Nanny State

New York City Freaking Out Over Topless Women in Times Square

Puritan urges in a progressive city.

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When people can do as they please, limited only by rules preventing them from harming others, it's difficult to predict what they'll do and almost impossible to control it. After all, that's freedom, and it wouldn't be freedom if the outcomes were limited to ones approved by rulers. 

But that's not freedom for most politicians, who probably take a view closer to Summer's from the Adult Swim show Rick & Morty, that "freedom" is like the freedom to choose a cellphone carrier. In 2009 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg began the process of transforming Times Square from a traffic intersection into a pedestrian plaza, something local businesses opposed but the city said would lower pedestrian fatalities and ease traffic in the area.  

Opening up Times Square as a public space free of cars drew more tourists as well as more entrepreneurs of all kinds trying to service them. It's important to remember, obviously, that Times Square attracted tourists and street entrepreneurs even before it was closed to cars. In early 2006 my final journalism project at Columbia was about hip-hop artists who sold their CDS in Times Square (one of them was killed in a shootout with cops a couple of years later) and in late 2006, before I could get a job in media, I worked with a Gypsy family, dressing up as Shrek to take pictures with tourists at Times Square.  

There were all kinds of "First Amendment vendors," the phrase NYC uses to describe people who sell things they created themselves and are exempt from vending license requirements, sex workers, and what New York City politicians now call "panhandlers," entertainers who work on donations, in Times Square before the government transformed it into a pedestrian plaza. Only an idiot wouldn't have been able to predict that that decision would open the space up to more vendors, entertainers, and other entrepreneurs. But why is this a problem? 

Because progressive New York City has quite a bit of a Puritan streak. New Yorkers have been freaking out over the last few weeks, via their local media, about topless women performing at Times Square. Women. Topless. Asking for money. The horror! What do they think this is, America? Any complaints about the women physically harassing other people, of course, should be possible for police to handle using existing laws against things like harassment. The cops would rather take pictures with them—a telling sign of the "danger" these women actually pose. 

Now Mayor Bill de Blasio has set up a task force for the specific purpose of banning the topless women, and floated one solution to the "problem"—closing the pedestrian plazas in Times Square and bringing back the vehicular traffic. De Blasio believes this would also rid Times Square of the costumed children's characters some New Yorkers ridiculously fear. Because God forbid you live in New York and choose to spend your time and earn your money in a way some New Yorkers might find objectionable. They'll try to use the power of government to bully you away from your choice. 

But, as I mentioned above, Times Square had costumed characters and other people looking to earn a buck, including the semi-famous "naked cowboy," for a long time before Bloomberg transformed the area into a pedestrian plaza. That move only created space for more people to try to earn money there. New Yorkers' hate for the topless women, costumed characters, and other figures of Times Square comes from the same place that makes occupational licensing so popular around the country, even though even the Obama administration, at this point, acknowledged the negative effects overlicensing have on employment prospects and the economy.  

The same "progressive" New Yorkers have no problem complaining about the government not "creating" or "providing" enough jobs. And here they are, upset that women, and men, are making money on their own terms, in a way they don't approve of, as if living in the same city that someone earns a living gives you a right to have a say. 

Not everyone is a fan of de Blasio's proposed solution. Not because they support Times Square's entrepreneurs or understand bringing back traffic won't displace all of them, but rather because they consider the solution a "surrender" when the mayor should fight (peaceful New Yorkers trying to earn a dollar) instead.  "Sure, let's tear up Broadway. We can't govern, manage or police our public spaces, so we should just tear them up," Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, told The Wall Street Journal. "That's not a solution. It's a surrender." 

Let's unpack what Tompkins said because it, and the fact that topless women and other peaceful entrepreneurs in Times Square are a controversy, are pretty remarkable, especially given the political attention paid in the last year to overpolicing and police brutality. Tompkins, and those who want to see topless women removed from Times Square, want the police (who, remember, would prefer to take pictures with the women) to remove them. If the women don't want to go—and if they consider themselves free why would they?—the police would have to use force to accomplish what New Yorkers want done.  

