History is a peculiar thing. It is viewed through the lens of human beings and with this comes a natural tinge of bias and perspective. One could tell the story of the settlement of the American West as a tale of genocide, and they would be correct. Another could tell the same story as a tale of conquest, of one civilization conquering another and they, too, would be correct.
However, while there can be some tremendous wiggle-room in how one views history, most of the civilized world has a pretty decent grip on the narrative of the Holocaust. Except for a few crackpot Holocaust deniers, the world is pretty much on the same page.
Still, the world must confront how to appropriately deal with Nazi imagery. In this manner, the “rights” and “wrongs” are less clear. Is it wrong to own a copy of Mein Kampf? Is it wrong for a World War II memorabilia collector to have a Wehrmacht helmet?
Now, Amazon has confronted this moral gray area and the reaction has not been kind. The mega online retailer has also made a push in recent years to cut-into Netflix’s domination of online streaming with Amazon Prime and they have done so with a tremendous amount of success. Last week, the company unveiled their most-ambitious television series to date, “The Man in the High Castle,” an alternative history drama that takes place in 1962 in an America that had lost the Second World War. The nation is divided into three parts: the Japanese Pacific States, the neutral zone (comprising roughly the area of the Mountain Time Zone) and the rest is the Nazi Reich.
The story details the resistance against the Nazi and Japanese occupiers and Amazon spared no expense in advertising their ambitious new series.
However, the retailer giant made a move that has been rubbing people the wrong way; in order to convey a feeling of Nazi occupation, Amazon advertised the series by including the Nazi imagery of the show on New York City subway cars.
Fox News reports that Amazon has pulled the ads amidst outrage:
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transit Authority told FOX411 on Tuesday, “Amazon has just decided to pull the ads.”
The 42nd Street Shuttle, which runs between the tourist destination Times Square and the transit hub Grand Central Terminal, currently features an alternative version of the American flag that includes Nazi symbolism….
To promote the show, the network covered half a subway with flags that feature a strong resemblance to the Reichsadler, a Nazi coat of arm…
Kevin Ortiz, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, told FOX411 the agency had received one complaint about the ads as of Tuesday morning.
“The ads do not violate our content-neutral ad standards and thus we have no grounds to reject them,” he told us via email. “Unlike Fox, the MTA is a government agency and can’t accept or reject ads based on how we feel about them; we have to follow the standards approved by our board.”
Are the ads offensive? After all, it would be ridiculous to conclude that Amazon was intending to promote National Socialism. However, one could definitely make the argument that no matter the intention of the ads, they could be greatly offensive to many.
The Anti-Defamation League’s New York Regional Director Evan Bernstein offered a well-balanced critique of the ads and shined a light on why he (and others) finds the ads offensive:
“Our concern is that the Nazi imagery that is being used as part of this ad campaign comes without any context,” he said in a statement. “On the television program, which explains this is the notion of an America controlled by Hitler, you get that context. On the train, seeing the American flag paired with a Nazi symbol is viscerally offensive because there is no context as to what it means. The fact that the flag is spread across the seats only compounds the effect.”
“This ad campaign has a feel of exploiting things that are so sensitive to so many people. We’re not saying that people don’t have a right to express themselves,” Bernstein added. “We’re just saying that it has a level of insensitivity. We would hope that the people who distributed it will think twice about putting these symbols on more public transportation.”
We, as a society, must be guarded in these chaotic times of ridiculous political correctness to not overreact to perceived insensitivities (especially with regards to historical realities). While we should always be willing to entertain a substantive dialogue about unsavory issues such as race relations, religious strife and ugly histories such as the Third Reich, we, as a society, are not obliged to accept an “anything goes” policy of tactlessness.
In the court of public opinion, we should find Amazon not guilty of promoting Nazism. We should also find them not guilty of exploiting the Holocaust. We should, however, find them guilty of simply not using their heads when deciding upon an advertising campaign that they very well should have seen would offend some without being offered a more-substantive discussion of the show that they were attempting to promote.