Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators

Around the time Beyoncé was being criticised for cultural appropriation of India with her portrayal of a Bollywood star in a music video, Justin Trudeau’s portrait on Pakistani truck art was getting approbation. Although the Canadian prime minister’s role in the ‘take-over’ was passive, few seemed to realise or even care that this was essentially a tribute to the good white man as samaritan.  

No culture can live on an island, or off it. However, as we get exposed to outside influences, we tend to become proprietorial over what is ours, although we do not own it or even desire it. Those who believe in retaining the purity of a culture — which is not the same as the purity of a genre of music or art or cuisine — seem to propagate its superiority, and in some instances its ‘untouchability'. 

In the reaction to Coldplay’s Hymn For the Weekend there is perhaps a belief that Beyoncé and Chris Martin should not be tarnished with the kitsch of Bollywood and loud Indian colours. Is that not how the West often views Asian smells and sounds in the green-card ghettos it nurtures to showcase its immigrant-friendly sanitised face? 

There is also the aspect of white people calling out a woman of colour. Much of the censuring is over Beyoncé ‘trying to be Indian’ as opposed to Chris Martin ‘doing India’. That she is also portrayed as an angel to a white man could be a discomfiting factor too: 

“Oh, Angel sent from up above
I feel it coursing through my blood
Life is a drink, your love's about
To make the stars come out”

Western appraisal very likely sees such deification as more dubious than the sponging on a loaned fantasy. 

* * *

Justin Trudeau is a borrowed fantasy. His portrait on Pakistani truck art makes him into a true hero (yet again). Little is discussed about the art, and how clear it is that everyday art, as much as 'statement' art, is alive to politics. Truck art has been used to convey everything from local issues to cross-border peace. 

Trudeau’s heroism has much to do with the perception of multiculturalism that he stands for. His “because it is 2015” liberal inclusiveness of women and immigrants in the cabinet, however, was also about profiling. It being “like Canada” was the bottomline. The diversity was held together in a clasp, as it were. Although there is nothing bad about it, he has been doing stereotypes as well. Of the three Sikhs in his cabinet, the defence minister is a guy who did the mandatory “taking on the Taliban”.

However, the celebrations made him into a benefactor, when it should have been about the talent pool he would benefit from. The messiah has a better shelf life, though. His welcoming of Syrian refugees, even if Canadian children singing a welcome song in Arabic happened a week before their arrival, is his passport to the Muslim heart. But it is their heart that he has captured. There is indebtedness in the art that takes a man on a roadshow miles away from where he is.

The acceptance of such art is because it is almost court painter-like. A pop band taking to the streets is naively seen as more rugged and infringing. 

The damning of living stereotypes is elitist. Over-reacting to street scenes of celebration, of poor children expressing joy, of yogis and peacocks is denial of a culture too. Every single moment portrayed in the video is visible to Indians on any given day, depending on where we are. I’ve traveled through much of the country and I have preferred to look for a reconstructed mud hut or preening birds or caves and palaces, posing with locals, sometimes dressed like one, even though these are alien to me, rather than visiting factories and schools to figure out India’s progress. 

If being Indian absolves me of appropriation, then it is not culture we are concerned about but borders and the fear that we will be colonised and our indigenous markets used for moneymaking schemes, much like what the East India Company did. (Coldplay being a British band does not help.) However, the protectors of culture do not use the same yardstick for big companies like McDonald’s when it goes local. The fact is that McDonald’s has a far more deleterious effect on societies that it has sneaked into than any pop version precisely because the latter’s projection of another culture is inauthentic and can be recognised as such. 

We do not hear about Asian societies claiming the West. Urban Indian cinema often zooms into the streets of Manhattan and London, its characters’ angst drowning in the Thames or finding its feet in Brooklyn. That this is not considered cultural appropriation is a nativist position where the West is seen as beyond reach, therefore not vulnerable to hijacking.

