Stuff Gets Stupid(er)

Stuff magazine, not exactly known for its highbrow content, may have crossed a line in its continual quest to whet the prurient appetites of its readership. Alongside a June 2007 quiz entitled “Yoga Pose, Drink or Sex Position?” wherein readers have to decide in which category names like “downward facing dog” and “reverse cowgirl” belong, an illustration labeled “Vice” depicts Hindu deities overindulging in alcohol and having sex.

For me the cartoon is troubling on a number of different levels. Although I support the magazine’s freedom of expression, as a practicing Hindu, I find those images deeply offensive. Also profoundly irritating to me is the obvious ignorance at issue here. While Indian culture today is rather prudish, ancient Hinduism acknowledged and even celebrated sexuality—witness the worship of the obviously phallic Shiva lingam, or the erotic carvings at Khajuraho. But instead of playing on those readily available themes, the artist chose instead to draw Hanuman, noted for his celibacy, having sex.

OK, one could argue that the average Stuff reader is probably more well-versed in the latest Wii games than the intricacies of Hinduism, but that doesn’t excuse the artist and editors from doing a modicum of research. I mean, if you’re going to use humor to be provocative (which I doubt was their intent) at least make sure you’re doing it right. Draw Krishna cavorting with Radha and the gopis; draw Kama, the god of love, enticing Shiva from his asceticism; for heaven’s sake draw Ganesha correctly, with four arms instead of six, and overindulging in sweets rather than shots. Don’t conflate revered symbols of Hinduism with exoticized and misappropriated imagery.

And here’s another question that lingers in my mind: Would the artist have drawn, and the editors allowed, an image of the Pope getting busy with a busty bimbo? I think not. So why don’t Hindu icons deserve the same respect?

But that’s just my opinion. readers: Weigh in! What do you think of Stuff magazine’s illustration? More corporate missteps a la Abercrombie and Fitch’s debacle of a few years back? Typical Western exoticism of the “mysterious East”? Tempest in a teapot? And, more importantly, what should be done?

Thanks to Teena Sukharam Patel for the tip.

June 5, 2007
Comments are closed.
  1. June 5, 2007, 5:07 pm Sai

    yeah, i agree. but i’m not going to say anything. the minute you raise offense as a hindu, crazy white “artists” like nina paley come parading in ready to call you a hindu fundamentalist. screw that. i’m over it.

  2. June 5, 2007, 5:09 pm archigabe

    ”Would the artist have drawn, and the editors allowed, an image of the Pope getting busy with a busty bimbo? I think not. So why don’t Hindu icons deserve the same respect?”

    When Jesus Christ who is worshipped as God can be depicted suspended in a jar of urine for the sake of ‘experimental art’ called ‘Piss Christ’
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piss_Christ
    or the Chocolate Coated Jesus
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6509127.stm

    I don’t think Hindus deserve any special consideration…It seems anyone is fair game!
    Maybe the Pope was spared because he is still alive.

  3. June 5, 2007, 5:59 pm SKS

    I’m not Hindu, but i too find this to be very offensive.

  4. June 5, 2007, 7:06 pm stan

    There is big difference between a cross or depiction of Jess in urine hanging in an art gallery vs this trash. There is no way Stuff would have showed Jesus screwing some ho in a cartoon. Again, white folk feel they can degrade our religious icons.

  5. June 5, 2007, 7:34 pm snehalbhai

    archigabe,

    Funny you mentioned “Piss Christ” because I brought up that very piece in my letter to the editor, which I believe inspired many of the points mentioned in this article, and perhaps your comment as well?

    http://oxhousecameldoor.blogspot.com/2007/06/stuff-magazines-insult-to-hindus.html

    No one is asking for special treatment for Hindus. But just as Serrano had to actively defend his artistic decisions for “Piss Christ”, so should the editors of Stuff.

    Incidentally, “Piss Christ” was actually a pro-Christian piece that made the statement that Christians, through neglecting their religion, were pissing on Christ figuratively just as the artist did literally. I doubt Stuff had that kind of reverence in mind.

  6. June 5, 2007, 7:44 pm snehalbhai

    Incidentally, the reason my cousins and I started this debate was to get people to actively engage the editors of Stuff directly. Their email address iseditors@Stuffmag.com.

  7. June 5, 2007, 9:45 pm Mehul

    Freedom of Speech!

    I’m not a journalist and i’m not a writer, but for the people who are and call themselves journalists, Freedom of Speech is what you should follow.

  8. June 5, 2007, 11:58 pm Nadine Rialto

    So Snehalbhai…do you have a blog or something?

