Opinion: Why Are We Condemning Naked Rocket Cat Man?
Trigger warning: This articles discusses genitals.
Late last Friday afternoon, several members of The Spirit staff were sitting around the office. We were probably drinking beer, casually skimming the news, goofing off a little. In the midst of our Friday afternoon candid, decompression session, a casual voice threw out a “someone was naked in Rocket Cat promoting the Naked Bike Ride.”
Someone naked. Someone naked in a cafe.
CALL THE PRESS.
The story goes that a promoter reached out to the owner of Rocket Cat Cafe in Fishtown, seeking permission to stand naked for a short period of time and hand out flyers. The creative demonstration would be used to promote the Philly Naked Bike Ride, a local event that has been a hit in the city for years.
“That’s awesome,” I thought.
“Nah, let’s hold off on that.” I said.
Well it became a story, regardless. It became a big, nasty, witch hunt of story. It also left a man, dedicated to a cause, completely cut off from the organization he is so clearly passionate about.
Several outlets picked it up, including Philly Mag and the Daily News.
Rocket Cat then issued a statement apologizing. Which, in my opinion, they shouldn’t have.
In case you’ve never heard of Philly Naked Bike Ride (PNBR) it’s an annual event that’s been going on since 2009. Every year, a few thousand people gather at a starting point. They meet and greet, go over the route and strip naked. They paint themselves, put on funny costumes and ride their bikes, skateboards, unicycles or whatever wheeled apparatus they can think of to promote a good cause. According to the PNBR site, the event is about “riding together to promote fuel-conscious consumption, positive body image and cycling advocacy.”
Let me reiterate: Thousands of people, get dressed up in the same outfit we were all born in, to promote a good and just cause. These are all things that, I imagine, most would agree on as positive, forward-thinking ideas. They are ideas that have the potential to improve our community. Ideas that make your life, my life and lives of everyone around us a little more pleasant. Putting a stop to body shaming? We could use some more of that. More bikes and less cars on the road? Lord, how terrible could that be?
We’re not going to be remembered by the clothes we came into this world wearing, but we might be remembered for how terrified our culture is of nudity.
Each and every day, hundred of thousands of people in this world of ours venture into art museums. We stroll in, clothed –– some of us depressed about the overpriced ticket we just bought –– to look at the visual expressions of creative minds, many of those expressions depict nudity. Each and every day, hundreds of thousands of people in various parts of the world, including here in the United states, casually and dismissively walk past great, noble unclothed statues.
There are even (get ready for GASP!) parts of this world where people live significant parts of their lives happily naked. Even in the States, in the land of the puritans, there are beaches and communities and cruise liners completely dedicated to the cause of celebrating, well, being naked!
Can the 5th largest city in this amazing country of ours honestly not tolerate a naked man in a cafe as he promotes a good cause? You’re offended by seeing a dick? A “penis?” Or maybe just this guy’s penis? Did he not meet your conventional ideas of what a naked man should look like?
Insert nude, glistening, bearded, tattooed, magazine-man here.
It’s not like this man was in a cafe nakedly promoting a daycare or after school program.
As a culture, we are constantly examining and re-examining the meaning and importance of consent, voice and empowerment. Consent should be a critical idea that inspires us to a greater and more responsible way of life. It’s not my job or right to establish people’s comfort levels for them. And if you are not comfortable with a naked body then that is your prerogative. But this world is not here to offer you a trigger warning over every occurrence, act or idea you might come into contact with. You’re offended by this man’s nudity? I am offended by your obsessive need to sterilize and politicize and monitor my world. The body in that coffee shop stood there and absorbed the meaning and judgment and value that we chose to assign it. We deemed it creepy, ugly, wrong and offensive. If this is how we choose to see nudity, well then yes, I would say it is something that demands consent.
I personally like to wear clothes. I respect the fact that clothes are simply something we kind of have to do for whatever the historically and culturally engineered reasons may be. I understand that at some point, someone, somewhere decided that arm sweat getting on a chair was less inappropriate than ass sweat. Or maybe it had to do with people being cold, seeking warmth through layers of dead animals skin wrapped around their body.
We should strive to be a city that fosters and embraces creativity, a city that is open to new ideas and forms of self-expression. Are we a city that condemns a man for baring his body in order to promote body positivity? The PNBR is largely about bringing awareness to the negativity of body shaming. So how is condemning a man for promoting that cause by using his body, not completely backwards?
Was this man an employee of the cafe serving iced coffees and vegan bagels? No. Was this man touching himself, making sexual innuendos to people waiting in line to get their morning jolt? No. Did this man have the explicit permission from a forward-thinking cafe owner to promote a forward-thinking cause? Yes.
As the naked man, Tom Dimitriou, said,
“I had permission from the owner. I figured, that’s good enough,” he said. “This thing about consent is an affront to our civil liberties. If someone gives you permission to be naked at their venue, and you don’t like it, then leave.”
There have been several comments on the internet that have mentioned kids and, more unfortunately and unimportantly, kids seeing a dick. I would think one might have to question someones parenting mindframe if they were to get outraged over their child simply seeing a penis. That’s just draconian.
It also seems that more people are upset that the baristas are consistently rude behind the counter.