This is not far off from the Eric Garner case last summer. Many New York City residents, and most New York City politicians, support the laws against selling loose untaxed cigarettes, because the sale of loosies, while it offers mostly poor people a way to have a cigarette without buying a whole pack, also takes away precious revenue from the city. New Yorkers demanded the government and the police enforce "quality of life" laws. It's why, in the aftermath of the Garner case, Bill de Blasio got away with saying he would continue to order police to strictly enforce petty laws. Some New Yorkers might protest police brutality, but many support all the laws that require police to interact with otherwise peaceful citizens to force compliance of a bullshit law. Like a ban on taking your top off and looking for donations in a public space where tourists come to gawk at behavior just like that. 

Even Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has expressed moral outrage over the topless women. That outrage is misplaced. While the country wakes up to the problems of police brutality and state violence around the nation, many New Yorkers want their government to deploy police to use force against women peacefully trying to earn a dollar. That should be the source of the real outrage.

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  1. But that’s not freedom for most politicians, who probably take a view closer to Summer’s from the Adult Swim show Rick & Morty, that “freedom” is like the freedom to choose a cellphone carrier.

    But only from among those licensed by the feds to operate in the US.

    1. Other things are okay too, just as long as they’re done within the limits of propriety (what this article haughtily refers to as “puritanism”). So-called email “parody” and nudity are two of the worst things anyone can do in America, and we should all support our local politicians in this regard. I would even go further, and urge the administration to refer these young topless ladies to the Manhattan D.A.’s office for prosecution. Even if technically speaking they have not committed a crime, that will take them off the streets. Compare the excellent job prosecutors have done with our leading criminal satire case, documented at:

      https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com

        1. Yes, it would appear that libertarians believe in the free and open expression of all viewpoints, except perhaps for ones that take a principled stand against certain libertarian excesses that pose a menace to the reputations of well-connected members of the academic community, and to the right of all Americans to raise their children in a proper moral environment… It can hardly be denied that these are the crucial problems confronting us today, with all of this nudity in public and the Ashley Madison scandal only beginning to emerge…

  2. The ongoing effort to turn NYC into Disney World instead of a city where normal people can live and work.

  3. In early 2006 my final journalism project at Columbia was about hip-hop artists who sold their CDS in Times Square (one of them was killed in a shootout with cops a couple of years later)

    But did you suffer from PTSD afterward?

  4. De Blasio and Cuomo are well aware that these topless ladies are not a threat to anyone. But they do distract the public from their real problems, like a crippling lug-nut shortage, and an incompetent government of corrupt robot elders.

    1. From what I hear the ultra-orthodox really don’t like scantily clad women and for that reason fought a proposed bike lane through Crown Heights so their oh-so-delicate and holy sensibilities wouldn’t be offended. So they do see stuff like this as a “threat,” and are only one of many insular consituencies of cranky religious nuts who the mayor has to appease.

      1. What does a bike lane have to do with scantily clad women? is there something about biking that attracts them?

        1. Bikers often wear tight-fitting clothes? I guess those could offend someone? 🙁

    2. What was it, the New York Daily News… one of the local rags tried to paint the topless women as being victims of trafficking, which is why they should be banned.

  5. What’s wrong with being sexy?

    1. It’s synonymous with being trafficked.

  6. Any complaints about the women physically harassing other people, of course, should be possible for police to handle using existing laws against things like harassment. The cops would rather take pictures with them?a telling sign of the “danger” these women actually pose.

    I like that those cops were reprimanded and transferred for taking pictures with topless women, but if they’d just beaten those women up and claimed they were resisting arrest, the union would have closed ranks and nothing would have happened.

    1. I like that those cops were reprimanded and transferred for taking pictures with topless women…

      Srsly? Why?

      No worse than cops taking pictures of someone in an Abe Lincoln costume, or a sports team mascot.

      1. Irish ?s ESB was being sarcastic!

  7. “in late 2006, before I could get a job in media, I worked with a Gypsy family, dressing up as Shrek to take pictures with tourists at Times Square.”

    OK, I did not expect this.

    1. I’m trying to get a curse on someone…could you hook a brother up?

      /sarc

      1. Cross me and I will heap curses on you.

        1. Meanwhile, my diet must be working, because I’m getting much thinner!

    2. I have a picture somewhere on an old cellphone. I tried looking for it when the Times Square Elmos were in the news last year but couldn’t find it. Gonna try to find it this weekend for a follow-up.

