I know what I'm supposed to think about Spencer Tunick's latest installation; a gathering of 5,200 naked people on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. I'm meant to marvel that it's a moving demonstration of raw humanity, men and women stripped of artifice and illusion, vulnerable and equal. Unfortunately, what I really think – and my straw poll suggests I'm not entirely alone – is eugh, put your clothes back on.
The reason for the installation is undoubtedly a laudable one – it's to support the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and as Tunick said, "gay men and women lay naked next to their straight neighbours and this delivered a very strong message to the world that Australians embrace a free and equal society." Really, though, is the sight of thousands of naked bodies, which look from a distance like the little pink worms used as fishing bait, the best way to make a political and artistic statement? Surely mass nudity is just a cheap – and slightly revolting – way to attract attention.
Not everyone thinks so, clearly, as there are always volunteers for Tunick's nudie happenings and public nakedness seems to be having a resurgence. There are plenty of women prepared to collude with the stylist Gok Wan's bizarre penchant for encouraging them to strip down to their underwear on TV. It's utterly baffling why anyone would fall for his shtick that casting off your clothes in front of a shopping centre full of sheepish people who would probably cheer on a public execution for some free Next vouchers, is empowering. Then there are groups such as Breasts Not Bombs, who see nudity as a political tool, the men and women who rowed across the Atlantic naked for charity, and last year's calendar featuring Oxford University students in the buff. It might once have been a feminist statement; now it's just a gimmick.
Perhaps comments by one man who took part in Tunick's event shed some light on the motivation. He said that when everyone is naked, "you feel like you're dressed because everybody looks the same". Apart from the fact that a quick glance at the naked hordes shows that humans actually come in more shapes and sizes than the contents of an organic vegetable box, since when was looking the same a good thing?
One of the pleasures of clothes – apart from the obvious practicalities – is the opportunity they create to differentiate yourself. Public nudity is also billed as liberation, a chance to reveal the true self, but that really lies in a person's character, not the shape of their breasts. Actually, there is more freedom in wearing clothes because you can choose them, whereas you are more or less stuck in the body you are born with. Interesting clothes enable you to express who you really are or want to be, and rise above the genetic lottery.
It's not even body fascism that puts me off gratuitous nudity – the sight of a perfectly formed Kate Moss striking gynaecological poses in the current LOVE magazine was almost as off-putting. My objection is the fact that simply taking your clothes off is still construed as a political statement, when actually we've seen it all before. While it's sometimes big, so to speak, it's certainly not clever.