Streakin’ for a Reason

Baring it All for a Cause

When Casey Hatherly, who also goes by the name Ever, appeared topless at the Juno Awards show in Edmonton March 13, she breathed new life into the practice of streaking as a form of protest.

Hatherly disrupted the awards show by hopping up on stage, naked from the waist up except for a pair of heart-shaped pasties.  Slogans including “Save the green belt” and “Stop logging old growth” were written on her bare skin.  The stunt was planned to draw attention to On2Ottawa, a protest demanding climate action in Ottawa planned for April.

Streaking as a form of protest is not a recent phenomenon.  In 1903, for example, a group of Doukhobors known as Spiritual Christian Freedomites marched in the nude in Saskatchewan to protest Canadian immigration policy changes.  In 1941, a Dutch man, wearing nothing but socks, shoes, and a hat, strolled around Amsterdam to protest clothing rations.

More recently, the annual World Naked Bike Ride has been held in various cities around the world to protest against oil dependency and promote “alternative transportation options.”  This protest on wheels began in 2003 and now cycles through dozens of cities worldwide.  (This year, Canadian naked rides include Toronto‘s on June 10, and Montreal‘s on July 15.)

In the early 1970s, streaking became a popular lark for university students.  Whether for drunken motives or for dares, students ran buck-naked alone and in organized groups just for the apparent fun of it.

Streakers at sporting events became common during that decade, with naked men—only occasionally women—running across sports fields and pitches during soccer, cricket, rugby, and golf matches.  Even cold-weather sports saw their share of streakers, who donned skates—and nothing else—for a breezy glide across frosty rinks.

The height of the streaking fad appears to have been reached in 1974.  In that year, a streaker ran across the stage behind David Niven during the 46th Academy Awards, a Peanuts comic strip showed Snoopy’s “Joe Cool” streaking after removing his sunglasses and collar, and Ray Stevens recorded the novelty song “The Streak“:

“Oh yes, they call him the streak
Fastest thing on two feet
He’s just as proud as he can be
Of his anatomy
He’s gonna give us a peek.”

By the mid-1970s, the popularity of streaking—whether for fun or for protest—seemed to have run its course.  The novelty of nudity had worn off, and streakers no longer attracted prime media attention.

Streaking protesters had to up their game to convince the cameras to swing their way.  In the 1980s and later, nudity-based protests variously featured celebrities or massed groups of naked volunteers to draw media and public attention to their causes.

Nudity has developed into one of the many tools in the protester’s toolbox.  A 2012 article on the Waging Nonviolence website offers would-be protesters “Five reasons to get naked (in protest.)”  One of the five reasons given is “being naked emphasizes our connection to nature.”

The nature connection was surely considered by organizations such as Greenpeace and PETA, both of which have used nudity in conjunction with protests.  World Naked Bike Ride similarly rides on the tails of the nature connection, cheekily featuring event slogans such as “Less gas, more ass.”

Juno-stage protester Hatherly may have also intended her au naturel stage stroll to invoke parallels with the natural world she endeavours to protect through protest.  However, in media interviews following her March 15 Edmonton court appearance, Hatherly stripped the rationale supporting her toplessness down to the essentials:  a news article involving nudity gets more clicks and, therefore, more exposure.