  9. June 6, 2007, 11:27 am Mehul

    I’m not going to bust out with historical facts about the Spanish-American War (1898) or Otto von Bismarck’s case for the Franco-Prussian War (1870). You and everyone who has a problem with the imagery have every right to voice your opinion against Stuff Magazine and its editors. However, Stuff magazine is a stupid magazine, most of the content in their magazine is either sexist/comedic/humorous, and making them change what they print in their magazine will accomplish nothing. Future readers are not going to gain or lose anything from reading Stuff magazine.

    If your cause was against Newsweek, Time Magazine, The Economist, other serious magazines then it would make total sense to me. They are serious magazines.

    There are different categories of entertainment/information. When you turn on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC you go to those channels for serious news, information, knowledge, etc. When you turn on Comedy Central, Cartoon Network (i.e. adult swim), Spike TV you go there for the comedy/humor and yes it might offend many people. There’s a difference, and people who read these different magazines and watch these different TV channels go to these specific magazines and channels for specific kind of entertainment and/or information. We have choices and this is what makes our country great. People have the choice to order a subscription to a specific magazine. People have the choice to turn on the channel or turn it off.

  10. June 6, 2007, 12:01 pm sandeep

    while some of us may find this offensive, freedom of speech and expression is for the larger good. can’t really argue that.

  11. June 6, 2007, 12:47 pm bsc

    You are offended. You have that right. You also have a right to speak your mind. Stuff magazine shares that right. Take away Stuff magazine’s right, and you are in turn taking away your own right to have this blog. The beautiful thing about this country is we all have a right to express ourselves without fear of censorship. This concept is lost when we see broadcasters losing jobs due to organizations making complaints about their choice of content.

    Let’s try to understand the true reason for their loss of work: money. That’s right, without money, none of these major corporations and broadcasting firms care what anyone thinks. Scare away the advertisers, and no matter how loyal a company is to it’s employee(s), they still have to keep their profits in the black.

    We could argue about the logistics of this situation, but really, was this presented as a factual article based on the origins and belief systems that the Hindu culture embraces? No. So what is the real issue here? Are you upset that they weren’t making fun of christian religions? Perhaps if it was judaism you would have felt better.. but would you have protested as you are now? Probably not. Would you have made broad generalizations about other religions based on this article if it encompassed them. Probably not. And for the small majority of the literate population that can not form sensible opinions based on presentation and source, we will just have accept not everyone can be intelligent enough to not only use a computer, but to post their “freedom of speech” on an internet blog.

    I welcome your responses…especially those that address an issue..

  12. June 6, 2007, 1:26 pm Bill

    bsc,

    Here’s my response.

    First of all let’s be clear about what freedom of speech means in this country. The first amendment only applies to government–the government cannot censor our freedom of speech (with a few exceptions). However, this does not apply to private individuals and institutions. Companies and magazines can censor their employees all they want.

    Now is it generally a good idea to have a company or magazine that is full of censorship? The answer is no. The idea of censoring ideas and criticisms violates the spirit of a free exchange of ideas, the market place of ideas derived from the Enlightenment values our first amendment was founded upon.

    However, this aforementioned quiz and its pictures were not criticisms or debate. They added nothing to the concept of a marketplace of ideas. They weren’t critiques on religion in general. They were just plain stupid and misinformed.

    Also, I highly doubt that they would have treated other religions such as Christianity and Islam in the same dismissive manner. This perpetuates the idea that Hinduism is a barbaric baseless religion that is not to be taken as seriously as these other aforementioned religions.

    Now as a reader of the magazine you have the right to voice your opinion about its content. If the content is not suitable to you, then you will not read it. The magazine, in turn wants to do all it can to keep its readers, well, reading.

    As I general rule I believe that readers should hold up a preference for a freedom of ideas, an exchange of beliefs and criticisms. Readers and viewers should not require censorshp of ideas just because they don’t like or agree with them.

    Now again, this quiz and its pictures added nothing whatsoever to such an intelligent exchange. It was just a space-filler, a blob of ignorant drivel. For this reason I’m not going to read “Stuff” magazine and I’m going to let its editors know why. I took the same stance with Don Imus. I didn’t necessarily want him to be fired. I just felt his show added nothing to political and social debate and at times included racist commentary. I felt the broadcasters could offer something better. And “Stuff” can too. It’s not “uncool” to be intelligent despite what this magazine seems to be perpetuating.

    A bit of a tangent here, but to clarify my stance on racist material and ideas:

    Companies and magazines have the right to publish all the racist material they want. But I’m not going to read it. And intelligent and/or mainstream (not always compatable) outlets rarely air or print these views? And why is that? Because racist ideologies have been largley deconstructed and delegitimized through the process of the free exchange of ideas. This view is not heard in most socio-political debates because its stance has been found lacking. The racist’s say on most issues is not taken into consideration because a majority have found it a poor and unreasonable idea not supported by facts.