    3. So, Eddie, what’s with the new handle?

  8. “…Only an idiot wouldn’t have been able to predict that that decision would open the space up to more vendors, entertainers, and other entrepreneurs….”

    Or a politician.

  9. Ahh! Gone are the days of, ‘ 5 for the room, 5 for me,’ in little bodegas throughout the city. God bless those who help themselves. Not those who help themselves to others revenue streams and freedoms. Ergo, Diblasio. . . You are damned.

  10. Because progressive New York City has quite a bit of a Puritan streak.

    Hey, you’re finally understanding northeast “liberalism”. It has a conservative streak a mile wide. You’ve only been told this like 1000 times, but whatever.

    1. I think you can safely replace “New York City” with “the United States” throughout the article and it would remain largely true. What other American city would not freak out over this? I can’t think of one.

        1. Maybe. Do they have them?

          1. Yeah, on Bourbon Street. Not all the time, but sometimes.

      1. Yes, but my point is more that people tend to think of the northeast as “super blue” and that’s just wrong, because they don’t understand the traditionalist/conservative core underlying it.

        1. Fair enough.

        2. It is super blue, it’s that super blue in the northeast means something very different from super blue in the west.

        3. Blue as in blue noses.

      2. Doesn’t Seattle have that naked bike ride event? And I think public nudity is legal in SF.

        1. A law more honored in the breach than the observance, I believe.

        2. Yeah, Fremont. Generally, these are not the types of people you want to see unclothed.

          From the pics I’ve seen of New York, the women look like the type I’d like to see unclothed. So I suspect that’s why Deblasio wants them shut down.

        3. Public nudity is legal in NY as long as it’s not done in a lewd manner.

        1. Winner, winner, conch fritter dinner.

      3. Vegas. Exactly the same scene with the tourist families, cartoon characters, and topless women (though they seem to be required to have stick-on nipple covers of some kind).

    2. Yup. This all started with Guiliani and just keeps getting worse with nanny and commie mayors. I miss the old duece which was as close to the wild west atmosphere as you could get.

      1. New York is 10,000 miles away from Ed Koch’s New York.

  11. Yet another reason why NYC is a great place to visit, but a terrible place to live.

  12. And don’t I remember from my days as a NY resident the leftist, feminists fighting for the right to go topless on beaches and thus anywhere else? The right to equality with males? Where is the feminist outrage at shutting off equal protection? Who cares who else loses their freedoms as long as I don’t.. . . Oops! We are everyone else.

  13. a crippling lug-nut shortage
    .
    Plenty of WINGNUTZ! though, so we’ve got that going for us.

    1. Speaking of Shrike, he must be curled up in the fetal position about now.

  14. New Yorkers have been freaking out over the last few weeks, via their local media,

    Emphasis mine. It’s a media-driven story plain and simple. New Yorkers themselves don’t give a shit.

    1. Yes

    2. Are the media not us?

  15. Saying Cuomo has moral outrage is the funniest thing I ‘ve seen today!

  16. New Yorkers have been freaking out over the last few weeks, via their local media, about topless women performing at Times Square.

    Obviously such performers need to be licensed. And regulated. And trained. And inspected. And monitored.

    [searches for resume]

      1. +1 in the stink

  17. this whole article is stupid. There’s nothing puritanical about expecting people to wear clothes in public. Public nudity is banned, and there’s nothing non-libertarian about that.

    1. Except that, as I understand it, this behavior is legal in NY. If I ever find myself in NYC, I won’t be going to Times Square, but if this is how they choose to earn a living, more power to them.

    2. Not in New York City it’s not. The difference here is the element of money exchanging hands. So, yeah, Puritan fits pretty well.

  18. So when one of these women gets choked to death for failure to comply can we expect to see a #ToplessWomynsLivesMatter movement?

    1. No, because we have to choke her to death to save her.

  19. This reminds me of growing up in the ’80s. Back then, local governments were persecuting skateboarders in my area. Hence the ‘Skateboarding is not a crime’ tee shirt that became so popular.

    Bare boobies are legal there in that area. But if they want to add laws to prohibit such displays for so called ‘moral outrage’, I would say they are heading backwards. Sounds like there are some jealous people up there who are uncomfortable with their own physique.

    Seriously, so many images of the classical works that we see in schools show just as much if not more.

