Thank God I’m not the only one who dislikes Amazon’s new ads

The new campaign promotes harmful myths that work is your family and fun is a prerequisite for professional fulfillment.

At the outset of the pandemic in March, Jay Greene and Elizabeth Dwoskin of The Washington Post reported concerns from workers that Amazon was inadequately protecting them from COVID-19. Soon after, Amazon fired Chris Smalls for organizing a walkout at a Staten Island fulfillment center to protest Amazon’s decision to keep the facility open despite allegations of a COVID-19 outbreak. (At the time, Amazon said it fired Smalls for showing up to work after being exposed to the virus by another worker.) 

Days later, Paul Blest at Vice News obtained leaked notes from an internal Amazon leadership meeting that revealed a strategy to cast Smalls as not smart or “articulate.” In April, Amazon claimed the company has made more than 150 “significant process changes” at its sites to ensure “the health and safety of our teams.” (This only happened after Amazon received a letter from 14 state attorneys general saying the initial policy was inadequate to protect public health. An Amazon spokesperson told Rebecca Klar at the Hill that they did it because “it was the right thing to do for our associates who are performing a vital service during this crisis.”)

But you wouldn’t know any of this based on its latest ad campaign, which features an array of warehouse workers laughing, dancing and showcasing all that’s good and perfect about working at Amazon. In the spots created by Film 45, you meet Melanie who shares that her husband lost his job and was hired by Amazon, turning the spouses into coworkers. “It’s actually helped bring our family closer.” Harrison explains that the camaraderie he feels at Amazon is “very similar” to when he was in the military — “especially with the amount of veterans that are here.” As for Jenna, it’s the “sense of family” that she appreciates: “We feel like a family together.”

Luckily, I’m not the only one turned off by these godawful ads. Jeff Beer at Fast Company called out the campaign for glossing over the human costs of its relentless growth and accrual of wealth and power to indulge its customers with an alternative reality. “While some viewers may fall under the spell of this all-out warm ‘n’ fuzzy, feel-good extravaganza, the ads are also designed to obscure what Amazon doesn’t want customers—the constituency CEO Jeff Bezos is most obsessed with — to hear, and that’s the increasing drumbeat of bad news relating to employee conditions at Amazon warehouses and the employee organizing designed to change it,” Beer wrote.

“For years we’ve had associates in campaigns — just check out our blog and search for “associates” or look at some of our team’s social posts over the last several years; this is nothing new,” Amazon spokesperson Kristen Kish said in a statement to The Supercreator. “It’s also not an uncommon practice for companies to have stories or videos featuring their employees.” Kish did not respond to a series of questions from The Supercreator including an inquiry into the process or criteria for selecting employees to appears in the ads.

It’s foolish to deny the enormous shareholder and consumer value Amazon offers, even if it’s at the expense of the creative and working classes. But I reject the idea that work should be like a family. Work is an agreement between you and an employer, client or customer that defines the value you’ll receive in exchange for your time and skills. Amazon often touts its $15 minimum wage and benefits including full health, vision and dental insurance, a 401(k) with a 50 percent company match, up to 20 weeks of paid parental leave, a program that pre-pays 95 percent of tuition for courses in high-demand fields and improved onboarding based on academic research. But it often feels like it’s done more so for industry bragging rights and less because the work is worth it. Plus, in my personal experience, any company that dresses up work in familial garments is doing so to blunt the disappointment you’ll feel when you realize that it is what’s keeping you from spending meaningful time with your actual family. 

On top of that, this fantasy is another way our culture reinforces workism, the idea that work is the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work. “One of the core problems with a “work family” is that people feel like they shouldn’t leave. We are taught through stories, [TV], movies that one of the worst things you can do is abandon your family,” Mandy Michael wrote in a 2018 Medium post. “So when we create this family environment in the workplace it’s only natural that these feelings would surface. The problem with this is to gain experience, improve your skills and progress in your work you often need to move on.” (Amazon did not respond when asked about the tangible benefits of the “sense of family” that the ads promote.)

I also spurn the notion that fun is a prerequisite for professional fulfillment. When I was a fashion editor, the perks were obvious: more free stuff than I knew with what to do, A-list events and runway shows, the prestige of working at one of the preeminent publishers in the world. Those moments and materials were fleeting. Most days found myself at my desk scarfing down bowls of ramen in between deadline-endangering games of email tag with publicists and interview subjects. The topics I write about are different now, but come to think of it: Here I am minutes removed from scarfing down a bowl of ramen in between an all-too-familiar game of email tag with a publicist two hours before my deadline. I say none of this to complain. My work brings me incredible fulfillment. The point is that even professionals with “cool” jobs spend most of their time earning the right to do the “fun” stuff — and still, that “fun-ness” is often in service of other people.

