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May 10, 2000
They managed to shock their readers issue after issue, month after month. This time, however, things turned out different and somewhat ugly.
The pop culture magazine Genre's cover this month, which has the unabashedly gay Hollywood actor, Alexis Arquette, posing as Krishna has caused a flutter in the immigrant Indian community in the US.
Letters and death threats have been pouring in at the magazine's office. Anonymous callers have threatened publishers and several store owners who distribute the magazine in Manhattan have threatened to burn copies.
Genre has never hesitated in picking socially uncomfortable issues. Paedophilia, gay activism, drugs... All these have made it to the Genre cover, each time accompanied by a shocking image.
This month, however, they seemed to over step the red line. Ask Doug Shingleton. As associate publisher of Genre, he estimates that eighty per cent of all the mail and calls that they've received so far have been "negative." He thinks sales will be hurt.
This month's Genre was a special - The Spirituality Issue. It talks about religions.
While no one, including the newspapers that flashed the cover on their front pages, have discussed the magazine's content, the cover image has come in for much attention. It shows Krishna - body painted blue, long hair loose, smiling intently at you.
Beyond the magazine's cover, page 49 carries a write-up on Hinduism.
An excerpt: 'It (homosexuality) is ignored in some texts and punished in others, though it is essential in the activities of the Hindu gods,' reads the write-up. It cites the Kama Sutra and tantrism as proof that homosexuality is "anything but natural" and, even in ancient times, was "commonplace".
Doug Shingleton has an explanation. "We tried to find alternative spiritual paths for our readership, which is mainly homosexual... we were promoting spirituality and promoting Hinduism," said Shingleton. "We didn't say Krishna was gay, we said religion transcends any type of sexuality."
The cover concept was born as "a very straightforward homage to Krishna," says Ric Ferrari, Genre's creative director.
A strong follower of eastern philosophies himself, he said: "We wanted an icon that represented unconditional love. We wanted an icon that was not already tarnished...one that was much more inviting and much more universal. Maybe new and refreshing for homosexuals too to understand and embrace."
In fact, inspiration came from an authentic painting on a postcard seen in a Hindu gift shop. "There's nothing as far as I know as a creative director... nothing that he's doing in the picture that is not right for Krishna," he added.
Some Indians agree. Sunil Aghi, president of the Indo-Americans Political Foundation, California said: "You know, this is the United States of America, and they have freedom of expression. I don't see anything wrong with that," he said referring to Genre's cover.
About the death threats, he said: "Everyone in our community must condemn such acts and the people behind them."
"Hinduism is very flexible. Its strength is that it allows different views. There is no jihad, there is no punishment," said Prithvi Raj Singh, president of the Federation of Hindus Association, California.
And a line of regret from Genre managing editor Bryan Buss: "We feel bad that we offended people, but we didn't mean to."
Would they try something as radical all over again if given a chance? "Of course! That's where freedom of expression comes in."
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