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. Nirali 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.