“The ads on the train are coming down,” the MTA source said Tuesday. Amazon failed to return calls to its Seattle-based headquarters seeking comment. (NOTE: Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
To promote “The Man in the High Castle” — which envisions an alternate history of the United States occupied by Axis powers — the retail behemoth wrapped New York subway cars and outfitted their interiors in a décor that mixes the stars and stripes with symbols of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan, such as the Iron Cross and the Rising Sun. (They did, wisely, forgo using a swastika.)
The ads caught New Yorkers’ eyes, all right. But they also outraged some riders, the New York Post reported. The Anti-Defamation League’s New York chapter issued a statement criticizing the ad campaign as tone deaf but acknowledging that it was within First Amendment protections.
“This ad campaign has a feel of exploiting things that are so sensitive to so many people,” Evan Bernstein, New York regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said in a written statement. “We’re not saying that people don’t have a right to express themselves. 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.”
Bernstein said part of the problem is that the ads just come at you, without context. The show is an adventure in alternative history, and it’s based on a story by Philip K. Dick, the futuristic writer whose tales also formed the basis of “Bladerunner,” “Total Recall,” “Minority Report” and other science fiction movies. But the ads conjure too much history for some.
“On the television program, which explains this is the notion of an America controlled by Hitler, you get that context,” Bernstein says. “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.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees subway and rail lines in the greater New York metro area, found that the ads were within the bounds of its commercial advertising guidelines.
“The ads do not violate our content-neutral ad standards and thus we have no grounds to reject them,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said in an e-mail. “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. Please note they’re commercial ads — they promote an original Amazon TV series, an alternative history show, based on a Philip K. Dick story.”
The campaign with wrapped subway cars started Nov. 15 and runs through Dec. 14 on the 42nd Street crosstown shuttle. Ortiz said 260 subway station posters have been up since Nov. 9 and will be in stations until Dec. 6. He declined to say how much Amazon laid out for the campaign.