Interestingly, by questioning the use of outmoded stereotypes by the ‘occupiers’, the critiques seem to suggest that skeletons are being appropriated. Given the revivalist spirit in some societies, including an India that wants to include Vedic education, such exhumation might then denote a renaissance of the culture.

* * *

Such sequestering of ideas and mores is almost rightwing where, for example, immigrants are given guidebooks on how they should behave in the host country. 

When Madonna sings Sanskrit shlokas, or a Hollywood star gets a tattoo in Hindi or a model wears a dress with Arabic calligraphy, there are two kinds of reaction. Either they are seen as a nod to these cultures or an insult to them. 

Coldplay’s video is most certainly not a Slumdog Millionaire clone. At no point does Chris Martin flash a dollar bill. And he does not watch the Beyoncé film in a run-down movie hall with foreigners like him. The audience is Indian, and he is very clearly the outsider gawping at a removed-from-mere-mortals star. 

If the video is in bad taste for showing India’s poverty, then this is what we market. From NGO brochures to fashion designers ‘wanting to help artisans’, we display poverty mannequins. The bestsellers on the ‘real India’ are written by those who do time in India or Indian expats who get nostalgic about what they had shut their eyes to when they were here.  Some years ago, a five-star hotel in Chennai had introduced “authentic Nair tea” for “those who are rich and famous and can't be seen sipping tea from a glass tumbler at a roadside stall”. 

* * *

In one shot of the Coldplay video, there are fleeting glimpses of the Indian actor Sonam Kapoor. Why did they not use her in place of Beyoncé, has been one reasoning. This is not the first time that liberal discourse has pushed people into pigeonholes. Coldplay using an Indian for a western fantasy could be equally exploitative. The point is: Should art be so confined? 

When Mary Kom, a film based on the life of a boxer from the North East, was released there was some opposition to Priyanka Chopra, a Bollywood star, portraying her. The contention was that someone from the region would have been more appropriate because by using prosthetics to slant her eyes, Chopra was shaming the region. It is rather obvious that this argument is stuck on eyes and the superficial. It discounts the fact that the boxer herself enjoys her occasional outings as a diva. The response to this would be that she has been co-opted, which exposes the arrogance of intellectual rabidity that seeks to claim property rights over what it claims to protect.

There was a similar response when there was a film based in Kashmir. Haider was an adaptation of Hamlet with the Valley as the backdrop. None of the major characters was played by a Kashmiri. The fact is that not many of them are actors or a part of Bollywood. And why should the accusation of ‘using’ the state stick only to the creative person and not to the avaricious public intellectuals? 

Besides, reducing authenticity to geography sentences it; it is not free to evolve. We would not have had Star Trek or all those alien movies where humans appropriate outer space if all we wanted to know was the genesis of something. Genesis? What’s that?

Published in CounterPunch


The court of yarns

The other day, I was in court. I needed stamp paper for some official letter. It was a little after 9 am. A busy day had begun. Shops opening shutters, pedestrians walking purposefully towards train stations and bus stands, cars honking. It had the look of rush.

As I was about to enter the court building, it seemed as though life had stopped. I couldn't move. One side of my sandal had given way. I'd have to limp. I chose to pick up the sandal and pull out the dangling sole. Quite nonchalantly I wore it back. That's when I heard a short laugh. A lawyer. I smiled back. 

"Affidavit? I'll do."

"No thanks," I said. 

Suddenly, as if the silence had been broken by a click of the heel, I found about six men in coats offering to notarise and legitimise any form I'd give them.

It was a sad sight. These men (no women were around) had earned a law degree. Yet, they were reduced to hawking their services in the streets. Think of the disparity between the uncertainty of their jobs and the famous lawyers with their well-appointed chambers earning in lakhs for just a one-hour consultation. 

I stood near the lift and asked where I'd get the stamp paper. "After one hour," said a man chewing paan. 

I decided to go up, anyway. 

