Hollywood Boulevard at Highland Avenue and New York's Times Square are in many ways sibling attractions separated by 2,500 miles.
Both are at the heart of entertainment districts that draw tourists from around the world. Both used to be seedy areas and are now epicenters of corporate media influence. And both are populated by tips-seeking street performers, many of whom dress like big-screen characters—Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman.
But New York has, uh, topped us in one endeavor: Times Square features women who use only body paint to cover their breasts.
While Los Angeles authorities have lately taken a hands-off approach to the boulevard's superheroes, New York state and city officials have vowed to crack down on these performers.
Mayor Bill de Blasio this week launched a task force to see what can be done about what locals there call desnudas — Spanish for nudes.
The New York tourism “experience has been diminished by the proliferation of topless individuals and costumed characters who too often harass people and expose families to inappropriate acts,” he said in a statement released yesterday.
“I think it has to be stopped,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told a local news station this week.
Perhaps the topless women should come west, as the founders of the Hollywood film industry did a century ago when they fled the patent tyranny of Thomas Edison.
You see, in Los Angeles, being a woman without a top on is not necessarily a crime. It can, however, be a misdemeanor. But the Los Angeles Police Department doesn't generally arrest women simply for letting their breasts go al fresco.
LAPD Commander Andrew Smith:
We have the “Nude Bike Rides” here every year in L.A., and we don't make arrests. In talking to the City Attorney, they will not prosecute for simple public nudity unless there is an overt sexual act/gratification. … We will respond to citizen complaints and investigate, but it is unlikely we will make an arrest.
We reached out to the City Attorney's office but did not hear back.
L.A. municipal code language shows that the city forbids nudity “below the upper edge of the areola” at parks, playgrounds, beaches and adjacent “waters.”
Under state law, being topless for women isn't criminal unless it can be proven that there was “intent to to arouse,” San Diego attorney Stephen R. Brodsky explained to us previously.
Interestingly, New York has also been hands-off when it comes to topless women — reportedly since 1992. But the specter of these women arousing all this press has inspired officials to try to find ways around the state's interpretations of free speech.
If the Big Apple also cracks down on costumed superheroes, however, there could be legal trouble.
In late 2010 a federal judge ruled that Los Angeles police can't sweep Hollywood Boulevard's superheroes off the street just because they're annoying to a certain degree. The LAPD fielded complaints about aggressive panhandling and fighting among masked competitors.
Today the characters can carry on, but often there are foot-patrol cops watching from a close distance.
By the way, the annual Go Topless Day on the Venice Boardwalk starts at 2 p.m. Sunday at Navy Street in nearby Santa Monica.
“We’re inviting women to free their bodies from repression and recover their self-esteem,” says GoTopless spokeswoman Lara Terstenjak. “Freeing the nipples frees minds.”
Tell that to New York.