The other day, YAMA Talent founder, Ava Taylor, posted a response to “elitist yogi’s” [sic] who have allegedly criticized her, her yoga talent agency, and the yoga teachers she represents. The post can be read in full here.
In the beginning of the post Ava lists a number of accusations by people she says “think that they know the only true & right way to yoga.” She does not call out the offenders by name, but rather refers to what I imagine to be specific accusations lobbed against her and her patrons. She states:
“Whether it is not wanting to sleep on someone’s couch when teaching at a studio (Diva!), being on TV saying “Pat” in reference to Patanjali (Fame seeker/dumbing down yoga!), having an agent help them manage their business, (Yoga isn’t a business! Commercialization is wrong!), seeking opportunity rather than waiting around for it to happen to you (You’re teaching for the wrong reason!), or, actually expecting someone to pay you because they signed a contract agreeing to. (You can’t dress like that in class, you can’t rap that mantra – I can go on for hours about all the negative ish [sic] I have heard very talented capable people having about what they dislike about someone else’s yoga.”
As can be seen, the offenses come across as rather tame. Here we have references to jesting about a person’s verbiage, arguing against commercialism, mocking pretentiousness, and challenging entitled notions of wealth, all of which seem pretty standard fare for a dynamic public discourse about public figures promoting their public agendas publicly about the increasingly public practice of yoga. And, while for some the level of mockery and criticism might seem to be unwarranted, it is important to remember that the criticism is largely directed at a pop cultural meme known as “commercial yoga culture,” the face of which is embodied in the yogilebrity, the support, in part, founded on talent agency platforms. For as Ava Taylor states:
“I am doing everything in my power to create a world where being healthy is worthy of celebrity….”
It would take years to catalog the extent to which people have been criticizing and, more importantly, poking fun at public figures, celebrities, and the world of commerce that supports both. We see this in caricatures….
Sometimes these acts are done just for fun….
Other times as a form of social critique….
All have their merits, as all fall squarely within the diverse tradition of graphic social commentary. And, when done with acerbic wit and razor sharp humor, critiques of public figures of upward mobility can take on an almost revolutionary appeal and has the effect of changing the tides of society’s trajectory.
What’s telling about Ava’s response, however, is that she seems to see herself and her business as somehow outside the realm of mockery. That her, it, and the celebrity yoga instructors she promotes are somehow unworthy of critique, both funny, serious, or satirical, unworthy of being at the receiving end of social commentary:
“[H]ow dare we (conscious individuals) waste time criticizing our fellow yogi’s who are working incredibly hard in their own way to bring these tools and messages to the masses? It is only a detriment to focus on throwing stones rather than supporting one another to grow our [sic] all our respective yoga businesses (and for the record, if you’re getting paid to teach, you DO have a yoga business).”
Rather than seeing the criticism against her “talent” as valid critiques against what many feel to be an aggressive commercialism, Ava chooses to read public response as an affront to her missionistic tendencies, her noble desire to, as she states later in the piece, have the tree of yoga “flower, bloom, and broaden its reach.” That somehow Ava’s mission is simply to “spread the good word.” With statements like these, we are lead to believe that Ava’s mission is irrefutable and, ultimately, pure.
This is curious as Ava criticizes those whom she suggests as being yoga purists “quite fond of being outspoken regarding how ‘non-yogic’ they perceive my company or clients to be.” She calls out people who “think they know the only true & right way to yoga.” In essence, Ava is stating that those who wish to define yoga for another are in the wrong.
Now, I don’t have the numbers, and I’m way too lazy to go and round them up, but I’d bet my mother that commercial yoga culture spends more time explicitly defining what yoga is, and with a bigger budget supporting it, than a few random commentors on yoga blogs or a site like The Babarazzi.
On the contrary, commercial yoga culture is rife with declaratives of what yoga is. “Yoga is about expressing yourself.” “Yoga is about freedom.” “Yoga is about being who you really are.” “Yoga is about standing up for what’s right.” “Yoga is….” “Yoga is….” “Yoga is….” Commercial yoga culture uses such empty language in order to cast a feel-good net far and wide so as to catch as many potential consumers as possible. Were commercial yoga culture to stop defining yoga in terms so loose that yoga became literally anything consumers wanted it to be, commercial yoga culture would risk alienating those with expendable incomes. In effect, it is bad business for commercial yoga culture to allow yoga to be anything less than, well, everything.
