Contribution to Book
God in the Details: American Religion in Popular Culture
Eric Michael Mazur, Kate McCarthy
London and New York
Shields, James, "Sexuality, Exoticism, and Iconoclasm in the Media Age: The Strange Case of the Buddha Bikini" (2010). Faculty Contributions to Books. 96.
Asian Art and Architecture Commons, Critical and Cultural Studies Commons, Gender and Sexuality Commons, Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication Commons, Mass Communication Commons, Public Relations and Advertising Commons, Sociology of Religion Commons, South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies Commons, Visual Studies Commons
It is widely acknowledged that we in the West are living in an age of both rampant consumerism and competing religious faiths. In addition, those of us living in the United States of America inhabit a society with striking variation when it comes to what is considered appropriate sexual or bodily display, especially when it comes to women’s bodies. The hullabaloo surrounding Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” brought to light some of these tensions, at the single most important religious spectacle in America, no less, the Super Bowl. Though admittedly less well known, another recent scandal even more clearly raises questions surrounding the use (and abuse) of religious iconography in an increasingly global consumerist culture: the Strange Case of the Buddha Bikini. In a recent catalogue, popular lingerie and swimsuit company Victoria’s Secret launched a revealing “tankini” emblazoned with traditional tantric Buddhist images, sparking angry protest from Asian, Asian-American, and some Western Buddhists. This article explores the various causes and conditions that led up to this intercultural and very postmodern crisis, including the issue of the use of sex and religion in contemporary advertising, as well as traditional and contemporary Buddhist approaches to religious iconography, sexuality and the female body. Finally, I compare a number of similar cases in order to broaden the issue and take steps towards a more general and comparative analysis of blasphemy, iconoclasm and religious differences and free speech in our increasingly globalized, consumerist and media-saturated age.