Besides, most people from marginalized communities are performing their amusement because being unlikeable or viewed as not a team player is detrimental to their upward mobility. “For women, and for anyone with a minority identity, being told to ‘be ourselves’ at work feels a bit like a dangerous dare. Roll the dice and see if your authenticity resonates,” journalist Alicia Menendez writes in her book The Likeability Trap. “If it does, you might reap great rewards. If it does not, your authenticity will be used against you as proof that you were never a fit.” For most of us, manufacturing daily portions of synthetic glee is core to our self-preservation. However, the emotional labor it requires is exhausting and unnecessary to perform a job with excellence though.

These harmful ideas are related to the corporate and consumer expectations that creative professionals should accept less value because some of us enjoy the labor as much as the fruits. It’s what sustains the myth of the starving artist that socializes consumers to view professional creators who possess the audacity to put a price tag on their creative work as sellouts and grifters. This same mindset is what fuels the belief that warehouse workers should be content with the status quo because, um, look how fucking fun it is to work at Amazon with your family. Where’s your gratitude, you monster?! Beyond the smoke and mirrors of these ads lies the truth though: Amazon is a for-profit company worth more than $1.5 trillion. It places immense pressure on its warehouse workforce to pick, pack, ship, and deliver millions of items with increasing speed and precision that feeds the mindless consumerism our economy requires and likely leaves little room for the laughing, dancing and flattery we saw in those ads. And what’s the point of being in a family if you can’t be honest?

In The Know

Julia Marcus at The Atlantic on the problem with underestimating how much people want to be together: 

Anger at people who are flouting public-health guidelines is understandable, not least for exhausted health-care workers and those who are especially vulnerableto infection. But many long months into this pandemic, people are at their wits’ end: economically depleted, socially isolated, and disgruntled about—and in some cases genuinely baffled by—the arbitrariness of some of the restrictions on their daily lives. And if the HIV epidemic has revealed anything, it’s that shaming does little to deter risky behavior. Instead, it perpetuates stigma, which drives behavior underground and hinders prevention efforts. Americans have been told during this pandemic that taking any risks, no matter how carefully calculated, is a sign of bad character—so it’s no surprise when people are reluctant to notify others whom they may have exposed or engage with contact tracers.

Rahkim Sabree at The Grio on if celebrities like Cardi B exist as both capitalists and philanthropists: 

We expect that those who have it to give to those without it, which is a slippery slope of expectation and “pocket watching” of how, when, and to whom Black celebrities allocate their funds. This can become problematic as some cheer the philanthropic efforts of the Meek’s, Cardi’s, Beyonce’s and Jay-Z’s of the world while simultaneously demanding they give more; more to this family, more to that charity, more to this neighborhood or cause, and we cancel them when they do not.

Madison Pauly at Mother Jones in conversation with Christina Wolbrecht, a Notre Dame political science professor who coedits the journal Politics & Gender on why the war on masks is a cover-up for toxic masculinity: 

People who are more likely to think that women complain about things too much, and call things discrimination that aren’t, or that there should be more traditional roles in the family, are less likely to wear masks. Similarly, we see people who describe themselves as “completely masculine” and say that being masculine is very central to their sense of who they are, are less likely to wear masks. These studies suggest that the impact of having those sorts of views is bigger than, say, partisanship.

Greg Bensinger at The New York Times on how apps are helping to gut the restaurant industry: 

Under pressure to pay rent and retain workers, some restaurants turned more of their attention to delivery, particularly from app-based companies like DoorDash, UberEats and Grubhub. Few restaurants that hadn’t done delivery in the past had the time or money to create their own delivery service, which typically brings in less money than dining rooms, where customers are more apt to order more profitable items like appetizers, desserts or a second round of drinks. These restaurants have quickly found that the apps, with their high fees and strong-arm tactics, may be a temporary lifeline, but not a savior. Fees of 30 percent or higher per order cut eateries’ razor-thin margins to the bone. And a stimulus package that would bolster the industry has stalled in Congress, even as states and municipalities enact new limits on both indoor and outdoor dining.

Rob Mahoney at The Ringer on how NBA superstar James Harden is pushing player empowerment to its limits: 

Within the league’s current practices, it’s well within Harden’s rights to attempt to incite a trade and steer its outcome. A Hall of Fame player wants to contend but can’t. That want is entirely reasonable. But what, if anything, does a modern, empowered superstar owe to a team they helped build? If the answer is nothing at all, the league as a whole suffers for it. Essential role players like Tucker become pawns in a game that is beyond them, yet another way in which player empowerment (a misnomer from the start) prioritizes superstars at the expense of everyone else. Harden is a part of the NBA’s ruling class. Becoming more of a mercenary doesn’t change that, just as it doesn’t change the fallout he would leave behind.

Geoff Colvin at Fortune on why are artists and companies selling off their music catalogs: 

The explanation for all this activity, in one word: Spotify. “It’s a disrupter,” says [lawyer Josh] Escovedo. “Spotify has brought about a more quantifiable and predictable model for the industry, so companies can bring in the suits and figure out the value of [artists’] income streams.”

Michael’s Pick

Chloe x Halle NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Concert: In a five-song, 19-minute jam session that opens and closes with my two favorite songs from the album, this performance elevates everything we’ve come to expect from the sister-singers: sweet-sounding harmonies, fashion-forward looks and alluring set design.