It was dark on the floor. "Kya?" I turned around. A peon wanted to know what I wanted. "Aadha ghanta baad," he said. It was progress. From one hour my wait had reduced to half. There was a room to the left. I stood at the door. A big-built man in a white bush-shirt smiled. "I am looking for stamp paper. May I wait here until they open the counter?"

He invited me in and motioned towards the chairs near the windows. It was bright, so bright that every speck of dust on the tables was visible. For the next 30 minutes, I watched. 

Plastic chairs were stacked over one another and some staffers sat on them in their stacked state. Umbrellas were opened to dry, even though it wasn't raining. The sweeper began work, and dust flew leaving a temporary cloud of smog. 

There were lockers with names of lawyers. One of them entered. There was a picture of a deity on his locker. He bowed before it. Then he brought out his papers, locked it again, and bowed before the image once more before sitting down to open the files. 

This was repeated by at least two other lawyers while I was there. One of them, after performing his religious duty for the day, did not seem too happy with my presence. I might have intruded into his private space, and although I had tried not to gawk, I'm sure even a sideways glance would have bothered him. 

It was nearing 10 o'clock. I went to the counter. "Five more minutes," said the woman. I went back to my window-view seat. The room had filled up, everybody was working, yet there appeared to be slumber in their air. It reminded me of holiday afternoons of my childhood where everybody was busy reading, knitting, playing cards, or just snoozing.

I realised it was past ten. There was a queue at the counter. This was unfair. Would I have to go and stand in line after having waited this long? No. I was asked to go to the other side. The task completed, I returned to that room and sought out the gentleman, a clerk, who had let me sit there. "Any problem?" he asked.

"No," I said. "Just wanted to say Thank you." 

He shook his head all around and spread both his hands and said, "Work done? Good, good."

I stood near the lift. A board in Marathi read, "Thooku naye." Do not spit. The peon made a fixing lightbulb-like gesture. "Neeche nahin jaata." No lift to descend. 

With sole-less shoes I started on my way down. The staircase walls were peeling, the steps were dirty. As I reached the ground floor, I was shocked. There were commodes and a flush tank. Hay and cardboard were spread around. These must have been the toilets. A woman was sweeping. She kept sweeping into the spot and from it. I waited on the second-last step. She saw me and gestured that I could pass. 

In less than an hour I had experienced without barely any verbal exchange the lives of a few — from their worship to the way they drank their tea, from the dust on their files to the sweat on their faces, from umbrellas drying to eyes squinting at the sun. Lives we pass by everyday without pause for thought. 

And to think that all I needed was a stamp paper that would certify an identity. 


Whitewashing Sunny Leone: The Chaubey-Gupta Conspiracy

Anyway you look at it, the core is morality. And the patriarchal prism. Two senior male journalists interviewed Sunny Leone, an adult film actor, and the shows appeared on mainstream national news channels.

The dramatis personae have been made to fit into neat Bollywood slots of heroine, hero and villain by the viewers, adding to the stereotypes.

While Bhupendra Chaubey of CNN-IBN is accused of misogyny in his The Hot Seat with Sunny Leone, Shekhar Gupta's 'Walk the Talk with Sunny Leone' on NDTV is being heralded for its kindness towards the subject and for granting her dignity.

This is where the problem lies, and why there was a need for a more avante garde perception. Sunny Leone, despite making it clear that she has no back story of tragedy and that she joined the pornography industry out of choice, still finds herself interrogated about her past while being reassured that it is okay to have one. The inquisitors are desperate to be seen with a whitewashed individual who has no links with her own history. They, in fact, believe they are there to assist in some form of purification.

Chaubey used the needling technique, assuming he was a voodoo doctor exorcising her of some evil; Gupta played the sponging priest at a Confession. One was downright shaming; the other was patronising in a paternalistic way.

Does the most-searched woman on Google in India need these as endorsement of her present?

