By Bernie Schmitt
Anyone who has ever watched “That 70s Show” knows that kids did some crazy things back in the day.
Yeah, that’s right. Running (I guess some may have strolled) buck-naked in a public place, avoiding capture by the authorities if one could, but accepting defeat (and a blanket) when caught. It was one of the strangest fads in the 1970s.
But it was funny, too.
The “Streaking” episode of “That 70s Show” is a grand example. In this one, the main characters Eric Forman, Steven Hyde, Michael Kelso and Fez decided they would streak at a President Ford campaign rally. But, most of the guys chicken out, so in the end it’s Eric who does the streaking — wearing only a Richard Nixon mask.
The streaking fad began in 1973, mostly at southern colleges, where the weather is more conducive to baring it all to the world. The term was coined by a Washington, D.C., television reporter who was telling viewers about 500-plus nude students at the University of Maryland who “are streaking past me right now . . .”
Laughing all the way, our hearts racing at the prospect of getting caught, we ran down the town’s main thoroughfare.
Streaking was usually done as a prank, and the more people around, the better. It was humorous to most, disgusting to quite a few, and frowned upon by valued members of the establishment, especially teachers or the police. Some were not so brazen, saving their false bravado to streak late at night, when most of their neighborhood brethren had gone to bed.
This is what happened in a small, southern Indiana town in mid-October of 1973.
Junior-high kids are old enough to know better, but they want so badly to be cool. That was me. I wanted to be cool. So did all my friends.
That’s how my buddy and next-door neighbor David S. and I laced up our Converse sneakers and stripped off our clothes to streak through the cool, autumn air.
We were letting our freak flag fly, as one of my old professors used to say. We threw caution into the windless night and let it all hang out.
All except for our faces, that is. We decided to wear plastic Halloween masks to hide our identities. You know, the kind with the thin, rubber band that always seems to snap when you don’t want it to.
Laughing all the way, our hearts racing at the prospect of getting caught, let alone being seen, we ran down the town’s main thoroughfare, giggling at the prospect of headlights in the distance. We got a few honks — well, maybe just two or three — from the pitiful, but normal amount of traffic on that street.
Then the string on my mask broke. Oh, no!
I desperately pressed the mask to my face, worried that my identity might be revealed.
We continued to run three or four blocks, turned the corner, and ran through our sleepy-quiet town where the only attention we got was from Mrs. Tuddle’s annoying little Chihuahua who barked at us through the slats of her pretty picket fence.
No one saw us, and no one cared.
Exhilarated at pulling off this obnoxious act, we ran our skinny, naked butts back to the comfort of our homes. We did the deed and lived to tell about it Monday morning in seventh-grade English.
But no one believed us.
The fad of streaking ended as quickly as our reputations did for trying to be cool.
Whether done for prank or protest, streaking got an awful lot of attention. Running naked in public seemed to be a daring contribution to rebellion, a way to engender a bit of shock and awe, a way to get people talking, a way to get them to smile.
The best-known streaking event outside of large sporting events occurred during the 46th Academy Awards in early 1974, when 34-year-old Robert Opel exposed himself to a national television audience by streaking across the stage, flashing the peace sign as he did it.
It was college students, of course, who started this. The first recorded incident was in 1804 — believe it or not — at Washington College in Virginia. George William Crump was arrested for this escapade, but he later became a U.S. Congressman.
Popular culture reflected this fad in a song titled “The Streak,” by Ray Stevens, a novelty tune that was a Billboard Number 1 hit in early 1974. There were kitschy products made, everything that included things like jean jacket patches, pink underwear emblazoned with “Too shy to streak,” and a wristwatch with a streaking President Nixon.
Ahh, the 70s.
Today, of course, streaking seems tame compared to some of things we see and hear in the news. Nudity just doesn’t seem to grab attention like it used to.
That’s too bad.
I was thinking about a run in the cool, autumn air.
A freelance writer and photographer, Bernie Schmitt also is an assistant professor of English at Vincennes University. He lives with his wife, Nancy, and family in Vincennes.