There are times, dear reader, when you, as a player in the great game of marketing, and I, as a mere spectator, are bound to see things differently, and Spencer Tunick’s latest “installation” in Tyneside is one such occasion.
Whereas I view the pictures of 1,700 naked bodies lying side by side on a bridge in Tyneside with emotions mixed in equal proportions of disquiet and bafflement, you will see in the same spectacle a cause for reassurance and quiet rejoicing.
For me, nudity, like a Grimsby lobster, should be chosen carefully and taken singly. For it is a law of nature, as immutable as the force that guides the planets through the heavens, that almost all human beings without clothes look perfectly hideous. A second law, which has more to do with the mystery of the human soul than the decree of nature, is that those who are least physically suited to disporting themselves naked feel the greatest urge to do so. A third law, which is related to Gresham’s discovery that the bad drives out the good, is that when the eye is confronted by mass nudity it is drawn not to those few, well-proportioned, lithe young bodies on display but to the sagging bottoms, drooping breasts, crepe-textured skin and adipose superfluity of the whole.
But you, as a marketer, are able to put aside such squeamish scruple and relish the bigger picture. For you, the sight of 1,700 naked anal orifices rising skywards as one, like a vast pink anti-aircraft battery, at the megaphoned command of a deluded New Yorker must gladden the heart and move you to spit on your hands and set to, knowing that your efforts shall not be in vain.
I do not propose to discuss here whether or not Spencer Tunick’s work is art, since it seems to me to belong to that school of aesthetic judgement which holds that if you believe something to be art, then it is art; and there is no arguing with that. All that I would say is that if I believe the moon to be made of cheese and if you take a bite and say that it tastes of rock, you are a philistine.
What concerns me here is not what goes through Tunick’s mind as he choreographs the wide Sargasso Sea of human flesh spread before his lens (though it is my suspicion that his cerebral processes lack depth) but rather what motivates the volunteers to cast aside inhibition, modesty, and, above all, individuality, and become the naked and anonymous components of a manipulated mass. The motives are no doubt many and varied – exhibitionism, daring, boredom, rebellion, the desire for a bit of a giggle to name a few – but whatever the reason, thousands of people from different countries, climates and cultures all over the world have rushed to take part in Tunick’s installations. They have risen from their beds at 4am, gathered together on a misty riverside, or the tarmac of a deserted highway, or on the elevator of Selfridges, stripped off their clothing, rolled on the ground, bent over and touched their toes, waved their arms in the air, and declared it all to be life-affirming and life-enhancing.
What greater encouragement could a marketer want than this universal demonstration of human suggestibility? The biggest obstacle to those who would govern our lives and bend us to their will is individualism, a refusal, or at least a disinclination, to be part of the mass. And yet so few are the opportunities for self-expression in this age of the admass that the desire for individualism is easily turned to commercial advantage and swallowed up.
It is a peculiar fact of life that every woman with a tattoo on her shoulder, every man with a ring in his ear, every bore with a four-wheel drive, every poseur drinking lager from the bottle, believes he or she is asserting their individualism. I’m willing to bet that every overweight and out-of-condition Tynesider who stripped off for Tunick thought of it as a form of self- expression rather than as a willing submission to a foolish form of conformity.
Tunick has shown what every marketing person knows to be true – that there really is no limit to human gullibility and that, paradoxically, it is only when they are absorbed in the amorphous anonymity of the mass that people feel truly unique and different.
I look forward to the feature film. The story of an unfulfilled northern hair designer, played by Dame Helen Mirren, who, as part of a Tunick moon-in, conjoins her naked buttocks to 3,000 others and in a harmonious synchronised lifting-skywards, discovers the meaning of life.