Exiting the Stage, But Leaving Their Mark
Yoga’s Court Jesters
by STEWART J. LAWRENCE
It’s official: The Babarrazzi – the self-styled court jesters of the American yoga scene – have called it quits.
The quirky – and shadowy — intellectual collective that made it oh-so-hip and fashionable to stigmatize American yoga teachers as unprincipled fame- and-fortune seekers – coining the term “yogilebrities” in the process – last week bid a fond farewell to the several hundred contributors – and thousands of readers — that regularly gravitated to their site. The group – through its erstwhile spokesman and guru, Aghori Babarazzi – gave no official reason for ceasing publication, other than to say that they were eager to move on to a new web project, It’s Aghorable, and urging their fellow-travelers to follow them there.
As an experiment in post-modern, deconstructionist blogging, The Babarrazzi may have had few antecedents – and even fewer successors. Over the nearly two years of its celebrated existence, the site didn’t so much report on the latest developments in the bizarre and wacky world of American yoga as it did draw readers into a deeper philosophical reflection on the pernicious and insidious dimensions of what Marx called “commodity fetishism” — and its impact on contemporary yoga culture. Through thrice weekly blog postings that drew a bead on the wide-ranging techniques and linguistic gimmicks being used to advertise, market and sell yoga to middle class consumers, The Babarazzi raised important questions about what constitutes cultural and spiritual “authenticity” in the context of modern capitalism and whether the inner soul and substance of what was once a sacred mind-body practice could meaningfully survive under such an unchecked commercial onslaught.
Paradoxically, perhaps, the Babarazzi tended to reject the idea – still fashionable in conservative Hindu circles — of a “pure” and “pristine” yoga that should be protected or “rescued.” And like good anarchist libertarians, they sometimes fulminated against those – myself included – who argued that contemporary yoga might be “reformed” and “regulated”. Rather, the solution was simply to “do your own thing,” practicing yoga with more integrity with like-minded souls and leaving others to drop ecstasy at yoga rave parties, attend overpriced mindfulness retreats in exotic Third World getaways, or take yoga on the road like a traveling circus and medicine show.
Still, the Babarazzi showed no mercy when it came to lampooning these same practices. While sparing many prominent male yoga innovators like Indian-born Bikram Choudhury (non-Whites were off-limits, it seems) and Anusara yoga founder John Friend, they seemed to take delight in subjecting up-and-coming female yoga superstars like Elena Brower and Kelly Morris (the latter a self-described “yoga shaman”) to relentless ridicule, parsing their mind-numbing New Age lectures for hidden spiritual “meanings” – only to conclude that they didn’t actually have any. Much of what the Babarazzi drew upon for their darkly inspired commentary was already floating around the yoga blogosphere but in the hands of these mad alchemists it became a freshly concocted and deliciously mocking brew that could be sifted and savored, inspiring uncontrollable fits of laughter, then simply cast aside like stale and bitter wine. Rarely – at least in yoga circles – have so many feasted so well.