Anti-celebrity Yoga Sites: The New Face of Commercialism?

photo credit: rachel_thecat

 

I don’t think I’m alone in sometimes feeling adrift amidst the massive pop-culture scene of yoga and the tidal force of commercialism.   Although I continually seek to anchor myself in practice, I feel pulled back and forth from the surface waves of pop-culture yoga to the currents of ancient wisdom that flow deeply through the tradition.  I can’t say that I entirely despise commercialism, after all, I want to make a living writing about and teaching yoga.   But I do question the degree to which commercialism seems to be steering the communal boat of yoga culture these days.    Does the yoga community have the integrity to continue to plumb the depths of this tradition or will we eventually find ourself asleep, and drowning in shallow waters?

One recent response to the commercialized, celebrity yoga empire is the newly emerged anti-celeb yoga website thebabarazzi.com, which is full of sarcasm at the expense of yoga’s commercial paradigm.  On one hand, I love that the “babarazzi” are challenging the celebrity yoga-sphere.  They are shedding light on all of the ways we are deceived by this subculture into thinking that the pinnacle of the good life is a product of  FB “likes” and page views.  Recently, YogaCityNYC conducted an interview with one of the “babarazzi” about their site, who commented that:  “There was all this celeb yoga going on – everywhere.  People even calling themselves that. We thought, wait, the other side of this is missing. Where are the tabloids, the paparazzi, because the celebs types are dominating this discussion?   It needs some balance.”

I get their point, but here’s the thing, despite the somewhat refreshing shot thebabarazzi.com takes at the all too self-serious celebrity yoga empire it also does nothing more than continue to meander through surface musings. It too remains floating in a sea of superficiality, in a way unconsciously legitimizing the very thing it seeks to uproot.  Is this a good response in the face of the narcotizing threat of commercialism and celebrity culture?  Is this really the “other side” of celebrity yoga and what balance actually looks like?  After all the paparazzi – which this parodied website was named after – are, in actuality, a robust symbol of North American celebrity culture.  Sure, they expose the dirt on its shiny façade but they also perpetuate it.

untitled vs untitled

photo credit: procsilas

So what is the true antidote to an over-emphasis on yoga’s commercial side?  What does real balance look like? I believe it comes down to this:  If commercialized and celebrity yoga is indeed the shallow surface froth of yoga’s greater complexity then what is needed is depth.  If it is a reduction of yoga’s multidimensionality then what is needed is expansion.  If it is a shiny but hollow vestige of something more substantial then what is needed is SOUL. These things are the genuine “other side” of the commercialization of yoga.  But, in order to balance the vigorous currents of commercialism the global yoga community must commit to yoga’s bigger picture.   I know we have to be able to make a living in a capitalist milieu.  But,  can we do that with the voice of depth, expansion and soul as our guide rather than commercialism as  as our master?  What might that look like?

photo credit: h.koppdelaney

 

What do you think -   Is commercialism really a threat to yoga?  What is required from the community as a whole to keep yoga from being drowned in it? Is there a balance point where commercialism and depth can be reconciled?  Do anti-celeb sites serve a purpose?

Posted by:

- who has written 2 posts on Yoga Modern.

Pam Moskie has been cursed and blessed by the insatiable desire to understand our place in the cosmos. At a very young age this desire blossomed into spiritual expedition which has led her through both bliss and lunacy to an inner landscape she now comfortably calls Home. This trek through the muck and wonder of the human condition informs her teaching of yoga. She is a writer and Master’s student in psychotherapy and lives in Camrose, Alberta.

6 Responses

  • Vision_Quest2 says:

    Sure, they are. Many of the sites are just the opposite side of the same coin.

    They are usually the type that would go to a yoga studio to just do their thing, a workshop to just do their thing. Maybe they don't fit in, exactly … but the short answer to why I think they are the same coin is, actually, coin. I was shut out of the whole scene to begin with because I found that paying my rent and my bills has taken more priority …

    I consider myself relatively lucky, however—I just won, for what it's worth, an online membership to a yoga instruction site. It is tough to extricate from the commercialism that is mass media … but then, I support music providers in the same way …

  • carolhortonbooks says:

    I enjoy the Babarazzi. The problem, however, is that critique by itself does not provide a nourishing alternative. That doesn't mean that it's not important – I believe that it is. And I love the humor. But it's also critical to work on building solid, vital alternatives to commercial yoga culture so that those who want to go deeper actually have somewhere to go.