The truth is that when Chaubey asked, "I wonder if I am getting morally-corrupted sitting with you", he was echoing the prevalent hypocrisy. Joining the herd on social media to applaud a woman gets negated if it comes with the proviso that she is to be lauded for having made a choice and of getting over with it.

This is not a sign of liberalism. How many go back to check on the stories that make women pose naked before we judge them? Are those forced into such professions of any less value? Besides, why should the past be erased?

It is a bit strange, for these interviews were essentially about her past and how it influences her present. Chaubey asked, "Do you think an Aamir Khan would work with you?"

"Probably not," she replied. "Why?" he persisted. "Because of my background."

A background that does not haunt her, but it perhaps does haunt those judging her, whether to empathise with or to deride. Aamir Khan, as always, decided it was time to be the shining knight and got into Satyameva Jayate mode. He tweeted for the readers' benefit, without tagging her:

"I think Sunny conductd herself wid a lot of grace & dignity.I wish I cud hav said the same abt the interviewer ... Sunny,I wil b happy 2 wrk wid u.I hav absolutely no problems wid ur "past", as the interviewer puts it.Stay blessed.Love .a. (sic)"

Whether we admit it or not, we want dignity and grace. Had she shot back at the queries, or argued, would that have made her less dignified? This has been the pattern of responses, with dignity being the branding iron people want to mark her with. It appears as though we need to validate, even exonerate, her with our adjectives before we can accept her. Big stars like Khan indeed have no problems with female actors in trophy roles. But Sunny Leone is no trophy, for the adult film industry, at least in its projected narrative, is democratic. Unfortunately, much of the support for her today is based on existing prototypes, in effect wiping out a huge part of her identity.

There is no need to put the past in quotes, for the very fact that Aamir has no problems with it begs the reference. As it does for her presence on these shows as well as people's interest in them. Nobody would interview her or watch her for feeding stray dogs.

Whether it was Chaubey's leering, "You have a body" to Gupta's reference to "notoriety" to the many saviours, society ultimately want to make her respectable.

After her appearance on the Bigg Boss show, the then Chief Justice Markandeya Katju had decided to take up for her. He said he had not seen anything to suggest that Leone was indulging in pornography. He cited the example of the courtesan Amrapali who served food to Lord Buddha and Mary Magdalene who was allowed by Jesus to wash his feet.

Inherent in this supportive statement is the belief that Ms. Leone's nirvana lies in being a disciple. That she is not here to cook, serve food and wash feet or whatever the contemporary equivalents are, but to act in the movies, baring skin like other movie stars do, poses a challenge to their attempts at making her past invisible.

Katju had made it worse by stating, “My opinion is that Sunny Leone was earning her livelihood in USA in a manner acceptable in that country, though it is not acceptable in India... if she conducts herself in India in a manner which is socially acceptable in India and does not breach the social moral code, we should not treat her as a social outcast.”

What is the Indian Moral Code (IMC)? Is it the same for women of certain tribes whose dress code is different from those of the more ‘civilised’ urban areas? Is it not precious that the elite among the latter in some ways mimic a natural state as clotheless designer hippies?

It is a similar attitude that sees the recent surge of support where two designer national TV hosts take time out from the state of the nation to bring an adult movies star to our homes. Shekhar Gupta started his show by reminding her, and us, that he has interviewed only the top actors of this country, implying that he had legitimised her. He ended by saying that she was the most articulate. Would he dare to give such a certificate to an Aamir or a Shahrukh? Why is it necessary to treat someone as sorted as Sunny Leone as one would a fragile thing?

The most mature and clinching comment came from her in the CNN-IBN interview: "I want the viewers to look at me the way they want to look at me."


Ghalib Guru and the Media Circus

Should the son of a man considered a terrorist be feted for scoring 95 per cent marks and topping the 10th board exams? 

