The Pervasion of Revealing Clothing (or a Defense of Obscenity)

Hilda Hei Nam Leung '05, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

[With apologies to Oscar Wilde]

Peter: (knocking on a door in a dormitory) My dear Louis, your hallway reeks of cheap beer and vomit! Don't cramp yourself in this lonely cell. It's hot and beautiful outside. All the college girls are lying on the Green, like butterflies on blossoms. Let us go out and sit on the steps and have some ice coffee and enjoy their charm.

Louis: Their charm! There is absolutely no charm in those young ladies. People say that girls at Brown University are intelligent and graceful. There is more grace in a stripper down at Sportsman Inn than any of those girls grazing on the Green. Not that I have been to any striptease shows myself.

Peter: How can you compare our selfless and generous schoolmates to a striptease? That is outrageous!

Louis: Well, they are all so shameless. Their clothing is too revealing. A striptease knows how to show off their most charming body parts and entice you, while our girls show off their most revolting parts and disgust you. The thought of their tactlessly exposed bodies just makes me want to vomit.

Peter: Hold your vomit my friend, but there are so many choices on the Green, surely there must be some girls who are to your liking.

Louis: I assure you, Peter, not one! All I see is obscenity. The sinful age of obscene self-display has come!

Peter: Why do you so hastily associate obscenity with wickedness?

Louis: It is too apparent, Peter. Can't you see? What obscenity reveals to us is the pollution of the environment, the corruption of aesthetics, and the complete degeneration of morality!

Peter: Oh! Save your Johnsonian triplets for your English class. What you don't understand is the function of obscenity in modern lives. Louis, your thoughts are too Victorian. With regard to your premature denunciation of obscenity, I argue that it is not bad at all. Let's head out to the Green and I will show you the its virtues. (Both head out to the green area in the center of campus)

Louis: Peter, look over there, that's what I meant by the pollution of the environment. There, under the beautiful blossoming cherry tree lies a young lady showing off her blossoming spare tire! In all fairness, she has a pretty face and a healthy glow. Her body is well maintained and is far from being fat. But why must she wear a tank top so tight that it makes her flesh jut out in the wrong directions? Why must her tank top end right above her naval and her extra low-rise jeans begin below her pelvis, leaving uncovered the lumpy cushion that swarms around her waist. But what waist? There is no distinction in measurement between her bust, her waist and her hips. She's cylindrical. Why not cover up the unpleasant excess and let people focus other body parts instead. Perhaps she has . . . beautiful toes! Surely a tank top that's bigger won't cost her more. I don't understand, why should society bear the aesthetic cost of her obscene revelation of flesh?

Peter: I am sorry that her revealing clothing offends your sensitivity. But my friend, if only you'd understand the noble reason behind her obscenity, you would forgive her for polluting the environment. You see, contrary to your accusation that obscenity embodies the degeneration of morality, this noble lady radiates nothing but kindness and generosity.

Louis: Yes, I guess you may call the free display of surplus flesh generosity.

Peter: No use in wisecracking, Louis. You must try to see beyond your tainted preconceptions. Her displays of flesh, instead of offending, comforts many tormented souls. Our society is invaded by the ill wind of low fat diet — which is the consequence of the fashion world's obsessive promotion of thin figures. Nowadays, almost every food item has a big label that screams "low fat." Even a Bacardi ad says, "No carb!" Illogical phrases such as "Low fat oil" and "Low cholesterol bacon" deceive desperate consumers who are gradually losing their common sense over their irrational desire for thinness. Girls suffer from low self-esteem because their weight rocketed from 105 to 107 pounds over Christmas holidays; they work out at the gym five times a day to get rid of the small flab of loose meat on their bottoms. Nothing is more humiliating and shattering than to see someone thinner than you; you can almost detect the triumphant smile on the thinner person's face, and your lips shrivel into a dried up fat-free prune from jealousy and shame. These poor, depressed souls need to be saved! And the noble lady whom you mercilessly ridiculed is their savior!

Louis: Unless you are drowning, I wouldn't call a spare tire a savior.

Peter: Why! She could have dishonestly used a visual illusion to flatten her waist with a black shirt or to elongated her figure with high-waist trousers with vertical lines. But she didn't align herself with the dark forces of trickery so as to flatter her body.

