Years ago, in graduate school, I took a wonderful course in nothing more or less than "the bard." Loved it. The prof was a peach, a Brit and an Anglican, who, daily, was sent into fits and contortions by the unparalleled beauty by Shakespeare's poetic charm and elegance. Contagious, it was.
One week, Lear. Some may want to pick a fight here, but I say King Lear isn't easy to love, man or play. You can teach Romeo and Juliet to high school sophomores--at least, you once upon a time you could; but Lear blindsides most undergraduates, in part because it feels like a third-rate Thomas Hardy novel--things just get worse and worse and worse, and then, well, finally it's over. Dead bodies litter the stage in most of the tragedies, but Romeo and Juliet aren't really dead at all--their storied love only grows more sublime, right? In Lear, on the other hand, things are all bad. Look what Jane Smiley did with it in A Thousand Acres--nary a ray of light.
Anyway, the prof announced one day that Lear had the distinction of including the only nude scene in Shakespeare, but, unlike Hair, the nudity wasn't meant to be a feature. When the self-deposed king, gone bezonkers, is wandering, naked, on the heath, what Shakespeare wants to display in the man's nakedness is not the glories of the human character, but its warty, bulbuous ugliness. "Most often," ye olde prof claimed, "the human body is really not all the beautiful."
Okay, so I walk out of class, and it's 1973--the days of "streaking." Don't know where it started, but on campuses all over the country, ordinary college students doffed their jeans and t-shirts and tore around the campus with their privates floppily unfettered. That day--I'm not making this up--that very day we studied Lear, I walked out the building, and three guys went flying past, buck naked.
'Twas an object lesson. I wondered whether the prof had arranged the display, in fact, to bring home the point. The guys were young, not old like the mad king, but what was shakin' on the green wasn't all that beautiful.
That silly day comes to mind when the controversy over "whole body scanning" arises. Just one of the horrors of 9/11 is the fact that it costs us, as a nation, millions and millions of dollars to put people like my mother through the tech maze of airport screening. Each day hundreds of thousands of people examine millions of passengers. Sheesh.
So someone comes along with a new idea, a whole body scanner. Only problem is, the image delivered from the machine is, well, revealing. Visual rape, some call it. Give me a break.
Age increaseth one's girth, methinks. And yes, my doctor disagrees. But as girth's increase, vanity goes in the other direction. Good riddance, I say. If a scanner lowers cost, I'll sacrifice my privacy. If some uniformed airport flatfoot gets his jollies from the fatso images on the screen in front of him, at least we'll keep him off the streets.
Besides, it seems to me that, culturally, we' re suffering an epidemic of obesity. Maybe airport scanning--airport streaking--will be just what the doctor ordered. We'll all start watching the calories.
I say, bring on the whole body scanners. Just don't make me look at the images. I see enough the way it is.