Maxim(um) Mis-step: Taking a Jab at Gandhi

maximThe latest edition of Maxim magazine, in an alleged "humor" article headlined "Maxim's Kick-Ass Workout," depicts a strapping man in a muscle T-shirt beating up an image of Mahatma Gandhi.

The article, attempting to show how fighting can bring fitness, calls for "a healthy regimen of violent assaults" and urges readers to "teach those pacifists a lesson about aggression." The three-page article includes 21 different scenes of the man hitting, kicking, choking and throwing Gandhi, who is named in the text, where the reader is urged to "ask Gandhi if he can see a change in your physique."

Protesters are seeking, instead, a change in Maxim's attitude.

"My first reaction is, 'How stupid.' My next reaction is, 'How sad,'" said Michelle Naef, administrator of the M.K. Gandhi Institute in Memphis, Tenn. "How sad it is that they don't understand how special a person he was."

Special and incredibly strong, Naef said.

"Mahatma Gandhi spent his life fasting and being tortured," she said. "Clearly, they have no clue who they're dealing with, to depict him this way." The article and illustrations, Naef added, are "the stupidest thing I've ever seen."

"It's promoting hate crimes. In today's context, after Sept. 11 and with the anti-war movement, this article is telling people to beat the crap out of Asians and pacifists," said Michael Matsuda, chairperson of the Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance in Garden Grove, Calif.

Naef and the OCAPICA are seeking a formal apology from Maxim. OCAPICA also is calling for Maxim to donate funds toward tolerance education to, in Matsuda's words, "show that they're truly contrite."

Calls and emails to Maxim from Tolerance.org went unanswered Wednesday.

In a "Total Wimp Workout" sidebar to the main story, Maxim depicts the Gandhi look-alike huddling in a closet, arms wrapped around his knees, head bowed. The accompanying text encourages "wimps" to "tighten your arms around your legs like the time your mommy tried to take away Malibu Ken" and to "cry like a kid enjoying his first rectal thermometer."

"There is a deep and fundamental misunderstanding of what nonviolence is all about," Naef said. "Gandhi was an incredibly strong person. Muscle strength can't possibly come close to the kind of strength Mahatma Gandhi had."

As Gandhi himself said, "A person who has realized the principle of nonviolence has the God-given strength for his weapon, and the world has not yet known anything that can match it."

Magazine Previously Ridiculed Gandhi

Maxim magazine's Web site introduces the article with somewhat innocent sounding words. Under the headline, "Two-Fisting: Let's Get Physical," the promo reads, "Beating people up is more than just a day's work. If you do it right, it can be an awesome fitness regimen. Knuckle up."

Illustrations found in the print magazine are not present on the Web site.

However, the Maxim Web site does include a "Stupid Fun" article in its archives headlined, "Oh, Calcutta: Three Reasons to Hate ... Gandhi." That article, which claims Gandhi was a "lousy husband," a "rotten father" and a "poor role model," was published in November 2000.

Ironically, just two months ago, Maxim launched its first Asian edition, in Korea -- just in time, Naef said, for the magazine to make fun of "one of the most revered men on the Asian continent."

The magazine was named Adweek's "Hottest Magazine of the Year" in 2002 and Advertising Age's "Magazine of the Year."

Maxim, which promotes itself as "the largest-selling men's lifestyle publication in the world," is edgy and known as much for its images of scantily clad women as for pushing the limits of good taste. The joke-of-the-day earlier this week, for example, involved two nuns discussing condoms found in a priest's room.

While such offensive material isn't unexpected in Maxim, protesters say that doesn't make it acceptable.

Gandhi fasted more than 30 times in his life, protesting such issues as low wages earned by mill workers and promoting such things as Hindu-Muslim unity. Mohandas Karamchand "Mahatma" Gandhi was assassinated on Jan. 30, 1948, on his way to evening prayers.

Such a life, protesters say, should not become the punching bag for sophomoric humor.

"It's fanning the flames of hatred and bigotry," said Matsuda, of the OCAPICA group in Southern California. "That should be offensive to everyone."

Brian Willoughby is a senior writer for Tolerance.org.
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