Naked Politics: The Global Revival Of Nudity As Public Protest

From China’s Weiwei to the Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda al-Mahdi, people are again busy using their naked bodies as a way to challenge authority and demand rights. Even in today’s much more sexualized world, public nudity continues to be a powerful form o

A member of Ukraine's provocative feminist group FEMEN
A member of Ukraine's provocative feminist group FEMEN
Richard Herzinger

BERLIN - When nearly 100 supporters of dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei recently bared it all on the Internet, they joined a sort of global renaissance of nude activism. The cyber flashers removed their clothes out of solidarity with the well-known artist, who is currently being investigated by Beijing authorities because of a photo that shows him and several women naked.

The Chinese repression apparatus is using the old photo as a pretext to accuse Weiwei of disseminating pornography – this being the latest of a series of harassments authorities are using to try and silence the stubborn critic of the regime.

Another recent case of nakedness as social protest involved an Egyptian blogger named Aliaa Magda al-Mahdi, who brought attention to herself in spectacular fashion by posting pictures of her unclothed self on the Internet. This not only attracted the rabid hate and wrath of Islamic morality guardians and extremists, it was also criticized by secular liberals participating in the Egyptian revolution movement. Holding a banner that read "Love without Limits," some three dozen Israeli women bared their breasts publicly out of solidarity with al-Mahdi.

Topless protesting has for years been an action strategy of the Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN. The group demonstrates internationally against abuses of women's rights. FEMEN activists, who are often young and very attractive, present themselves in a deliberately provocative way in order to draw awareness to their political and social views. Their present cause is trying to prevent the legalization of prostitution during the 2012 European Football Championship to be held in Ukraine.

An old, but still provocative technique

Stripping down as a sign of rebellion against repressive societal norms and constraints is anything but new. The only surprising thing about it is that even in our day, when nudity abounds, the technique still seems to work. Baring one's body in public remains a taboo and is perceived as a disturbance of proper public order.

Of course, consequences for doing so vary in different social structures and parts of the world. In many Islamic countries, such a thing could doubtless warrant severe corporal punishment if not death – particularly if the person disrobing was a woman. The status of the female body is at the center of a bitter cultural war between enlightened modernity and reactionary religiosity in the Muslim world.

The male's right to total control of the body and life of women is one of the most deeply-anchored forces of Islamic fundamentalism and its mad demand that women be shrouded in public. It's not an accident that one of the things associated with the despised western "decadence" is the principle of female self-determination.

The courage of Egyptian blogger al-Mahdi pierced straight to the core of the political and cultural syndrome of backwardness that the Arab world -- and much of the Muslim world -- suffers from. As long as a woman is not allowed full sovereignty over herself and her body, all attempts at progress remain a cynical farce. There is the glimmer of hope that the Arabic revolutions have opened the door for change for it is no longer possible not to address the fact that the success of democracy in the region depends on the liberation of women.

Although it's not remotely comparable to al-Mahdi's courageous act, the American and European rebels of the 1960s also disrobed to shock what they regarded as an authoritarian and inhibited Establishment. From California's flower children to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, anybody who wished to make a statement against societal constraints and conventions took their clothes off -- risking at most being cited for disturbance of the public order. Removing one's clothes was a synonym for breaking out of the corset of "civilized" do's and don'ts, but it also gave new life to a form of protest favored by earlier generations.

The flashers of the 60s were preceded by the life reform movements at the turn of 19th century. People involved in the movements saw nudity as a return to what was perceived as the essential purity of human nature. Nudism was paired with vegetarianism at the famous colony Monte Veritá in Ascona, in the Swiss-Italian canton of Ticino.

The theory of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1748), the Genevese philosopher and writer, had already been deeply etched into European cultural history. According to Rousseau there were at one time "natural humans' to whom the injustice and ugliness of modern civilization were utterly foreign and who lived on in tribal cultures. Since then the idea of a return to natural nakedness in a noble wilderness has been associated with a return to innate human goodness.

Demanding rights, tackling totalitarianism

In today's world, when Chinese dissident Ai WeiWei and his supporters appear naked, it is basically along similar lines as Rousseau's 18th century Enlightenment message – a call to a better, democratic society. Their nudity symbolizes at once their total vulnerability to the will of the state but also the resilience of their own will. Their gesture says: my body belongs to me; nature gave this body to me -- and it is inalienable even if you take everything else away from me. Ai Weiwei's uncovered ample self tells the powers that be: See here, this is the natural me. I'm an offense to you – and intend to remain one.

"From such crooked wood as that which man is made of nothing straight can be fashioned," said philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). The imperfect unclothed body is thus an existential objection to totalitarianism.

The young Ukrainian FEMEN members are acting on another symbolic level. They are children of an age when female public nudity is sexualized in the service of commerce. After women's rights activists fought for decades against the debasement of the female body as an object of lust, as seductive "goods," these new feminists are actually donning the sex object mantle and using it as a means to express self-awareness and fighting spirit.

They perceive their sexual attractiveness as a potential weapon. If you want it, come and get it, they're saying -- but you're going to have to pay by accepting our social and political demands. One of their rallying cries to women is to withhold sex from men until the goal of a campaign has been achieved. The objects of desire, fully aware of their power, have the upper hand.

Read the original story in German

Photo - FEMEN Women's Movement

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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