Afzal Guru is now legend. He was hanged to death for his supposed role in the 2001 Parliament attack. He was an educated man. His son Ghalib, named after the poet, seems to be academically inclined too. He is now in the news. Mainstream newspapers are doing profiles on him. Are they, in the process, already profiling him as the heir? 

This is my concern. It is not in the same league as sensationalists glorifying a criminal for copy. In this case, the young man is being pinned against a wall on which they've already stuck his father's posters. It is not Ghalib the media is interested in, but the ghost of Afzal Guru.

Probably the worst line of questioning came from The Times of India. Sagarika Ghose starts with these words:

"The Pathankot attackers said they wanted revenge for the hanging of Afzal Guru; and in the Kashmir valley, Afzal Guru's "martyrdom" has becoming a rallying cry in the valley. But Afzal Guru's 17-year-old son Ghalib Abdul Guru says he has nothing to do with the azaadi (freedom) sentiment and wants to become a doctor and study at AIIMS."

This is such a cheap shot. By including the recent attacks in Pathankot, the interviewer is updating Ghalib's profile. There are many doctors, who have studied at prime institutes, who continue to believe in azaadi. The two are not at odds. 

The interrogation is sneaky with the subject being given key queries from which there is no escape. Since this is not a Q&A format, the inquisitor can get away. 

Ghalib is indirectly quoted as saying he wanted to get an MBBS "just like his dad" (interviewer's words). This is followed with:

"I used to meet dad in prison. The Crime Patrol told me he had done something bad and had hurt some people that's why he was in jail. When I met him he used to tell me to study hard all the time and do well at my studies, to look after my mother and read the Quran."

Isn't it clear what is going on here? The boy is being prodded to talk about his father. This guy is happy with his marks and a journalist goes on hammering him not about aspirations and how the young in Kashmir think, but about Afzal Guru. 

What are his memories of his father? "I don't remember him very well. All I remember is he used to always stay with his books, always reading and studying. He used to tell me to do the same. He used to say everything is in the hands of the Almighty. Whatever is written in your naseeb (fate), that's what will happen."

This gives Ms. Ghose another chance to pounce with, "So is Ghalib also religious?" Not "is Ghalib religious?" but "also religious". Like his father, like the man who he seems to be following, from medical practice to the Quran? This is what the media likes to build up. 

When he says, "I want to work in Kashmir because there is a shortage of doctors here. I wanted to also join the IAS, but my family was against that", the brave questioner has nothing to ask or say. No comment on how the youth of Kashmir wanting to contribute to it is more mainstream than some weird idea of allegiance to the nation. 

It is pertinent to note that he wanted to join the Indian Administrative Services, but his family opposed it. Many young people start out with naïve dreams, but the past returns. It is not what they inherit but that history does repeat itself in circles of deceit.

Towards the end of the interview, we get this:

What does he think about the Pathankot attack where the attackers claimed they wanted to avenge the death of his father? "I don't know much about that. People should not try to harm others. But yes if the Indian government has done something wrong then they will be punished.

And does he agree with the azaadi sentiment? "I don't think about that. I stay with my studies and my work. I work very hard as that's what my mother tells me."

I do not expect a 17-year-old not to be politicised, especially one who is surrounded by politics, and who has to bear the burden of being the son of a shaheed. But why should he be dragged into such indirect battles when the media claims it is celebrating his 94% achievement? To end the interview in this manner seems to be projecting a future martyr. 

A reader left this comment at the end of the piece:

Why are U championing the son of a terrorist as if he is some great Yuga Purusha? There are countless children of soldiers who excel in their studies and career. Why dont U feature them? For all that U know, this son of a 3rd rated terrorist and traitor would still be supporting his father and his philosophy of Jehaad and may be nursing a feeling of revenge towards the nation for the hanging of his father...

This is how deviously some liberals work. They seem to 'champion' a cause, so that it plays right into the hands of patriots frothing at the mouth. The reason they do not feature the children of soldiers or others is because the real aim is to highlight jihad, draw people out so that others perceive it the way this reader has. (Note the last sentence here and of the second last para of Ghalib's interview.)

