"It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is.”
Does this sentence ring a bell? You will probably recall that it was made by former president Bill Clinton as he was defending against allegations of an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Like any good lawyer, Clinton parsed every word of the charges made against him and ended with this remark, enviably voiding the meaning of language altogether. As those great sages from the Eighties music scene, Missing Persons, asked us a decade before that event, “What are words for?”
If words can be reduced to their singular meaning and taken out of the context of a phrase or sentence, you may find yourself wondering why call a magazine “Naked Truth?” Obviously the phrase immediately conveys the idea of content that will be blunt, forward, or direct. I would posit, however, that you should be suspicious of our name. After all, if responsible journalism is essentially about communicating facts without bias, and nakedness is the absence of concealment, then shouldn’t this magazine really be called “Bare Facts?”
Long story short, which is rarely the fun way to get anywhere, "naked truth" and "bare facts" are two different creatures. But if we take that more exciting long road, the journey better reveals their schism.
At one time, “naked” and “bare” were very much interchangeable, but the American culture has caused them to diverge at a fork in the road. “Bare” still manages to connote what it always meant, which is simply uncovered; basic; simple. You can use “bare” to describe a statue, a woman without makeup, a man without his toupee, an undecorated room, or even a fully-leafed tree stripped of its fruit. “Naked,” however...
“Naked” is a borderline dirty word, power-packed to put lascivious thoughts in the mind of even a sweet, old granny. “Naked,” has become like that kid in school with the bad reputation. It may or may not have been earned, but it’s there whether deserved or not.
For Americans, “naked” hews closer to its provocative sibling “nude,” in that it most commonly refers to an individual’s state of dress. Both words still possess the same basic meaning as their chaste cousin “bare,” but these two are from a bad neighborhood...or the more exciting one, depending on your point of view. One man’s Red Light District is another man’s Walden Pond, after all.
Over time, “naked” has even become sexualized to the point that corporate web filters will block sites that have any use of the word. It is a short step from “naked” to “NSFW.” Just looking up the calories in a bottle of Naked Juice or Bear Naked granola could land you in the hot seat with your supervisor. You’ll probably even get the requisite warning page stating, “Website blocked due to inappropriate content,” but what they are really saying is, “You won’t be viewing porn juice on this company’s internet!”
And what about naked’s French cousin, “expose?” If a man gets locked out of his hotel room sans clothes, while putting out his room service tray, we’d agree that he is both naked and exposed, which is both redundant and nonredundant at the same time. As both words inform us, this man has no covering, but “exposed” further elaborates that he is also in a great state of vulnerability.
Meanwhile, expose has its own French cousin with just a sexy accent mark added to the family name: exposé. While “expose” is a verb with a meaning that can be adjusted, exposé is a noun that can only mean one thing: We’ve got the goods on you. An exposé is a broadside to what we think is actually happening, like exposing a virulently homophobic pastor who uses male prostitutes, or a Senator personally benefitting from a Congressional vote. Exposés are, ideally, pieces of investigative journalism, but with reputations and careers on the line, they always bring up questions about veracity. Are these the facts? Is this the truth? Again, those are two different issues.
Add the numbers 2 and 2, and you get 4. That is a mathematical fact. It is incontrovertible. But it’s what you choose to do with that information that forms your truth. For example, four is better than zero if you like doughnuts, but not if you’re on a diet and trying to avoid them. It is a fact that four will always be greater than zero, but the truth of which is better is relative and ever-changing.
In court, attorneys and prosecutors are asked to present the facts, but those giving testimony, as we all know, are asked to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” with hands on a Bible, or at least a holy book of choice. If the oath is being taken by someone from the religious faithful, and he runs the risk of being struck by lightning for misrepresenting his experience with the issue, then why does this oath need three “truths?” You might be able to conjure up Beetlejuice by saying his name three times, but truth is far more aloof.
Truth simply cannot survive the filter of human flaws and personal ego. The classic Japanese film “Rashomon” elucidated on this by telling the same story through four sets of eyes. The takeaway from the movie is that it doesn’t matter how clear the facts are, we can manage to convince ourselves that what we were thinking at the time in question could be something entirely different than what we think we were thinking when we thought it...I think.
Anyway, looking for the truth can be a bit like a literal witch hunt. Tempers will rise, fingers will be pointed, damning accusations will be made, and lives can be forever altered before anyone has the clear head to question if such a thing even exists. Whose standard definition are we using, after all?
So, after this dissection, haven’t we gleaned by now that “naked truth” is an oxymoron, like “abundant poverty” or “American humility?” If we agree by now that anything labeled the “truth” is simply the collective facts held hostage by our personal experiences and even our prejudices, then can it be rescued with the claim of being “naked” and lacking embellishment? Or is it all simply one rendition of the actual facts; a vulgarization of what actually is?
Perhaps we owe Bill Clinton an apology. Maybe the meaning of "naked truth" really does hinge what the meaning of “is” is.