December 31, 2006

"When he was the Naked Guy, he was completely sane."

The NYT Magazine has its end-of-the-year set of articles about various people who died in the past year. The one that caught my eye was the Naked Guy (Andrew Martinez):
[A]s a student at the University of California at Berkeley, Martinez... ate his meals nude. He went to parties nude. He even attended class nude....

It was easy to dismiss his behavior as a silly stunt, but to those who knew him, Martinez was guided by an endearing, if na├»ve, sort of undergraduate idealism. Raised in a family that refused to buy clothing with designer labels, he now argued that all clothes were a form of repression and that by not wearing them he was making people think about the coercive nature of convention. “Our purpose is to prove that people define normalcy in their own terms,” Martinez said at a “nude-in” he staged in 1992 at Berkeley, during which more than two dozen people disrobed.

The nude-in made the Naked Guy a media favorite. The feminist writer Naomi Wolf hailed Martinez for making himself “more vulnerable to the eye than women were.”
(Typical Wolfish bilge.)
[I]n the fall of 1992, the school instituted a dress code mandating that students wear clothing in public. Martinez quickly ran afoul of the rule, and after he showed up naked for a disciplinary hearing, he was expelled.
Things go very bad for Martinez after this point, and not just because the school kicked him out. The poor man, who became a media darling, really was mentally ill. He suffered for many years, and, in the end, killed himself.
Until his death, Martinez’s family and friends did their best to keep his mental illness a secret. This was at his request. “Andrew did not want people to know about his illness,” his mother said, “because then they would think he was crazy the whole time.” In his moments of lucidity, there was one thing he desperately wanted to convey: “When he was the Naked Guy,” one friend said, “he was completely sane.”
This is very sad, including the poignant way his mother and friend seem to think that if only he had been allowed to live amongst us in the nude, he would have kept it together.
Take this, brother, may it serve you well
Maybe it's nothing
What, what oh...
Maybe, even then, impervious in London
...Could be difficult thing...
It's quick like rush for peace because it's so much
Like being naked
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright, it's alright
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright, it's alright
It's alright
If, you've become naked
Block that kick, block that kick, block that kick, block that kick
Block that kick, block that kick, block that kick, block that kick
Block that kick, block that kick, block that kick, block that kick
Block that kick, block that kick, block that kick, block that nixon


David said...

Let me understand this. He was mentally ill with occasionaly bouts of lucidity-insane usually, sane sometimes.

Accepted by the University of Berkely as a student. Now that is one fine recruitment tool for an educational institution.

The only thing worse than this scenario is if he was there on an athletic scholarship. Maybe a place kicker who took the shoeless kick one step further.

Meade said...

David said...
"The only thing worse than this scenario is if he was there on an athletic scholarship."

Especially if he was a catcher on the Berkeley baseball team. He would have to be completely insane. (Block that pitch...)

Harry Eagar said...

David, I got news for you. Lots of mentally ill people study at universities.

Shame on you.

I have a friend who lived on a commune in the '60s and '70s. She once said it took her a long time to realize that behavior that was attributed to 'being a free spirit' was really a symptom of severe mental illness.

Dave said...

Well, I'm all for women making themselves "vulnerable to the eye."

Why if Wolfe such a sourpuss?

Anonymous said...

Hey, they don't call it Berserkley for nothing.

Seriously, this is a sad example of how far we've come, or rather not come in mental health care. It was common for people throughout the ages to hide mental problems for fear of Bedlam or its equivalent. Terror of snake pits persisted well into recent times, although I think the problem of horrible mental hospitals was more propagandized hype than reality. My mother worked in an extremely good mental hospital that was not unusual in its time and place. But Titicut Follies did its job in the end, didn't it?

Well, we got rid of snake pits in the '70's, but we also got rid of some quite good, humane places that offered truly sick people a refuge. The alternative of community treatment has far too often meant the street and the jail. It was pretty clear to me at the time that libertarian philosophy underlay at least some of the thinking behind dismantling existing structures of mental health care. Yet another reason to step around that particular pile of merde.

So, fast forward to the present. It is as hard as it ever was, or harder, to get adequate treatment for mental health problems, unless, of course, you have, shall we say, "means." Kind of a traditional picture, isn't it? Payments for mental health treatment are more and more limited in most insurance plans, and public assistance is extremely variable. Psychopharmacology has done wonders with drug treatment, but the drugs are often expensive and frequently require some degree of supervision. It is very easy to fall through the cracks.

A friend and fellow grad student of my wife's developed serious mental problems, and this person's friends and the school played hell getting the person adequate treatment, failing family money. And this was in progressive, enlightened Boston. This was a real traumatic experience for everyone, and it taught me just how bad the mental health system had become.

This young man's story is maddening and tragic. How many others are out there, dying insane in obscure corners while we congratulate ourselves for our progressive attitudes?

Ron said...

I'm helpin' set up the post 3 posts from now!

Number 6 Number 6 Number 6 Number 6

Ron said...

...if you become...naked...

-- Yoko Ono, same tune!

Anonymous said...

It's not my intention to mock a poor man who committed suicide, but I grew up in northern Canada. When someone up here announces that all clothing is a form of repression, we're not terribly surprised when they turn out to be mentally ill.

Ron said...

Ooops! I just didn't notice that the Ono line was already in Ann's lyric quote! (Hey, how often do you see the lyrics?)

Number 9 Number 9

Cat said...

I can't believe he was left in a cell with materials he could use to kill himself.

David - I don't think the SAT's are typically a guage of mental illness and you can be Einstein and have mental illness (schizophrenia's onset is usually the 20's I believe). Don't get the joke.

dmc_in_washington said...

Naked Guy's legend extended beyond the Bay Area, stretching up the West Coast. At the University of Oregon in the early 1990s, he was a reminder that Eugene ranked No. 2 behind Berkeley as an incubator of things outlandish and 1960s-nostalgic. I'm sorry to hear Martinez killed himself. I also wonder if drugs played a part in his psychosis, given a student subculture in Berkeley (and Eugene) that continued to embrace psychedelics decades after their heyday.