    The same can be said of stupid and useless ideas and concepts just like the quiz and pictures depicting Hindu gods. They’re ignorant and pointless. And the editors should know that material like this won’t attract readers. If you want the mainstream material to change, if you want more intelligent commentary, you need to let the editors know.

    The end.

  13. June 6, 2007, 5:02 pm JesusandMo

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/2005/11/24/body/

    Hit top Arrows >> each time to read next comics.

  14. June 6, 2007, 11:19 pm Mehul

    Your Right.

    Everyone should go out and volunteer/work for Real Causes:
    http://www.avert.org/aidsindia.htm
    http://www.savedarfur.org
    http://wiki.vibha.org

    In NJ:
    http://rwjms.umdnj.edu/hiphop/
    http://www.rmh-cnj.org
    There are more volunteer programs available in your local areas, searching on google can be a start.

  15. June 6, 2007, 11:56 pm Bill

    Off topic but since Darfur is probably the most pressing and immediate issue facing the globe today and I never miss a chance to mention it:

    I’d go with the Genocide Intervention Network (http://www.genocideintervention.net/index.php) and the Enough campaign (http://www.enoughproject.org/) as well, both very active and effective groups trying to put an end to the genocide in Darfur.

  16. June 6, 2007, 5:26 am snehalbhai

    Freedom of speech and artistic expression are central issues to this debate that I totally support.

    Nadine, the reason I keep linking to the other post is because it’s easier than readdressing those issues here. It’s in the hopes that informed debate can progress beyond the obvious.

    Why is that important?

    This isn’t not about censoring art (which I’m against) or apologizing for an insult. This is about raising the cultural IQ in a country that has the power to overthrow foreign governments but can’t, for example, even name one difference between Sunnis and Shias even though it’s officiating a civil war between the two.

    I’m just trying to get enough intelligent people to write the editors of Stuff. Hopefully, the editors in turn, will print something that will get their readers (some of whom, sadly enough, may become tomorrow’s decision makers) up to the mind-numbingly simple level where they know that Hindu gods in porn might be construed by some as offensive. The lesson may come in handy one day.

    So yes, Nadine, I have a blog.

  17. June 6, 2007, 11:59 pm Sumith

    I’ve seen and heard things in various media online, print and TV which are often meant to be humorous and likely to offend some group in the society, Well this is just another one which obviously is senseless but who cares eh?

  18. June 7, 2007, 5:34 am snehabhai

    Mehul,

    I’m sorry you don’t consider raising cultural awareness a “real cause”. Not many do.

    I appreciate your advice on how to better spend my energy. I should mention that I do pro bono work for non-profits; that I donate to charities; that I volunteer my time by writing (without pay) about many issues in which I have no vested interest…not just this one, which I support your right to trivialize. But I do welcome your further insights as to how I can be a model humanitarian awareness and volunteer work like yourself, ELSEWHERE, not here.

    I welcome any on-topic comments.

    Bill,

    I appreciate your thoughts on Darfur. We can discuss that ad infinitum, or the unresolved and seldom-mentioned Congolese genocide (four million dead dwarfs Durfur’s half-million). But there are other fora for that. I’d rather stay on-topic.

    Sumith,

    Unlike Buddhism, Hinduism rarely gets portrayed or taken seriously in Western media. When it does, it’s as an amusingly savage religion, not even worth intelligently parodying. Yes, Buddhism does get made fun of too, but there are many serious depictions as well, more than for Hinduism. What’s the harm in that? Tell that to all the people who have and still do try to proselytize that savagery out of Hindus, in India and elsewhere (often violently). This is a topic that US media doesn’t find fashionable enough to cover, even though this a part of a long tradition of foreigners trying to correct the “Hindu problem.” Hindus in Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are treated like gypsies were in medieval Europe. Shall we address this issue now, or wait till it reaches Darfouri proportions?

  19. June 7, 2007, 8:06 am Sunny

    The art is well crafted and makes the point it has set out to well. It depicts deities consuming alcohol and having sex, both completely normal things in todays day and age. I think it alright, most people know its not for real.

  20. June 7, 2007, 9:49 am Bill

    Where’d snehal’s last post go? Bring it back, especially since he complimented me in it.

