Toilet Seat Company Flushed Offline?

Published in: Rediff.com

Published: 11/18/2000

Author: NIRSHAN PERERA

The owner of Sittin’ Pretty won’t talk, but her Web site may be talking for her. Lamar Van Dyke’s mom-and-pop e-commerce operation, which sells designer toilet seats decorated with images of Hindu gods, has been flickering on and off the Internet since yesterday. On Thursday, American Hindus Against Defamation discovered the Seattle company’s Sacred Seat product line only zeros in on the Hindu religion. For $130, consumers can purchase designer toilet seats emblazoned with bright artwork depicting Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali. AHAD convenor Ajay Shah immediately reached out to Van Dyke, who is the principal owner of
the company, to express the Hindu community’s hurt. But the prominent Seattle tattoo artist and lesbian activist has maintained a stiff silence in the face of repeated requests to initiate a dialogue.

Similar entreaties by Rediff.com and the NRI press to comment on the matter have also gone unanswered. Still, this morning some read meaning into Sittin’ Pretty’s on-again off-again accessibility. Some wondered if the Web site was Breaking down due to a traffic overload. Others pondered the possibility that Van Dyke is closing shop. Sittinprettydesign.com first went offline Friday evening. The company’s Web hosting service, Bellvue, Washington-based Oz.net Internet Services, said it had been taken down temporarily for “modifications.”

AHAD braced themselves for a possible product removal, or at the very least a press release. But the Web site went back up late Friday night with no discernable changes. On Saturday morning, however, it appeared to be pulled off the Internet again. Another phone call to Oz.net did not yield new information. Yesterday Van Dyke refused to answer a phone call placed to her primary place of employment, American Beauty Tattoo in downtown Seattle. A co-worker confirmed that Van Dyke was on shift and was in fact the owner of Sittin’ Pretty, but told Rediff.com that she would not speak to the press. In another breaking development, the Bharatiya Janata Party also blasted Van Dyke this morning from the other side the world. In New Delhi, party vice president Pyarelal Khandelwal strongly condemned the Sacred Seat product line and called for an immediate and unconditional apology. According to a PTI report, he said the ink of the United Nations resolution acknowledging the equality of all religions has not dried, yet “here we see a group of people deliberately denigrating Hindu gods, knowing that they are held sacred by Hindus all over the world.” Shiv Sena northern region chief Jai Bhagwan Goyal threatened to demonstrate in front of the American Embassy in New Delhi, while Vishwa Hindu Parishad senior vice-president Giriraj Kishore raised the specter of legal action. “We are insisting on an unconditional apology from them, failing which we will launch an agitation and sue the American firm,” Kishore said.

The owner of a company that sells toilet seats decorated with images of Hindu gods is a well-known tattoo artist and lesbian activist. A Rediff.com investigation revealed that Lamar Van Dyke, who is listed as the principal of Seattle-based Sittin’ Pretty, is an outspoken member of the city’s gay community who has contributed to sociology journals and is the subject of a documentary about artists exploring “unusual forms of body modification.” Van Dyke, who has not responded to repeated phone calls and e-mails by Rediff.com and the American Hindus Against Defamation, is employed at American Beauty Tattoo in downtown
Seattle. But in her off time Van Dyke runs Sittin’ Pretty from her Seattle residence. The one-year-old company employs two people and uses its Web site (sittinprettydesign.com) as a primary sales channel.

