November 25, 2015

Amazon uber alles


Image via Slate, Courtesy Ann Toback

Image via Slate, Courtesy Ann Toback

Remember the time Amazon failed to include the Confederate flag (and more than 29,000 related items such as Confederate flag bikinis, Confederate flag shower curtains) on the list of “Offensive Products” the retailer reserved the right to ban from its website? That oversight came to a head in June, after the murder of nine black people at Emmanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The company’s latest display of shocking cultural insensitivity features a campaign to cover the seats of the 42nd street shuttle between Times Square and Grand Central Station with Nazi Reichsadler eagle signs and Japanese imperial “Rising Sun” flags, as an advertisement for their upcoming series The Man In the High Castle (based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same title).

Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Adam Lisberg told Gothamist’s Erik Baard that the campaign does not violate a policy adopted in April which blocked all political advertising on public transportation: “Unless you’re saying that you believe Amazon is advocating for a Nazi takeover of the United States, then it meets the standards. They’re advertising a show,” he said.

Sure, we guess, but as Jeremy Stahl pointed out in his report for Slate, the new “rules also said the MTA had the ability to control what advertising it would allow” and has its own list of prohibited content. Such as: “material that demeans or disparages an individual or group of individuals . . . that is abusive to, or debases the dignity of, an individual or group of individuals.” (The very same standards that stalled subway ads for menstrual underwear.)

Yesterday, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a statement calling for Amazon to remove the flags: “While [they] technically may be within MTA guidelines, they’re irresponsible and offensive to World War II and Holocaust survivors, their families, and countless other New Yorkers. Amazon should take them down.” And though Amazon has not issued a public statement, one conductor told a reporter, “Today is the last day.”

And sure enough, as a Gizmodo report by Maddie Stone details, by late yesterday evening the “vicious backlash” had indeed led Amazon to pull the campaign, originally slated to run into mid-December.

Although, as Stone also observes, “How, in fact, Amazon failed to realize that this sort of imagery might cause a stir remains unknown.”


Taylor Sperry is an editor at Melville House.