Open Letter

To: Streakers

From: An Onlooker

Re: URGENT: Giving Your All In Turin

02 • 25 • 06

Dear Streakers:

The Winter Olympics are a fraught time for you, I know. Temperatures in the negative numbers. Television audiences in the hundreds of millions. The Winter Games must fill you with the kind of grim lust the Yukon gold rush inspired a century ago: the immensity of the opportunity is matched only by the hostility of the climate. I can understand why you have thus far been reluctant to show yourselves. I can also imagine how keenly you must long to blast through this quadrennial spectacle like so many fleshy comets. Streakers, I too long for you to make that dash. Indeed, I write to entreat you to do it now, before the world's eyes turn from Turin. Only hours remain!

I know it's a lot to ask. The indoor venues are as nippy as the outdoor ones: mountain or hockey rink, nordic track or curling sheet, everywhere there is any action at all chilled air hovers over frozen ground. The furless creature might be forgiven for hesitating. And as though the elements were not vicious enough, there's the security to consider. You are not the only ones for whom the Olympics are an appealing target. Knowing this, organizers prepare for the Games with all manner of sinister interlopers in mind: ruthless madmen with their weapons, their manifestos, their wicking undergarments. Against such weather and such calculated defences you, soft and gentle streakers, hardly stand a chance.

I know it is no small thing, therefore, to ask you to infiltrate these Games. But I assure you I am not the only one asking. Listen closely. There--beneath the applause, beneath the scraping of metal on ice, beneath the animal panting of these beautiful athletes--can you hear it? In a thousand hushed languages, humanity breathes the call. Streak. Streak. Streak.

I am sure I speak for many of us when I say that I do not make this request of you because I dislike the main show. What hard heart could begrudge the dogged sportos assembled in Turin their fleeting public moments--whether of hard-won glory or of noble defeat? These moments are surely the athletes' due; they have exceptional bodies, trained to exceptional readiness at exceptional personal cost. But, streakers, while we devote the festival to lauding this exceptionalism, do we not owe it to our own humanity to consider at least for a moment the wonder of even the most average among us? I think we do. And I think you are the only ones who can help us.

Streakers, consider the way you usually operate. You require a clothed crowd, the bigger the better. But not all crowds are alike, of course. Does one streak at the opera? Of course not. A public reading? A political rally? A concert? Ah--you might raise an eyebrow at the concert question. But I am not talking here about drunken nudity or a cameo on the show-us-your-tits jumbotron. I am talking about your most serious work: true, head to toe, running, whooping, arm-waving streaking. And what kinds of crowds inspire your best efforts? Sports crowds, almost exclusively. In the main, you show up at sporting events, where human bodies are seen excelling magnificently at one thing or another. You appear when we poor lumps have assembled to look on as the lithe, the chiseled, the fleet, and the potent do battle. You appear when our eyes are clouded by admiration, envy, attraction, and awe. At these moments, you streak right through, abrupt and conspicuous proxies for all of us whose bodies do not belong on display. You are laughing, tripping, jiggling ambassadors for those of us who would only ever make our way onto a stretch of hallowed astroturf by slipping past a distracted security guard.

For a few moments--you never last long out there--you distract us from those who have so transfixed us with their outstanding abilities. You succeed in distracting us not because you do anything impressive; indeed, what you do is markedly less impressive than whatever we were watching before. You succeed in distracting us because you are naked, and your sudden exposure--the jarring image of your soft nakedness amid an orgy of strength and contention--disarms us completely. A moment ago we stared wide-eyed, forgetful of ourselves, at what a handful of remarkable bodies are capable of when pressed. Now you catch our eye. We stop. We point. As you sail through the scene, the mere fact of a body--any old body, unexceptional and unadorned--makes us gasp.

That great streaker Walt Whitman--"the mate and companion of all people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself"--saw very clearly the power of the work you do. He knew that nakedness is at once a rebuke to vain earthly contests and a wink from an unprudish Creator. Whitman strutted about in the poetic buff a century before Quentin Crisp told us epigrammatically that if there is anything in the world for a person to be proud of, it is that he is not ashamed. "Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical/ I and this mystery here we stand," Whitman wrote.

Streakers, most of us spend a lot of time putting things on in order to make ourselves appear at least normal (as in the case of pants), if not downright special (as in the case of medals, jewellery, and Prada). What you do is precisely the opposite of what the rest of us do most days. You take everything off before addressing yourself to the world, and the effect is to make everyone else feel slightly more normal--maybe even a little special. Although there is no question as to your exhibitionist streak, in the end your work is selfless: it's no more about you than it is about any of us, as immortal and fathomless as you. You remind us how odd and amusing and implausible it is to have a body at all--even an unremarkable one. It's wonderful to have a chest like a cinderblock with nipples or legs that make one look a little like a centaur--really! It's wonderful!--but astigmatism and molars and love handles are nothing to scoff at either. When it comes down to it, anyone knows how to make an Olympian out of a person: work and will and talent and protein shakes. But to make the person in the first place--even a kind of crappy one--where would one even begin?

Streakers, the clock is ticking and you don't have much time to plan your entrance. Before I close, though, a word of advice on your exit. When you arrive, as you always do, at that awkward moment when there is nothing left to do but grin and wave and wait to be marched away in a scratchy blanket, don't try to touch any jocks or mug for the camera or score some meaningless point in the contest you have interrupted. Just plant your feet and whisper it: I and this mystery here we stand. That will be quite enough.

Show us what you're made of,

An Onlooker