Nude! Nude! Nude! There’s a clothing-optional frenzy gripping Manhattan. The avalanche of post-9/11 sincerity and non-ironic, emotional squishiness has done nothing to reduce the amount of exposed flesh currently being proffered as middle-class entertainment. Without the deployment of cumbersome and expensive medical equipment, it is hard to imagine that the new episodes of Sex and the City could expose any more human organs. What has precipitated this naughtiness? Is it a C.I.A. plot to distract and calm the nerves of a jittery nation? Rudy Giuliani may have de-poxified Times Square, but every show on Broadway now contains, if not a penis, then at least Meg Tilly in the nude. This Oh! Calcutta! -esque fiesta of supposedly un-lewd nudity will reach a roaring climax in March when, as Mrs. Robinson, Kathleen Turner foists her salient features on eager New York theatergoers in the stage production of The Graduate .
Chez eux , New Yorkers are substituting the traditional hearty, seasonal recreations with nude romping–lending new meaning to the lyrics “chestnuts roasting by an open fire.” Susan Sarandon permitted–if Page Six is to be believed–a nude New Year’s cavort-athon to take place in her apartment. As reported in February’s Teen magazine, Kate Hudson, of Gramercy Park, “[loves] nudity. I grew up in a very open family, and my mother always celebrated the female body.”
“Nudity is always chic, and it’s the ultimate couture. I mean, you’re never going to run into another celeb wearing your skin,” says director-stylist L’Wren Scott, who prevailed upon Tom Cruise to strip for the January cover of Vanity Fair . “I come from the less-is-more school. A black panty and a Manolo is overdressing,” said the languid L’Wren when I spoke to her last week. But there are also nonaesthetic benefits to styling celebs sans vêtements . “When you use fewer clothes on a shoot,” admits Ms. Scott with a conspiratorial chuckle, “you do fewer returns.”
Re penes: New books about male genitalia abound, begging the question, has the post-feminist world finally recovered from decades of castration and reembraced Penis Pride? For a serious discourse on the subject see David M. Friedman’s A Mind Of Its Own ($26). Mr. Friedman’s rollicking, roller-coaster ride (no flies on him!) takes us from the time when Romans were ranked based on chopper size, to the present-day obsession with improving penile reliability. (P.S. I’ve never tried Viagra. A friend put me off after telling me he experienced an overwhelming, lesbian-with-a-strap-on detachment from his own organ.) For a less academic “handling” of the subject, check out trendy Brit photographer Rankin’s new book titled Male Nudes ($35). Eschewing the Bruce Weber-ish world of the buffed Adonis, Rankin focuses on the intrinsic absurdity and poignancy of regular blokes and their pickle-shaped willies. Highly recommended. And then there’s Susan Minot’s homage to the blow job, Rapture , due this month from Knopf.
There is a less chic side to the burgeoning clothing-optional scene. For a window into this codified nether world–and a damn good laugh–pick up a copy of Naturally , the magazine of “Nude Recreation & Travel.” The many faces of nudity–from the self-consciously wholesome to the pervy–are herein presented in seemingly guileless juxtaposition. The Naturally editorials about invigorating hiking holidays are interspersed with advertisements for sensual vacations at Hedonism 11, “A Lush Garden of Pure Pleasure” (book through Go Classy Tours Inc. at http://www.goclassy.com), and Eastern European videos with titles like Fathers, Sons and Friends and, hauntingly, For Love of Grandmother .
This complex world was somewhat de-codified for me, via e-mail, by Sherry Stafford, the story and travel editor of Naturally magazine. “Nudists believe in privacy and founded the nudist camps and clubs still present in America,” wrote Sherry. “Naturists,” according to Sherry, who may well have been nude while she typed, “enjoy the freedom of non-membership based resorts … and believe that the privacy nudists want is possibly fostering body-shame.” The third group are the hedonists whose “urges run wild.” Whatever! All I know is that frying sausages in the nude is a very dodgy business.
I perused the resort advertisements on the pages of Naturally , hoping to find a totally chic Swedish nudie spa where hip New Yorkers like you could drink vodka, roll in the snow and beat each other with birch twigs. The best I could come up with was Avalon, a “natural get-away” nestling in the West Virginia mountains. The January Avalon special-events calendar, though severely inhibited by the weather, offers manifold surreal excitements: On Jan. 13 there’s “Afternoon Cider and Doughnuts,” Jan. 27 is “Popcorn and Puzzles Day,” and the month is brought to a shivering crescendo on Jan. 31 with a “Paw Paw Daiquiris ‘Wine & Cheese’ Social.” (Call 304-947-5600 or peruse http://www.avalon-nude.com.)
Speaking of Oh! Calcutta! , Kenneth Tynan–the creator of the aforementioned, long-running (in the late 1960’s-early 70’s) review of elegant erotica–is now further exposed via his posthumously published diaries, The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan , edited by John Lahr ($32.95). It’s comforting to find out that naughty, brilliant Ken was genuinely kinky and that Oh! Calcutta! really was a gesture of personal expression rather than a cheesy attempt to make millions. His most hilarious diary entries revolve around his passion for sadomasochism, or, in his case, sadism. In the 1950’s he claimed he awoke in Carol Saroyan (previously married to William, and soon to become a Matthau) “a lively taste for spanking.” In the late 1970’s he visits “an ‘enema clinic’ advertising spankable gals,” and encounters “a huge black girl built like a Watusi warrior with an Afro hairdo like a geodesic dome.” The right-thinkin’ Tynan derives no pleasure from the encounter because spanking black girls “conflicts with my belief in civil liberties.”
Stay warm ‘n’ cozy!