Such binaries emanate from their own comatose perceptions to benefit only themselves. 


It's surreal...

"Surrealism - in particular with Salvador Dali - was all about ego. It was all about extreme individualism." (Alejandro Jodorowsky)

I am drawn to surrealism because, primarily, it enhances the reality for me rather than negating it or destroying it. If occasionally it appears as though it has decimated reality, then that reality was perhaps obsolete or self-incinerating anyway.

There is a tendency to see such expressions as ego-gratifying, but really isn't all expression about the ego, and in fact the subconscious? Is it not something deeply felt? Dali himself had stated:

"Instead of stubbornly attempting to use surrealism for purposes of subversion, it is necessary to try to make of surrealism something as solid, complete and classic as the works of museums."

I wouldn't sniff at subversion, though. It often sows the seeds of revolt and change.

There is the more human and humane aspect, exemplified in this brilliant clip. From a rhinocerous image to falling in love with someone from a different time — isn't what we see often what we want to see?


Whatever will be, will be

The star in the new year night by Eugen Bracht

I could not find the right curtains at three stores. If three stores that are known for their nice curtains do not have what I need, are my needs difficult to fulfil? Or are they catering to a template of expectations?

They showed me red, red in its many shades. They showed me brown, brown that covered distances from beige to the darkest wood.

Rust, I said. I wanted rust-coloured curtains. This? And they showed me a pink, faded and jaded. No, I said. Rust. Their faces were question marks. "Rusting is the common term for corrosion of iron and its alloys, such as steel." How could I explain this when it is not what I ever thought about when the colour rust danced before my eyes?

I rummaged through piles. Nothing. I left. With a few things, but not what I had set out for. There are always a few things that act as placebo, but placebos work only if you are looking for an ailment, not a cure.

The rods were empty this morning, like bare branches. I stared at the brass holder glinting in the sunlight. And then I remembered. The old curtains. Cleaned and ironed, lying in some draw. I am not good with putting up curtains, but I was on a stool, craning my neck and trying to find the fixing places. See? I don't even know the terms.

They are up now. Old. Familiar. Yet new. No dust, no stains, no wear and tear. I look at them with new eyes. Isn't that what a fresh start should be about?

* * *

I have skimmed through the newspapers and surfed past channels holding forth on the year that was. It is a necessary ritual, with some lame attempts at humour.

I recall how years ago as an active media person, I too would write a column or do a feature on the new year. There was the roundup, the people who matter, who don't, what was said, what was done. There was much enthusiasm. Today, with the surfeit of minutiae passing for information and insight, all I can find is regurgitation.

This, alas, is unlikely to change because the dispensers of trivia believe their audience can only handle bite-size bits and the latter shrug believing the dispensers can only dish out this much. They live in a happy compromise.

* * *

A lot has happened around the world.

Donald Trump being able to think he will be President of the United States of America is not only about his temerity but the licence a large enough section of Americans has granted him. He exists because there is perhaps a felt need for him.

Then there is Hillary Clinton who said that Trump is ISIS's best recruiter after he said he would not allow Muslims into America. If one was being paranoid, the other seemed to convey that Muslims hurt by such a move would naturally be inclined towards ISIS. This makes Hillary sound worse. Transparent hate is way better to deal with than such covert projection of stereotypes.

In the days following San Bernardino, the top search phrase was "kill Muslims" on Google. It would be interesting to find out who was looking for such details, and what it might reveal.

Muslims continued to make news, much of it because a bunch of them terrorised the world into believing that they represented 1.6 billion people. It couldn't be their marketing skills, for they were killing Muslims too, mainly Muslims. In fact, it is Muslims who are fighting them on the ground.