But, Ava does not seem to be interested in challenging that agenda. According to Ava’s piece, when it comes to commercialism, she would rather replace one product for another:
“Someone is going to be on TV with a message – imprinting and influencing your family, it may as well be a positive one. I’d rather have them hearing about Pat [Patanjali] than Lindsay [Lohan].” [brackets added]
Setting aside the defeatist tone, what’s interesting about the above statement, in addition to its irony, is that it shows how, despite her wanting to create a world where “Pat” is promoted over “Lindsay,” Ava fails to realize that her business, a business that aims to market the personalities of yoga teachers, replicates the culture that creates “Lindsay.” And yet, it should come as no surprise to know that “Lindsay” *is* because commercial culture *is*. If reforming the market is what you’re after, than Lindsay is not what is needed to be replaced. The celebrity culture that created Lindsay is where you should be looking. But, that is hard to do, if looking at celebrity culture means you will have to look at yourself.
And, this is where the philosophical dead end that is “conscious consumerism” comes into focus—where the idea that if we simply swap out a supposedly unhealthy product with a supposedly righteous one falls short of rectifying the problem of hyper-consumerism. Capitalism, while a fine enough system of exchange on the one hand, is ill-suited when placed in a context of rampant inequality. A supply-and-demand economic wreaks havoc on marginalized communities who create a hell of a lot of demand, but can not necessarily afford the supply unless it is manufactured to be of less quality or by less restricted labor practices, which, as you can imagine, simply creates more inequality.
Nevertheless, Ava believes that her public platform, and the public platforms of her most well-marketed personalities, are, for some reason, untouchable. Apparently, the only thing Ava’s roster of yogilebrites deserve is a pat on the back. The projection of an objectified personality and its schtick must be accepted, revered, and congratulated on a job well done. To Ava, critique is a detrimental “waste of time.” But who, or rather what, is really being criticized?
The human being is far too complex to market adequately, so it is required to essentialize the human in order to make it sellable. To this end celebrity culture promotes personalities. It deals in a humanity objectified. It does not promote human beings as that would not be cost-effective—too many unforeseeable outliers floating around. In order to rectify this potential disaster, celebrity culture must first bifurcate the human in order to separate out a marketable “self” or personality from the human. From there, an audience well-versed in pop cultural memes takes over. This is how someone like Mr Rogers can simultaneously be both “Mr Rogers the Human Who Helps Children,” and “Mr Rogers the Hilarious Pop Cultural Icon Who Was Obsessed with Befriending His Neighbors and Changing His Shoes.” In the same way, a person like Sadie Nardini can be both a great anatomy-based yoga instructor, as well as a walking “rockstar” schtick. The difference between Mr Rogers and Sadie is that Mr Rogers, while arguably a celebrity, did not suggest that his status was somehow a direct manifestation of child welfare, while Sadie continues to try and convince the public that “having a summer body” is, in and of itself, “yogic.” And, when the criticisms come, it’s on the defensive they go.
And, here is where the real issue lies. Celebrity yoga culture simply does not like having fingers pointed at it. It does not like being questioned or being seen. But, contrary to what Ava may see as a rising tide of unwarranted criticism by a growing cadre of yoga purists, what we here at The Babarazzi see occurring is something that we had hoped would happen as a result of our project. Commercial yoga culture, and celebrity yoga culture in particular, is becoming more and more isolated from the greater culture of yoga. It is becoming more and more seen. Up until now, commercial and celebrity yoga culture have been so enmeshed within the great culture of yoga practice so as to seem synonymous with it. People are now beginning to see that participating in commercial yoga culture and promoting the celebrity yoga teachers that ride its back are options. Specifically, celebrity yoga culture is becoming more and more a “style” of yoga, much like Bikram Yoga, Power Yoga, or Chair Yoga. A person can now choose to engage in a practice lead by a charismatic self-obsessed skin-sack of narcissism, or chose something less “celebrified.” We believe this to be a good thing.
We believe that celebrity yoga culture deserves to be seen. In fact, in this respect, we are on the side of celebrity yoga culture. We want yogilebrities and their commercial ventures to come into focus, come out in the open and be paraded around like the celebrities they wish to be. Icons require display cases. Performers need to perform. We want yogilebrites to shine in as many technicolors as can be imagined. For only when we can see yogilebrities in plain site will we have the ability to purposefully ignore them.