Yesterday, members of the AHAD (formerly the American Hindu Anti- Defamation Coalition) discovered her company’s Sacred Seat product line displayed bold pictures of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali on the bottom of lids. The $130 toilet seats protect the artwork with a waterproof clear coat and come in three colors. “Great as unforgettable gifts, or as conversation pieces for your own home, these toilet seats are guaranteed to add a smile to your bathroom décor,” the Web site reads. Van Dyke was one of four artists featured in Leslie Asako Gladsjo’s 1991 documentary Stigmata—The Transfigured Body. The 28-minute video looks at body modification as an exploration of beauty, self-determination, and female sexuality. Her essay, “Contracts and Contract Negotiating” in The Second Coming: A Leatherdyke Reader (Alyson Publications, 1996), is a how-to manual for dominants and
submissives in sadomasochistic relationships. As a self-described “radical S&M lesbian,” the Seattle artist is a member of a
highly visible minority community that is often castigated by others. “As women, we need to celebrate the fact that we have survived 2,000 years of invisibility. 2,000 years of our contributions being stolen, overlooked and labeled as insignificant,” she observes in a bulletin board posting on the Lesbian Resource Center News Online. But today the Hindu community pondered the irony of a radical lesbian feminist activist slighting the ideas held precious by another minority group. Nevertheless, Ajay Shah, who coordinates the AHAD, was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. “I don’t want to attach any labels to her right now,” he told Rediff.com. “For all we know, she might be Hindu. She may think it’s something really cool and it propagates Hindu dharma. We just want to give her a chance to explain herself and maybe withdraw this product. Unless we learn otherwise, we must assume that is being done out of ignorance and not malice.” “Most of these people don’t do things like this because they have something
inherently against Hindu dharma,” he continued. “I don’t think Lamar Van Dyke has some ax to grind against Hindus, or she is doing this on purpose. But right now Hindu icons and symbols have become part of the pop culture, from bindis to mehendi and all the other things. What people might be trying to do is cash in on that popularity without considering what kind of affect it will have on the Hindu community at large.” Shah sent Van Dyke a preliminary e-mail almost 24 hours ago and since then has left several phone messages. “I am not certain if you realize that this has already caused tremendous hurt in the community… ” the AHAD e-mail read. “We would like to give you the benefit of doubt … before we talk with press … and other members of the Hindu community. As a responsible business, we are certain that you will withdraw this product immediately from the market.” But Van Dyke has
remained silent. “I’ve been patiently waiting, but I haven’t heard anything from her yet. Everyone is waiting for her response,” Shah said this afternoon. As the next step, he said the AHAD will publish a protest Web site (hindunet.org/ahad/sittinpretty) today, where members of the Hindu community can learn about new developments and sign a protest book.

The AHAD has already carried out several successful cyber- protest campaigns. Recently, 15,000 protest petitions forced California-based Fortune Dynamic to stop importing shoes emblazoned with Hindu deities. And a 20,000-strong campaign caused the rock group Aerosmith to issue a public apology for their 1997 Nine Lives album. The cover art showed Lord Krishna with the head of a cat, breasts and wearing a woman’s blouse. “The thing that we will do, that we have always done, is to put a moral public pressure on someone who has been offensive,” Shah said, describing AHAD’s protest strategy. “We understand the First Amendment very well, we understand that people have the absolute right to say whatever they want. But on the other hand, protesting something is also covered under the First Amendment and that is our right.” Shah said that if Van Dyke continues to be unresponsive, the next step after an Internet protest campaign could be on-site picketing. “Our contention has always been that this causes tremendous harm to Hindus,” Shah explained. “I think the origin of much prejudice and discrimination against Indians in this country is the denigration of Hindu symbols. When people can ridicule your symbols, what stops them from ridiculing you?”

The owner of Sittin’ Pretty won’t talk, but her Web site may be talking for her. Lamar Van Dyke’s mom-and-pop e-commerce operation, which sells designer toilet seats decorated with images of Hindu gods, has been flickering on and off the Internet since yesterday. On Thursday, American Hindus Against Defamation discovered the Seattle company’s Sacred Seat product line only zeros in on the Hindu religion. For $130, consumers can purchase designer toilet seats emblazoned with bright artwork depicting Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali. AHAD convenor Ajay Shah immediately reached out to Van Dyke, who is the principal owner of

the company, to express the Hindu community’s hurt. But the prominent Seattle tattoo artist and lesbian activist has maintained a stiff silence in the face of repeated requests to initiate a dialogue.

Similar entreaties by Rediff.com and the NRI press to comment on the matter have also gone unanswered. Still, this morning some read meaning into Sittin’ Pretty’s on-again off-again accessibility. Some wondered if the Web site was Breaking down due to a traffic overload. Others pondered the possibility that Van Dyke is closing shop. Sittinprettydesign.com first went offline Friday evening. The company’s Web hosting service, Bellvue, Washington-based Oz.net Internet Services, said it had been taken down temporarily for “modifications.”

AHAD braced themselves for a possible product removal, or at the very least a press release. But the Web site went back up late Friday night with no discernable changes. On Saturday morning, however, it appeared to be pulled off the Internet again. Another phone call to Oz.net did not yield new information. Yesterday Van Dyke refused to answer a phone call placed to her primary place of employment, American Beauty Tattoo in downtown Seattle. A co-worker confirmed that Van Dyke was on shift and was in fact the owner of Sittin’ Pretty, but told Rediff.com that she would not speak to the press. In another breaking development, the Bharatiya Janata Party also blasted Van Dyke this morning from the other side the world. In New Delhi, party vice president Pyarelal Khandelwal strongly condemned the Sacred Seat product line and called for an immediate and unconditional apology. According to a PTI report, he said the ink of the United Nations resolution acknowledging the equality of all religions has not dried, yet “here we see a group of people deliberately denigrating Hindu gods, knowing that they are held sacred by Hindus all over the world.” Shiv Sena northern region chief Jai Bhagwan Goyal threatened to demonstrate in front of the American Embassy in New Delhi, while Vishwa Hindu Parishad senior vice-president Giriraj Kishore raised the specter of legal action. “We are insisting on an unconditional apology from them, failing which we will launch an agitation and sue the American firm,” Kishore said.

