Opinion

OPINION | Curtis Varnell: One of the crazier ‘crazes’ of the 1970s was streaking

Eau Claire students, buoyed by warmer temperatures, Monday March 5, 1974 in Eau Claire, took the college streaking craze to heart. The quintet of dormitory students, wearing only hoods, and tennis shoes, ran up some 90 steps to the UW-EAU Claire upper campus, down a side walk and into governors hall men' wing. (AP Photo)
Eau Claire students, buoyed by warmer temperatures, Monday March 5, 1974 in Eau Claire, took the college streaking craze to heart. The quintet of dormitory students, wearing only hoods, and tennis shoes, ran up some 90 steps to the UW-EAU Claire upper campus, down a side walk and into governors hall men' wing. (AP Photo)

Clackers, hula hoops, pet rocks, and Rubik's Cubes. What do they have in common? They are all a part of Americana we call fads or crazes. Crazes might be the best term for them, since the term is closest to "crazy" -- which best explains why we continually get pulled into these off-beat activities that have little to do with everyday life. A fad is a type of group behavior which people enthusiastically follow on impulse, usually for a short period of time.

Most of us deny being affected by these impulses, that is until we take time to recall our childhood. How many of us danced (or tried to) the "Macarena," bruised our arms trying to rattle the clackers, or spent hours trying to solve a Rubik's Cube. Some of my generation payed $10 for a pet rock that contained a genuine birth certificate, poured ice cold water over our heads during the ice bucket challenge, or wore "coonskin" Davy Crockett hats.

The one fad we probably don't want to explain to our kids or grandkids is probably the streaking fad of the 1970s. Running around naked and in public was one of the biggest and strangest fads to ever hit America. The peak years were 1973 and 1974, as the fad caught on among college students across the nation. Not surprising since it started during the winter months, it first became popular in the South. A small event at the University of Georgia ended up attracting over 1,500 people in a mass streak. Streaking during sporting events continued through the summer of 1973 with police chasing unrobed individuals across baseball and football fields throughout America.

Always a little behind the times, streaking hit the Arkansas campuses in 1974. Ray Stevens had just came out with his wildly successful hit, "The Streak." Springtime was arriving on the campuses across the state, and the fad was in full swing. Married while still a college student, my wife and I obtained tickets to the Anne Murray concert held at old Stroupe Hall at Arkansas Tech University. Murray was an up-and-coming country star with her hits "Snow Bird" and "Danny's Song," and she put on a classic performance. During the show, she made jokes about streaking and mentioned that University of Central Arkansas students had recently held a "streak."

"What's going on?!" exclaimed my wife, noticing hundreds of students lined up along the main street of ATU's campus as we exited the building. All I could answer was the lines from Stephens hit, "Don't look Ethel." Just like in the song, it was too late! Several boys, most very obviously overweight, were running down the middle of the street wearing nothing but smiles and tennis shoes. With hundreds of gawkers cheering them on, dozens more joined the escapade. Police cars could be heard in the distance, but they were having a difficult time getting through the crowded streets. Tugging my wife behind me, we soon had the blue lights, campus, and Russellville in our rear-view mirror.

The following day, friends told me the rest of the story. Police arrested several but, given the numbers involved, soon surrendered and let the streak continue as long as they stayed on campus. The 1974 yearbook catalogues some of the events: photos of young students running to escape capture, young men with hastily thrown towels around their waists after arrest, and various other shots. A group of young men decided to bypass the dorm mom and build a human pyramid and enter the second floor of the building. Whether by accident or on purpose, my young friend who was topping the pyramid was dumped unceremoniously from the top of the pyramid. Grabbing the only support nearby, he grasped a large holly bush and proceeded to tumble through its various branches and sharp prickly leaves. Adorned with the thorns and leaves and nothing else, his streaking days were over.

Streaking, both on campus and nationwide, gradually subsided, leaving only some embarrassed participants and funny memories. Telling your kids, "don't do something just because everyone else is," may be good advice, but every generation leaves memories of when we did just that!

Upcoming Events