As a reporter for a small-town newspaper, I get to write about a little bit of everything that happens in our community, be it related to local government, crime, special events and more.
This week after decades in the journalism profession, I experienced something new: penning my first story about a streaker.
If you happened to be on Mars at the time and missed it, here’s the bare facts: A 20-year-old local man allegedly ran naked through Walmart in Mount Airy shortly after midnight last Saturday, reportedly armed only with a Subway cup containing beer.
The incident caused city police to spring into action, with their crack investigative talents leading to the culprit’s arrest a short time later at a nearby fast-food restaurant and him being charged with indecent exposure.
Well, you wouldn’t believe how many people have talked to me about the streaking case since an article about it was published on Wednesday. Based on word-of-mouth contacts, it has sparked way more interest than truly important events — such as the possibility of city property taxes rising by 5 cents earlier this year or the opioid crisis that continues to plague our county.
Everyone is making their little jokes about the incident, and asking questions such as whether The Mount Airy News will conduct a stakeout at Walmart in case such a thing happens again.
As mentioned earlier, streaking events are pretty much foreign to me as a writer and for this town in general, as no one I’ve talked to can remember the last time a case occurred here.
When I first heard about this latest display of public nudity, I immediately hearkened back to those wonderful Seventies when rock music was great, America got out of Vietnam and streaking became a fad in America. This phenomenon would bare itself largely during the 1973-74 period.
A “streaking epidemic” — as characterized by the press — hit Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, in 1973. This was accompanied by streakers flashing through dormitory halls, running across the field at football games and appearing at various other on-campus venues and events, including the university’s spring commencement ceremony.
The craze engulfed the entire country, and it seemed as if every time you watched television, there was a report of a streaker strutting his stuff somewhere, usually during sporting events.
After hitting a peak in popularity, streaking died down and seemingly disappeared — or did it really?
The Research Division at this newspaper has uncovered some startling facts about how prevalent streaking still is nowadays. A Google news search revealed no less than 69,300 reports regarding it, including most recently:
• A nude man who appeared at a world championship track event in London, racing in the running lanes ahead of the athlete known as the fastest human in the world, Usain Bolt, as Bolt began the last 100-meter competition of his career. The man had the words “peace” and “love” written on his chest.
• On Aug. 1, a man was seen streaking through hallways of the brand-new San Joaquin County Courthouse in Stockton, California. The perp explained afterward that he was seeking information on an arrest warrant and disrobed to get a deputy’s attention.
• A man who was nude from the waist down raced across the field in June during a Major League Baseball game in Milwaukee between the home-standing Brewers and the San Francisco Giants.
Those are just three of the recent incidents, not counting one involving a cat that ran across the field during another MLB game Wednesday in St. Louis — which technically was a streaker because it was not wearing clothes.
Though streaking still exists, including locally apparently, it’s still a mystery to me why people choose to engage in that practice. Psychologists have cited reasons ranging from a simple desire to be a prankster to protesting some event or drawing attention to a cause or just wanting to be a thrill-seeker who gets away with a daring act.
My belief is that streakers also are in it for the shock value they can cause, especially in the supposedly anything-goes U.S. where people went bonkers over Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl.
Of course, no one wants to see their child get flashed by some pervert — which enters the category of a sexual offense rather than basic exhibitionism.
Yet I’d wager that streaking, if indeed it is a major social problem, would simply disappear if spectators and security personnel ignored a guy, or gal, running through a stadium nude — and just turned the other cheek.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.