Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Possibilities of Pantslessness

When you're writing speculative fiction, there are plenty of ways to demonstrate that a story is set in the future without explicitly stating so. You can have a door dilate, for example, or you can refer to the female player that hit the home run that won the World Series for the Chicago Cubs - and it's up to you as to which aspect of that second one is more indicative of it being the future. Another concept that's come up now and again as a means of distinguishing the future from the author's present is the disappearance of cultural taboos against nudity. A significant chunk of this comes from American authors, which makes sense - considering the cultural impact of a partially-revealed breast on television for a matter of a second or so, having a future USA where people go around starkers and it ain't no thing is a clear indication that Things have Changed Significantly.

It's not a bad way to demonstrate the way things have changed - it can connote a culture that's grown up and left behind at least some parts of gangly adolescence, to which body parts are not "eww icky." On the other hand, sometimes authors can go to far in the other direction; sometimes, I feel like some have assumed there was an underlying tension, a subconscious dislike for having to actually go around wearing clothes, and when the puritanical laws began to fray it all snapped like an overstretched rubber band and nudity became the standard, like everyone was totally eager to leave their pants at home.

Counterpoint: both Ontario and British Columbia have allowed public toplessness for everyone for a while now, and while shirtless dudes are practically everywhere in summer, the only time I've ever seen a shirtless woman in public was at the Toronto Pride Parade in 2010 - and you'll see a lot of things there that you wouldn't see on Bay Street. Though this, of course, may change depending on the tenor of the celebrations should the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. Hell, it might happen tonight tomorrow. Game 6 is Monday, not Sunday.

As I wish this post to remain work-safe, please allow it to be illustrated by this uplifting note I found on the wall of a convenience store along Leavenworth Street in San Francisco's Tenderloin.

Recently, though, a thought came to me - I don't think I've ever seen anyone look at some of the secondary consequences of culturally common nudity. It's no surprise if no one has; plenty of people didn't see the secondary consequences of fossil fuel-based industrialization, either. But no matter the degree to which the cultural seesaw tilts in favor of going around bare, there's still a vital thing to consider: you know, the reason people started wearing clothes in the first place. Such as our limited ability to retain heat in an environment which, in many cases, doesn't provide enough of it. Like most of Canada, for starters. A clothes-free lifestyle's all well and good in Southern California, where it's pretty much spring all the time, but when the snows of winter cover the land it tends to focus the mind. A nudist society would also require ubiquitous climate control.

This isn't a problem in space, because it's necessary regardless - and clothing-minimal societies in space, such as the lunar society in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, are very plausible: not only is there no need to worry about freezing to death, wardrobes would be a strain on either local manufacturing capacity or would take the place of more valuable things being boosted out of Earth's gravity well.

What happens on Earth, though, when that same kind of constant climate control is necessary? Depending on the intended direction, an author could take this to its logical conclusion and posit a culture that had migrated entirely to arcology living, where climate control would be likewise necessary - or, to turn it around, a civilization that was forced into arcologies could develop in a clothing-minimal direction. But in a setting more like the modern day, I'll tell you what it could lead to: higher hydro bills, even greater electricity consumption, and the potential social problems which stem from that. People with good, thick sweaters can afford to keep the thermostat down low.

There are probably some other implications - just not seeing 'em right now.

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