Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dead Tropes of SF: The "Robes of Dignity"


I was on a panel at the SFWA tent at the Baltimore Book Festival last week when somebody asked for an example of a science fiction prediction that didn't pan out.

"The 'Robes of Dignity!," I cried.

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, a period roughly coterminous with the New Wave, a lot of specifically young and male writers predicted that, because the human body is a beautiful thing, in the future everybody would walk around totally naked.  {Subtext:  Thus allowing them, the writers, to see naked women.]  Then, when they reached age 40, they'd put on the Robes of Dignity, covering their bodies from neck to foot.  [Subtext:  And sparing them, the writers, from the sight of their parents' naked bodies.]

This was, I said, in essence an adolescent male fantasy.

"And one made up by adolescent boys who weren't spending any time with adolescent girls!" Brenda Clough added.  "Or they'd have noticed that adolescent girls spend every penny they can get hold of, buying new and novel things to wear."



Ken Houghton said...

Hmmm; I've read a lot from that time period and don't exactly remembr the trope being ubiquitous.

Did anyone who had not made a good living in the "pron" industry--cough AgBob cough--or (possibly)grown up in an Orthodox community suggest such a thing?

David Stone said...

WHen I think about pan-nudism, it's not so much the idea of people willing to be naked, but rather various issues related to personal and public hygiene, that makes it seem unlikely. I mean, how would naked people sit down in public?

Mark said...

I think Heinlein was hot on this trend a decade earlier. For the last half of "The Puppet Masters" (1951) everybody without a Titan on their backs was garbed in the robes of dignity - not to mention the openning of "The Year of the Jackpot" with its nude scene. H.L. Gold's GALAXY was a teen boy's delight.

Zack Weinberg said...

I don't recall ever seeing Robes of Dignity, but there definitely was a period in which authors seemed to be inserting naked people, or sometimes entire sex scenes, just because it was now possible to publish books containing such.

Re real-life nudism and hygiene, I have heard that people who practice nudism with some concern for hygiene and/or etiquette will carry around a small towel, and sit on that rather than directly on a surface that other people might touch. Cf. for instance this proposed San Francisco law.