Hair, “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” came to the stage recently at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield, Illinois. As reported, the musical was presented complete with a “controversial nude scene.” Director Jen Wallner reportedly included the scene because it shows vulnerability: “They’re showing themselves for everything they have, just like the hippies did.”
While this particular production does not seem to have garnered the attention of concerned citizens, as did a recent production of Love! Valour! Compassion! in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the musical has had its share of controversy, resulting in the 1975 Supreme Court decision in Southeastern Promotions, Ltd. v. Conrad. There, municipal authorities in Tennessee, seeking to safeguard the “best interests of the community,” denied an application to produce Hair. As discussed in Dressing Constitutionally, while the promoters of Hair won their case, the Court avoided deciding on the constitutionality of applying nudity and obscenity laws to the musical. Several months after Southeastern Productions, the Court in Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, applied First Amendment protections to expressive nudity against a local ordinance prohibiting the display of nudity in films shown at drive-in theaters.
Dressing Constitutionally explains the Court’s separation of nudity from obscenity in cases such as Miller v. California and Erznoznik, and identifies the areas where continued government regulation of nudity in artistic productions is possible: in otherwise regulated mediums, like television; when regulation occurs in a government funding scheme, as seen in the Love! Valour! Compassion! situation; and when the regulation targets the “secondary effects” of the nudity.