Louis: Well that is what a wise and decent girl would have done anyways.

Peter: Instead, she sacrificed her pride so that girls suffering from low self-esteem because their friends weigh a pound less can seek solace in her love handles. How many girls on the verge of clinical depression and self-destruction rejoice to see someone worse off! That noble girl let herself be stigmatized, so that others can be free! Their guilt and mortification are at once relieved at the sight of a spare tire on someone else. They can go home and indulge in a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream in peace. That selfless lamb! She steps forth to drink the bitter cup.

Louis: My dear, you almost have me half convinced of the morality of obscene self-display. But look at the group of five girls in the middle of the Green. Certainly there is nothing but foulness to their inappropriately revealing tops and skirts. Don't argue with me about their ostentatiously exposed breasts and cleavages. They are devils in disguise.

Peter: But you must agree that this time, their revealing clothing is aesthetically pleasing and enhances the environment!

Louis: Look at their awfully short skirts! Do they even qualify as skirts? They can barely cover their buttocks. Such obscenity! What purpose have they in revealing their flesh but to seduce the coarsely randy men and to contaminate pure ones? They are fully aware that they make themselves the center of attention, and they are savoring the opportunity. They take pride in tempting and have no shame in being objects of sexual fantasies. Yes, they do not pollute the environment, but they pollute our thoughts and lead us into temptation.

Peter: My friend, do you think that the less revealing one's clothing, the less one tends to be moral?

Louis: You may say so. As Ruskin said, taste is essentially a moral quality. Certainly those who tastelessly spill forth their flesh cannot have much decency.

Peter: No, my friend. Taste is one thing and morality is another! Weren't Ancient Greeks great men who engaged their minds with noble thoughts about art and morality? All they wore was a thin piece of ugly bed sheet. What about Christ, who wore nothing but a loincloth and crown of thorns as he shed his innocent blood for mankind? On the contrary, monks wear dark and heavy vestments, but to what end? Being less revealing doesn't guarantee morality. And priests! Their long velvet frocks cannot conceal their perverted passions! Besides, you must look beyond the apparent in order to discover the divine virtues of those fantastic looking girls.

Louis: Virtue? Virtue has no relations whatsoever with such obscenity!

Peter: Do not let your passions enrage you, my friend. Presently, those girls whom you considered unworthy of praise will leave the sun and resume their daily activities. Pay attention when they ascend the stairs—with great care, they press their skirts as close to their thighs as possible; and each step they take is so delicate, like fairies gliding on water lilies! When they are seated in lecture halls, they gracefully cross their long legs and painstakingly arrange the rim of their skirts, so that it is perfectly arranged to cover their thighs. They gently place their ivory hands over the skirt like a white crane touching the pond, to make sure that they do not reveal too much. I tell you! They are the paragon of modesty! Oh! Such trouble they take to prevent the indecency of flashing their undergarment in public. You think they are shameless sinners, but how wrong you are! They are the most considerate, respectful and modest creatures!

Louis: I see what you mean. Perhaps now I can look at these girls without feeling repulsed. But how perverse this is! You mean even that anorexic girl on the bench proudly revealing unnaturally protruding bones has a grand moral scheme too?

Peter: Louis, I am glad that you point her out. Yes, that chopstick-like girl who only has a layer of skin over her bones reveals her grotesque physique to remind you and me of the one in three children, or five, who dies of malnutrition in third world countries. She serves to awake our awareness and conscience. She is the living sign that says "Save the World!" Of course, she is also preaching moderation to girls who decide to start an inhumane weight-loosing routine.

And that girl who is exposing her freckle-and-mole-packed back to the sun serves as a warning sign too. One look at her and you immediately remember that long exposure to sun causes ugly moles, if not skin cancer. You berated obscene self-display as evil and immoral. But in fact, as we see at Brown, it is in act the preacher of modesty, voice of conscience and savior of mankind! Oh Obscenity, come and save us! Let thy kingdom come; let thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven! You have talked long enough. Come! Let us take our shirts off and bask in the sun for a while.

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Last modified 12 May 2005