When the court jesters known as the Babarazzi, a site that was devoted to criticism of modern commercial yoga culture, called it quits in January 2014, after a two-year run, they announced their closing by saying “we have decided to finally set the monkeys who write out pieces free.”
They were being unduly modest. It’s well known monkeys refuse to read and write so they won’t be forced to work for a living.
Starting with their first posts during the debacle that became the end of John Friend and Anusara Yoga, the Babarazzi raised a pirate flag, firing broadsides at a yoga community they saw as a “silly cocktail party.”
Their TMZ approach targeted what they called yogilebrities, or ”those who trade in the likes of such stupidity as yoga image, yoga fashion, and yoga lifestyle.”
Reader reactions to the site from the beginning ran the gamut. One respondent wrote, “I don’t understand this blog or the writer’s intention.” At the same time another wrote, “It’s high time someone shone light on the turd-fest of shameless, salivating self-promotion that has infiltrated the yoga world.”
The tag line of the blog was “giving contemporary yoga the star treatment.” Sometimes it might as well have been Richard Pryor’s gag line, “I ain’t no movie star, man. I’m a booty star.”
But, behind the trash talk and cutting edge sarcasm was an earnest attempt to point out the many disconnects between the principles of yoga and the actual practice of yoga in America.
“What goes on behind the scenes in yoga studios is the stuff daytime soap operas are made out of,” said Aghori Babarazzi, the unofficial spokesperson of the group.
“Students who have never crossed that line in the studio have no idea how pig-ish some of the more fame-oriented teachers can be. And I’m not talking about the nice piggies that live on farms.”
No sooner had the Babarazzi gotten their feet wet than they ran afoul of Sadie Nardini and Elephant Journal by posting an article on EJ’s site titled ‘Is YAMA Talent More Harmful to the Yoga Community Than John Friend’s Penis Pursuits?’
YAMA Talent is a New York City-based management consultant and booking agency for teachers and brands seeking to be relevant in the yoga marketplace.
Sadie Nardini saw the piece as a below the belt slight against her, YAMA Talent cried foul – “How dare we waste time criticizing our fellow yogi’s?” – while Elephant Journal disappeared the piece from its site, protesting its lack of attribution, arguing that the Barbarazzi was not a person, so could not have an opinion.
This was before the Supreme Court ruled in the recent Citizens United case that corporations are people.
“What we do here at Babarazzi HQ is intentionally provocative,” the collective answered.
For the next year-and-a-half they posted, every three or four days, stories like ‘Whatever Western Yogi’s Touch Turns to Gold (Or Pooh?)’ about the big money leanings of bigger-than-life yoga events; ‘What’s More Boring than Athletic Wannabee Yoga Companies Suing One Another?’ about companies like Yogitoes and Lululemon keeping their steely eyes firmly on the bottom line; and ‘Snowshoeing and Yoga: Obviously You Need to Do This in Order to Be a Better Person’ about the endless proliferation of hybrids as subjects for yogic workshops.
The tabloid deconstruction of the Babarazzi writing raised the ire of many in the American yoga community, from Colleen Staidman Yee to Tara Stiles, from Off the Mat Into the World to YogaNation. It is difficult to take criticism without resentment. It can be painful, but it serves the same function as pain, calling attention to something unhealthy.
“The Babarazzi is a great asset for yoga in this modern world where concerns for what yoga is are increasingly tempered with concerns over what yoga isn’t,” said Paul Harvey of the Centre for Yoga Studies.
Although the Babarazzi seemed to reject the notion that there is one, pure yoga, they also spurned the cult of personality, the sideshow of yoga raves, and the endless merchandising of a practice for which stuff ultimately is valueless.
In the commercial world it is a truism that men exploit men for the supposed greater good of everyone. In the world of yoga self-awareness is the same as doing good.
“The Babarazzi does a good job at pointing out the hypocrisies of so many self-proclaimed gurus,” said Jacob Kyle, a philosophy graduate student and yoga teacher in New York City, “and reminds us, in its own way, that the true teacher lies within each of us.”
For all its wit and whistle blowing the Babarazzi were tilting at windmills. The imperative to exploit yoga in America is too strong. Bikram Choudhury, for example, thinks he owns 35 Rolls Royce’s, but isn’t sure of the exact number. Other than the YogaLife Institute few, if any, yoga companies are Certified B Corporations, or for-profit companies certified as being motivated by more than just a hunger for profit.
Yoga Journal, notwithstanding its endless proselytizing, is not one of them. It is an arm of Active Interest Media, a privately held company. After B. K. S. Iyengar died in August 2014 Yoga Journal celebrated his long life by immediately e-mail blasting advertisements selling Iyengar DVD’s.
When Helen Hunt gave credit to Mandy Ingber, a popular LA yoga instructor, for getting her body “Oscar-ready”, out came ‘Yogalosophy’. “It’s truly cool!” gushed Glamour. Emma Watson and Ryan Kwanten have become certified yoga teachers, completing the circle of yoga teachers becoming celebrities to celebrities becoming yoga teachers.
The Babarazzi’s announcement that they were publishing their last blog post and desisting from further antagonizing celebrity yoga teachers and organizers of national yoga events snarked of the status quo: “The Babs is Closing Up Shop. Everything Must Go. Crazy Sales and Deals.”
Even though it is uncertain whether the Babarazzi had a bunch of monkeys pecking away on keyboards writing their material, it is certain they never sold out to buy peanuts for the monkeys, since they never had anything to sell other than their iconoclasm, which is not a commodity.