, or indecent exposure. And indecent exposure is far more than just wandering round naked.

The complexity is evident everywhere you look. Indy is about to roar around Surfer’s Paradise, but the big debate is whether the State Government is right in trying to stop the number of women standing on hotel balconies exposing their breasts for the audience below or for passing helicopter pilots. Apparently “flashing your tits” on a hotel balcony during the Indy race is “Ok” and anyone who objects to such "good clean fun" is a wowser. Shouting “show us yer tits” to passing women during Indy is apparently not a sign of retarded emotional and mental growth but "good clean blokey fun". As usual there are numerous people who want to defend their right to behave in an appalling manner.

At the same time the suggestion that airports install xray security which presents security officers, those well known friendly airport people, with an image of the passenger which is basically a shot of them naked, is causing concern. Everyone who walks through the screens will now basically do their own brief naked stroll in public. It redefines invasion of privacy.

And if you want to take the contradictions further then imagine the uproar if the model for the painting on the Blog’s header took a stroll “in the nude” round the art gallery where the picture was hanging when it first appeared.

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