    I think that's already happening. For example, I'm excited to be attending the first Yoga Service Council conference at the Omega Institute this month. And I'm also thrilled to be very close to publishing two books that will provide a more in-depth take on contemporary yoga than we're able to get with short blog posts (much as I love them) or our existing selection of books. One is 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice, which I'm co-editing with Roseanne Harvey (www.21centuryyoga.com), and the other is my own, Yoga Ph.D.: Integrating the Life of the Mind and the Wisdom of the Body (http://carolhortonphd.com/books/yoga-ph-d/).

    And of course, sites like Yoga Modern provide a great alternative to commercialism too!

  • Thaddeus1 says:

    I think to claim that the Babarazzi are simply "floating in a sea of superficiality, in a way unconsciously legitimizing the very thing it seeks to uproot," is to sadly miss the point and power of real satire. This is equivalent to saying that "Gulliver's Travels" is nothing more than a good children's story.

    To even take them at their word that they are merely functioning as the "paparazzi" for the emerging "yogilebrities" is entirely laughable. It is obvious that the Babarazzi are well schooled in any number of political, social, cultural schools and bring the heavy hammer of these critiques to the commercial yoga world with very few of their tongues in their cheeks. This is not something that you will ever find in the tabloid media.

    The Babarazzi are quite serious and one should not confuse humor with lack of insight and analysis. To engage with them on this level is merely simplistic on our part and I would argue merely reflects our own tendency to superficiality…kind of a fox smelling his/her own hole first sort of situation.

    As for the idea that the critique "does not provide a nourishing alternative," I have heard this charge laid at the feet of many radical critiques in the past. And while I would not argue it is completely inaccurate, I would advocate that it kind of misses the point on some level. Critique and questioning is essential and necessary to the formulation of a new paradigm and is in no way de-legitimate if it doesn't provide an alternative. I guess there were probably a bunch of Athenians who were running around complaining that that annoying Socrates didn't provide the answers to the questions that he was asking either. But, on some level, this is the point.

    The truth of the matter is that we are not all good at all aspects of what it takes to make an endeavor successful and so this is why it good that people like Carol exist to envision and enact and that people like the Babarazzi exist to smack the sleeping masses awake. Of course, many people will probably just miss the point, or worse consciously choose to roll-over.

    • Pam Moskie says:

      Thaddeus,
      Point taken, and I agree that satire is a powerful force of social, cultural and political critique. And maybe the Babarazzi hedges on that, but not satisfactorily from my perspective. And, my point is not to debate the potential role that the Babarazzi could play in offering satirical criticism of "yogaleb" culture but to state that it's not enough just to "smack the sleeping masses awake". There's no doubt that satire and this kind of criticism can offer much in the socio-political realm, and as you suggest, is essential in the de-construction of current paradigms. But I'm saying let's not stop at this de-construction. What perspectives from other realms of the interpersonal, spiritual, and intrasubjective need to chime in on evolution of yoga as a phenomenon? My call to "depth, expansion and soul" is a reminder that there are other dimensions in the territory of yoga that must be addressed if commercialism is to be genuinely questioned.

      (technical difficulties … see comment continued below)

  • Pam Moskie says:

    Thaddeus reply continued…

    This "Athenian" wasn't attempting to de-legitimize the questioner who doesn't give an alternative, but to add one more voice to the on-going dialectic (multi-lectic) that's taking place in the yoga-sphere. I would hope that the fact that I questioned the motives of the Babarazzi after being satirically unsatisfied with my first interaction with their site is not laughable, but a genuine attempt to question their method and intent. Not unlike your response to my post, my reflection on the Babarazzi was an offering of another perspective. It's too bad that it was perceived as a sniffing around at my own taken for granted burrow. In the end, however, it does prompt me to look at the Babarazzi through a different lens – a greater result of your critique than your simple concurrence might have been.

  • Barbra Brady says:

    Lively discussion, I thank you all for prompting considerate critique!