The owner of a company that sells toilet seats decorated with images of Hindu gods is a well-known tattoo artist and lesbian activist. A Rediff.com investigation revealed that Lamar Van Dyke, who is listed as the principal of Seattle-based Sittin’ Pretty, is an outspoken member of the city’s gay community who has contributed to sociology journals and is the subject of a documentary about artists exploring “unusual forms of body modification.” Van Dyke, who has not responded to repeated phone calls and e-mails by Rediff.com and the American Hindus Against Defamation, is employed at American Beauty Tattoo in downtown
Seattle. But in her off time Van Dyke runs Sittin’ Pretty from her Seattle residence. The one-year-old company employs two people and uses its Web site (sittinprettydesign.com) as a primary sales channel.

Yesterday, members of the AHAD (formerly the American Hindu Anti- Defamation Coalition) discovered her company’s Sacred Seat product line displayed bold pictures of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali on the bottom of lids. The $130 toilet seats protect the artwork with a waterproof clear coat and come in three colors. “Great as unforgettable gifts, or as conversation pieces for your own home, these toilet seats are guaranteed to add a smile to your bathroom décor,” the Web site reads. Van Dyke was one of four artists featured in Leslie Asako Gladsjo’s 1991 documentary Stigmata—The Transfigured Body. The 28-minute video looks at body modification as an exploration of beauty, self-determination, and female sexuality. Her essay, “Contracts and Contract Negotiating” in The Second Coming: A Leatherdyke Reader (Alyson Publications, 1996), is a how-to manual for dominants and
submissives in sadomasochistic relationships. As a self-described “radical S&M lesbian,” the Seattle artist is a member of a
highly visible minority community that is often castigated by others. “As women, we need to celebrate the fact that we have survived 2,000 years of invisibility. 2,000 years of our contributions being stolen, overlooked and labeled as insignificant,” she observes in a bulletin board posting on the Lesbian Resource Center News Online. But today the Hindu community pondered the irony of a radical lesbian feminist activist slighting the ideas held precious by another minority group. Nevertheless, Ajay Shah, who coordinates the AHAD, was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. “I don’t want to attach any labels to her right now,” he told Rediff.com. “For all we know, she might be Hindu. She may think it’s something really cool and it propagates Hindu dharma. We just want to give her a chance to explain herself and maybe withdraw this product. Unless we learn otherwise, we must assume that is being done out of ignorance and not malice.” “Most of these people don’t do things like this because they have something
inherently against Hindu dharma,” he continued. “I don’t think Lamar Van Dyke has some ax to grind against Hindus, or she is doing this on purpose. But right now Hindu icons and symbols have become part of the pop culture, from bindis to mehendi and all the other things. What people might be trying to do is cash in on that popularity without considering what kind of affect it will have on the Hindu community at large.” Shah sent Van Dyke a preliminary e-mail almost 24 hours ago and since then has left several phone messages. “I am not certain if you realize that this has already caused tremendous hurt in the community… ” the AHAD e-mail read. “We would like to give you the benefit of doubt … before we talk with press … and other members of the Hindu community. As a responsible business, we are certain that you will withdraw this product immediately from the market.” But Van Dyke has
remained silent. “I’ve been patiently waiting, but I haven’t heard anything from her yet. Everyone is waiting for her response,” Shah said this afternoon. As the next step, he said the AHAD will publish a protest Web site (hindunet.org/ahad/sittinpretty) today, where members of the Hindu community can learn about new developments and sign a protest book.

The AHAD has already carried out several successful cyber- protest campaigns. Recently, 15,000 protest petitions forced California-based Fortune Dynamic to stop importing shoes emblazoned with Hindu deities. And a 20,000-strong campaign caused the rock group Aerosmith to issue a public apology for their 1997 Nine Lives album. The cover art showed Lord Krishna with the head of a cat, breasts and wearing a woman’s blouse. “The thing that we will do, that we have always done, is to put a moral public pressure on someone who has been offensive,” Shah said, describing AHAD’s protest strategy. “We understand the First Amendment very well, we understand that people have the absolute right to say whatever they want. But on the other hand, protesting something is also covered under the First Amendment and that is our right.” Shah said that if Van Dyke continues to be unresponsive, the next step after an Internet protest campaign could be on-site picketing. “Our contention has always been that this causes tremendous harm to Hindus,” Shah explained. “I think the origin of much prejudice and discrimination against Indians in this country is the denigration of Hindu symbols. When people can ridicule your symbols, what stops them from ridiculing you?”

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