Freshman year, my friend and I loitered in the back aisle of Gardner Main Stacks, pretending we were only there for academic pursuits, ready to scramble around the corner at the drop of a hat if we heard any rumble of a stampede.
There were other suspicious characters like us. We all knew why we were there. Every semester during finals, a parade of streakers sprints through the library for the traditional thrill of the naked run.
If this affair wasn’t free for the naked eye, tickets would be sold out. There is always an audience for the biannual run even though there is never a set date. Instead, this flash-run is an inhouse job organized by the co-op community, which notifies people just hours beforehand.
When co-opers release the news, word of mouth spreads fast. Students call, text and message each other to get to the event of finals’ season. Like Fashion Week without the fashion, the spectators become a spectacle; seeing who is in the audience is half of the fun.
There are two types of spectators at the naked run: those already cloistered helm’s deep in the library and those who intentionally descend to see some junk. But nonetheless, I’ve never encountered people who shielded their eyes from the show.
The run attracts a crowd of peeping toms (I say that in a loving way) who enjoy nudity for the sake of its rarity in the public sphere and is a statement that revokes the negative connotations that society typically assigns to nudity.
I respect the fact that our school can see the run as just good, clean fun during a stressful time.
In contrast, look at the recent nudists on Market and 17th streets in San Francisco, whose starkness made such a clamor that city policy required that they always had a barrier between their bum and a bench.
Just as the run’s audience falls into two categories, so do the different types of nudity — it’s an inappropriate public hygiene threat, an exhibitionist’s assault or just a very strong come on. As with many things, UC Berkeley turns widely held opinions on its side.
The run is a rare shooting buck-ass star, you could say, revising previous notions of nakedness and allowing you to shimmy your skivvies for the sake of expression.
Our founding streaker, the legendary Lady Godiva, was a woman who lobbied to her persnickety husband to eliminate a heavy tax on the citizens. She wagered that she’d ride horseback nude through the city as payment. The king accepted what he thought was a bluff, but sure enough, she rode bareback quite literally.
Lady Godiva emulates vulnerability as a form of protest and leverages power against the oppressor.
I don’t want to make streaking into an intellectual discourse: Sometimes, you’re just drunk and want to feel the air against your skin for the sole reason that it feels great. But isn’t that reason enough?
Liberation manifests itself in odd ways during a pressing time of deadlines and studying. Berkeley can’t sustain in a pressure cooker for too long without some sort of release valve.
We’ve never functioned well in confinement without our eccentricity seeping through.
Casting off our clothes — the metaphorical burdens that weigh us down — might be the only way we can give the finger to finals, a system of judgment that oppresses us, without boycotting and threatening our grade point averages.
Thank the co-operative community for reminding us of one important thing. Finals week is probably the least flattering time for our student population: People’s blood consists of Red Bull, marathon studiers fight tooth and nail for a seat in the library and others take up residence in the Free Speech Movement Cafe with a pillow, rice cooker and the occasional chicken so they never lose a study spot.
The naked runners epitomize the campus. They protest against the cast-iron constraints of academia for just a few moments and demonstrate our freedom of expression to keep our First Amendment rights in check.
Though our allegiance to finals is important, it is not so strong that we can’t take a moment to gander at some naked folks.