December 1, 2015

Amazon releases elaborate commercial for increasingly not nonexistent delivery system


In this still from the commercial, the drone appears to be . . . expelling a product purchased on Amazon. (via YouTube)

In this still from the commercial, the drone appears to be . . . expelling a product purchased on Amazon. (via YouTube)

Two years after announcing its drone delivery service, Prime Air, Amazon released a new commercial for the service. The ad stars boorish, producer-punching Englishman Jeremy Clarkson, who, throughout its running time, does his best imitation of a generic, non-boorish Englishman who does not punch people in the face. In that sense, it’s an impressive performance.

Clarkson’s appearance in the commercial isn’t mere stunt casting, unlike the Amazon Prime commercials featuring Gary “More Nick Nolte than Nick Nolte” Busey doing things to the word “stick” that no one had ever thought to do before. Those are merely weird; this is cross promotion. Clarkson, after all, is a future Amazon Prime star: the company is developing his post-Top Gear car show, which will probably be exactly like Top Gear, but somehow even worse.

But Clarkson isn’t the real story here. The story is the drones.

Or rather, the story is, as ever, Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos’s bizarre dalliance with dark futurism—a dalliance that, in this case, remains somewhat hypothetical as development of the drones enters its third year. Somewhat hypothetical because, as we put it in a post published earlier this year entitled “FAA gives Amazon permission to test publicity stunt,” there are still plenty of regularly hurdles to clear, in addition to the technological ones.

And also somewhat hypothetical because, despite the fact that the commercial prominently features a disclaimer that reads “Actual Flight Footage NOT SIMULATED,” Amazon’s press release notes:

We are testing many different vehicle designs and delivery mechanisms to discover how best to deliver packages in a variety of environments. We have more than a dozen prototypes that we’ve developed in our research and development labs. The look and characteristics of the vehicles will evolve over time.

That means that what you’re seeing isn’t necessarily what you’re going to get. The commercial, in other words, is a very elaborate progress report.

But of course, it’s progress of a deeply troubling kind.

In recent years, Amazon has become an innovator of gloom. From labor rights to tax evasion, the company has worked hard to figure out how to screw over as many constituencies as possible in service of providing its customers with really cheap stuff.

From the beginning, the drone program has been so bleak, so creepy, and so transparently a terrible innovation that the more it starts to converge on reality, the more it starts to seem like the corporate version of the “lol nothing matters” gif.

When Amazon announced Prime Air, you could at least believe that this was an example of Bezos coming up with a really bad idea and everyone at the conference room table politely saying yes while hoping that the thought would go away. But now, with Clarkson along for the ride, it seems that Amazon’s latest foray into the dystopian is also, well, “NOT SIMULATED.”


Mark Krotov is senior editor at Melville House.