By Roy Hay
When you try to explain or interpret something, then people think you are defending it or in favour of it. This is not necessarily so, though I am ambivalent about streaking. Definitely against as disruption of sporting events, but if it is seen as part of a challenge to the top down model of modern society and communications then I have more than a little sympathy.
Starting at the individual level, we probably all or many of us have a streak of exhibitionism in us. We think it would be a good idea to cast off our inhibitions now and again and do something outrageous. If that gets us 15 seconds of fame so be it. But then most of the time our modesty, training and common sense take over. For some folk though they carry through on their secret desire and do it, often as the result of careful planning and choosing the moment and the occasion on which to do it. Sometimes it is the result of a dare and sometimes an alcohol fuelled moment of madness, ‘I didn’t know what I was doing officer!’ Then there are those who do it once, get the buzz and make a career of it often becoming serial pests like Peter Hore for whom it was the notoriety of the exercise rather than the stripping off in public which was the focus of the activity. Then there are commercial promoters who do it to draw attention to what they or their employers are selling. So at the level of individual motivation there can be a whole range of triggers or reasons.
But if you step back and look at streaking in a broader context I think there are interesting stories to tell. Though it has become common at sporting events in recent times as one byproduct of the far greater exposure that sport has in our lives today, it has a much longer history. Individual male streaking through the streets of London and other parts of England goes back into the 18th century at least. Even in what are popularly seen as prudish Victorian times people stripped off in public for a bet.
The sociologist Norbert Elias said something important on the subject:
Take a look at streaking—you know, running nude through public places. Well, what strikes me is less the nudity than the running, which in reality is fleeing. It’s a small revolt, if you like, but one which reveals above all the force of taboos which always surround the body and which have not ceased to be augmented since the Middle Ages. When a family went to the baths in the Middle Ages, by contrast, nudity was taken for granted.[i]
The modern phenomenon is a product of the late sixties and seventies. Public nudity among the counter-culture challenged those who wanted to return to or retain puritanism. Streaking became institutionalised on a mass scale on American college campuses, one university president setting aside a day for mass streaking, he claimed to replace the individualistic disruption caused by student pranks. I want to come back to this in a moment, because I think it is a clue to the wider context of streaking in modern times.
Streaking at sporting events is often said to begin with an Australian at Twickenham in 1974. Michael O’Brien went for dash during a rugby match between England and France. The moment was captured when a policeman was photographed putting his helmet over the offending part. Bruce Perry is quoted as saying, “It was a cold day and he didn’t have anything to be proud of, but I didn’t think twice about using my helmet.” I believe the helmet is preserved in a museum these days. Erica Roe repeated the exercise a little later.
Michael O’Brien at Twickenham 1974
With the Ashes test on at the moment at Lord’s, there was an interruption to the England-Australia game in 1975 when Michael Angelow jumped over the stumps to the amusement of the players.
Michael Angelow at Lord’s 1975
Footy had its moment when Helen D’Amico made advances to the Flying Doormat Bruce Doull wearing only a Carlton scarf. That most private of people was non-plussed by the whole exercise.
Helen D’Amico and Bruce Doull in 1982
The douce world of tennis had Melissa Johnson at Wimbledon in 1996.
Melissa Johnson at Wimbledon in 1996
The cricketers hit back when Greg Chappell flat-batted a streaker and Andrew Symonds shoulder-charged another.
Andrew Symonds tackles Robert Ogilvie at the Gabba in 2008
Now the ante has been upped by the $5,500 fine on Wati Holmwood for his antics at State of Origin the other night. Incidentally my wife asks why have all the male streakers got such lousy bodies, while the females are much better presented? My daughter sent me this marvelous juxtaposition of Holmwood and a ballet dancer, however.
Wati Holmwood as ballet 2013
But I don’t think you can look at streaking in isolation. It is very much part of a wider phenomenon I would argue and one that has an even longer historical pedigree than much of the recent comment I have read seems to appreciate.
If you go back to the medieval carnivals, charivari, and the lords of misrule you find events where the normal order of things was turned upside down. For a brief period the lower orders, the powerless had their day in the sun. It was not that there was an attempt to overturn that order permanently but just a reminder that there was a possibility lurking. So with modern sporting events which have been globalised and commodified the fans, the consumers, have developed different ways of reminding the authorities that there is another possibility in which the fans have their say. Hence Mexican waves, the choreographed performances by the Tifosi of Italy and South America. Nearer home the carefully staged presentations by the fans of Melbourne Victory.
Melbourne Victory banners challenge the club to protect the supporters from the media
Not uncritical support at Victory
We are Melbourne, No Heart
The fans are quite explicit that they reject aspects of the behaviour of the mass media and are determined to turn this back on its controllers by getting their messages across through sport. If the media has to show advertisements to satisfy sponsors whether they be La Trobe University, AAMI or Adriatic Furniture then the fans will use that platform for their messages. More broadly you can see in the explosion of social media a whole series of ways in which people are exploring ways of gaining some traction for their ideas and aspirations in the modern world. As long as the media are providing a platform then people will climb on to it and turn it to their purposes for a brief period. So our modern streakers are part of bigger movement than perhaps they realise.
[i] Stanislas Fontaine, ‘The civilizing process revisited,’ Theory and Society, Volume 5, Issue 2 , 1 March 1978, pp. 243-253. Quotation is from page 247.