    ‘Boobies are not a crime!’

  20. What is next? Lap dances?

  21. NY should bring back Eliot Spitzer. At least he’d be out there dancing with the topless women.

    1. Yeah, but that scumbag would also think up some pretext to prosecute them.

      -jcr

  22. If these women are forced to cover up their bare breasts than wouldn’t the Naked Cowboy have to cover up his nipples as well, to avoid any discrimination?

  23. “Puritan urges in a progressive city.”

    Progressives ARE Puritans. This is not something new.

  24. Here’s a pic David Nolan sent me back in 2000 during my quixotic run as a Libertarian against Jerrold Nadler : http://cosy.com/boba2k/Hillary.jpg .

    1. You are an evil, evil person.

  25. “Even Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has expressed moral outrage over the topless women. That outrage is misplaced. While the country wakes up to the problems of police brutality and state violence around the nation, many New Yorkers want their government to deploy police to use force against women peacefully trying to earn a dollar. That should be the source of the real outrage.”

    It perhaps should be, but it won’t be. Did you, by the way, ever hear about the differences between things as they should be, and things as they are?

  26. I didn’t know that topless women in the streets asking for money was peculiarly American but it’s encouraging to see Libertarians not freaking out about it.

  27. “New Yorkers have been freaking out over the last few weeks, via their local media, about topless women .”

    Let’s be honest, “their local media” is known for blowing the most trivial happening completely out of proportion. The fact is, for every New Yorker who is upset about these ladies, there are ten or more of us who simply don’t give a shit. The Post and the News are nothing but news rags and, as always, they’re completely full of shit. Go to Times Square and see how many people appear to be shocked and offended. Now watch how many people just walk on by as if the performers aren’t even there. There’s your answer. Also, Times Square is not at all closed to vehicular traffic, only a section of Broadway inside the Times Square area is restricted. The rest of times square has tons of vehicular traffic in it, at all hours.

  28. What percentage of American woman really want their nipples freed?

  29. No photos – didn’t happen.

  30. THAT WASN’T WHAT ERIC GARNER WAS DOING AT THE TIME!! How many times do we have to bring that up?

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  32. WHY WAS THIS NOT A THING WHEN I WAS 16 IN MANHATTAN????

    1. That link is to: Salma Hayek poses topless for Allure

      1. Praise Jebus…

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  34. Darn’t it all and I miss being in Times Square when this was happening.

  35. What does “harming others” mean nowadays, in the sentence “people can do as they please, limited only by rules preventing them from harming others?”

    Given that it is now apparently understood that it is possible to harm someone else by hurting their feelings, one of the most basic tenets of libertarianism is being challenged. By moving the goalposts of what constitutes harm to another, the anti-liberty groups are severely limiting what other people can do.

    1. Yeah, two fundamental “attacks”: 1) individual/ability to consent; 2) harm.

  36. It’s public property. The most neutral solution would be one of splitting it into areas with different rules, allowing women to be topless, and preventing them from being topless, respectively. That brings up a problem of information costs, with a plethora of diverging rules.

    That being said, your condemnation of people who want public space without nude breasts, while worth noting, is not objectively convincing. Is it puritanical to prohibit sex on public property?

    As for equality, women’s breasts (breasts) are more sexual than men’s chests. One may argue that this shouldn’t be so, and about whether making them a more common sight would change that. (The massive proliferation of sexual content obviously has not dulled the appeal of breasts yet.) Further, it’d be necessary to devise a much more encompassing plan of interventions, as it doesn’t do to work against women’s disadvantages (less easily naked) while leaving advantages in place (men’s sex deficit; principle of least interest). Trade offs.

  37. once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen em both.

  38. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,

    http://www.homejobs90.com

  39. When the feminists were marching topless through greenwich village back in the 80s and demanding that the cops do nothing about it, what they wanted was for unattractive women to flop their jugs around for attention. Now that hot chicks are giving men something pretty to look at, the leftards in city hall don’t know WTF to do.

    -jcr

  40. I’m sure it’s already illegal to be nude in public in NYC, so if they can apply that law, then do it. But I assume they can’t since the women are technically covered (with paint) and therefore are not truly nude. In the end, people need to grow up and stop being afraid and ashamed of human nudity!

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