In India, it was the cow. Some suggested that the cow should be honoured as the Mother of the Nation, and this was in all seriousness. Cow urine was sought to be used as disinfectant in hospitals; it is already an ingredient in the Patanjali range of products by Baba Ramdev, a yoga guru who has the government of India as his patron.

Narendra Modi continued with his magical version of prime ministership by using the flying carpet jet to see what other countries have been upto so that he can tell Indians what he can do to become like them so that they can become like us with Make in India. It's as simple and complicated as that.

He made a 'surprise' visit to Lahore on December 25, which happened to be Nawaz Sharif's, Jinnah's, Vajpayee's and Jesus' birthday. Much was made of it as a move forward towards peace. It is more about showmanship. The people crave for such visits on both sides. Unless they are permitted such "drop in" moments, peace will be a word on paper erased and rewritten many many times according to the whims of the politicians.

* * *

To wind up for now, I am not cynical about the new at all. I welcome it. I only wish that we did not feel the need to kick out the old. Is there any assurance that the new will not be mere varnish?

Last evening, on my way home I stopped at the end of my lane where the fruit vendor's cart stands. I like pineapple, especially if they are sliced and ready to eat. I do not pretend to enjoy hard labour, and don't find it exciting to cut and chop. He had strawberries too. "They are too bright," I told him. "Stobry aisa hi hota hai (strawberries are always like that)," he said. I gave him an angry look, "Do you think I am buying strawberries for the first time?"

He did not look chastised, and for some reason I liked that, that certain defiance in his eyes. He is a young man, maybe just out of his teens. For him strawberry is upward mobility, the shinier the better.

A beggar woman with a baby held at her hips stood there. What does one do? He gave her one piece of the shiny strawberry. I fished out some money and gave it to her.

As I walked towards home, I saw her sitting on the pavement. She beamed and waved at me, lifting her son's hand to do the same. I waved back and reached my gate with a strawberry smile.

A Happy New Year...may you all find a reason to smile.


Crap for Christmas

There is something about traditions that reaffirm human frailties. While Santa Claus is all about joy and gifts, the custom is about feeding a fairytale. That it has stood the test of time speaks for our innate need to suspend disbelief.

Would we then be able to nurse customs that are real, perhaps too close to reality? Since the beginning of the 19th century in the Spanish regions and parts of France they have been doing just that.

This Christmas custom dates back to the 1800s and is meant to remind us of the humanity we all share with the Christ child. The defecating figurines are also said to represent fertilization and bring good luck for the new year. Traditionally, the caganer was depicted as a peasant, wearing the traditional Catalan red cap (called a "barretina") and with his trousers down, revealing a bare backside and a pile of feces below.

Statuettes of pop icons, royals, politicians, religious figures are gifted and placed near the nativity scenes..

I find it interesting that while in the social space we are ready to talk about sex (albeit by either intellectualising it or flaunting it as edgy freedom), discussing defecation isn't something we might deem polite. Such jokes too are referred to as toilet humour. However, nobody has objected to the depiction of the famous with their pants down, but there might have been some outrage had there been depiction of more intimate activity.

Fertility is meaningless unless there is cohabitation. Perhaps faeces represent the soil, but the fount from where they've sprung does not engage in reproduction. As for bringing good luck, would it depend upon factors of the contents? Is digestion itself a mark of glad tidings or even a karmic statement — as you sow, so shall you reap?

For one not acquainted with this tradition, seeing the statuettes conveys only the vulnerability and human qualities of the celebrity. Of course, in the case of pop stars from different fields, this won't be necessary for they are quite prone to other open gestures. It is another matter that these do not quite humanise them; rather, they transform a human behaviour into a socio-political message.

The caganers seem to all have similar turd. It is such uniformity in traditions that apparently joins people, but only superficially. I also wonder whether these societies would be accepting of statuettes of themselves crapping. It is unlikely. Humanising symbolism that uses icons ultimately dehumanises them, and makes a normal everyday routine a matter of alienated custom.