  21. June 7, 2007, 12:08 pm Mehul

    Your right we do agree on Freedom of Speech and don’t be sorry. Raising cultural awareness through Stuff Magazine is not possible. I doubt a men’s magazine can accomplish that with the fodder they print month to month. No one cares about Stuff Magazine and what they print. It’s a pointless magazine. It’s garbage. No one sees Stuff Magazine at a news stand and goes, “Hey i’m going to pick up this magazine and learn about another person’s culture today.” It’s a stupid magazine that will probably go bankrupt sooner or later because their riding on the coattails of Maxim.
    I don’t need to tout my skills, my work or any of the things I do. It’s not about being a model humanitarian (which i’m not, there are very few of those), it’s about choosing an actual cause that’s going to make a real difference, a difference that will be seen over the years.
    Even donating money to different charities is not enough. You want to raise cultural awareness start your own magazine, news paper, website or another form of media that is dedicated to raising cultural awareness, like what Nirali Magazine does.

    You can only teach a person who wants to be taught.

  22. June 7, 2007, 12:27 pm bsc

    Snehalbhai,

    I am impressed with your search for total understanding of all religions. Quite a task for someone who draws for a living. I’m glad that you find it so very simple to talk about yourself in such high regard. Your statements truly helped me realize what I was arguing about, and who I was arguing with.

    Thank you for clearing everything up.

  23. June 7, 2007, 5:11 pm snehalbhai

    All this talk of freedom of speech is hypocritical, especially considering I was recently blocked (though later reinstated) to this site.

    So attacks on my character, attempted censorship and Darfur aside (yes Darfur is a huge tragedy of which I’m aware, but one severe topic doesn’t preclude conversation about lesser topics, if so I can say “Darfur” every time someone tells me to take out the trash)…are we still saying that writing a letter to a magazine is a bigger waste of time than posting comments about not writing a letter to a magazine?

  24. June 7, 2007, 6:32 pm Nirali Magazine

    Snehalbhai: You were not purposefully blocked from this site. Your posts have activated our publishing platform’s spam filter due to their nature and they are automatically “harvested.” Our administrator has had to manually reinstate them. We are not “censoring” you; your comments just happen to fit the profile of spammers as identified by our spam blocker.

  25. June 8, 2007, 3:57 am Arvind

    I am a hindu and I am deeply hurt to see the picture , Freedom of speech does not come without the responsibility that you does not hurt someone’s emotion . Why do magazines and companies do this to get cheap publicity . You follow your religion and I follow mine .

  26. June 8, 2007, 6:38 pm ANJALI

    IGNORANCE IS BLISS IS AT ITS PEAK
    THIS IS RIDICULOUS AND UNSETTLING
    WHAT’S THE NEED TO DISCUSS RELIGION ANYWAY? JUST BECAUSE IT’S AMERICA…FREEDOM OF SPEECH ETC… THAT DOES NOT PERMIT STUPIDITY

  27. June 8, 2007, 9:52 pm Jaydeep

    Can someone please let me know in which issue of STUFF did this illustration of Hindu deities appear?
    I would be really grateful for the info.
    ciao!

  28. July 23, 2007, 10:40 am bsc

    It’s been awhile… but I decided to check back and see where this discussion had ended. Unfortunately, some people (anajali) still think that “everyone” should know “everything” about “everybody”. Let’s be a little more understanding… I mean.. look at the total idiot that was elected president; if that doesn’t sum up the average (or sadly above average) limit of understanding in this country, I don’t know what else would. And, lets not forget, this was done for a comical purpose.. if the title were something like “sex pose, drink, or hindu god” then I think you may have a right to be a little more offended, but still, no right to argue with them.. because majority, minority, whatever you may be… if you are so insecure about your own religion, that some fool poking fun at it bothers you.. then perhaps you should find another religion that you have unending belief in, no matter what others say. Your religion is just that.. it’s your’s. If you force everyone else to conform to your standards…you’re no better than the Nazis.

  29. October 3, 2008, 7:11 pm GGYP

    I am offended by this. I totally hate this people who take religion for pleasure. All the religion teaches the prinicple of love.

    why not you start with your own relious cartoon for fun-pleasure display. why make fun of other religion?

  30. October 24, 2009, 2:03 pm mr. flinch

    i think you pagans need to quit bitching about everything.
    you don’t hear bands or artists getting trashed when they use irreverent or images of Christian symbols, for instance various animals [like monkeys or cattle] being crucified, or outrightly blasphemous parodies of the Christ Himself.
    this is fucking America, man. you need to grow up and realise that nobody cares what you believe. they’re going to make fun of it if they want, because we have that right.
    look at radiohead or nine inch nails. they’ve got all kinds of stuff nailed to a cross. [look at the videos for 2+2=5 or Closer]
    you’re not the only one who gets your beliefs laughed at. grow a pair, really.