Posts Tagged nopants

Why I’m putting on pants and boycotting Amazon

As many people have noted, the statement widely reported as Amazon’s apology for their “embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error” does not contain the words “sorry” or “apologize.” In fact, the phrase quoted above is the only part of the brief statement which remotely resembles an apology:

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles – in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon’s main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we’re in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

The continuation of the opening sentence might seem like they’re embarrassed in particular since they “pride themselves on offering complete selection,” but it seems to me, and I don’t think I’m merely being paranoid, that there’s an undertone of “We have so much stuff in our databases, so give us a break.” The next paragraph begins with an accusation: the twitterers, the bloggers, the journalists, have all been “misreporting” the issue. In other words, we may have done something “embarrassing and ham-fisted,” but so did you, so give us a break. The explanation which follows has numerous holes in it, which have been excellently discussed by Pandagon here. At the end is a golden opportunity to say something like “We sincerely apologize to all of our readers and merchants offended [understandably offended would have been nice] by this unfortunate accident, and especially to the authors adversely affected.” But no: it’s just some vague statement that they’ll work on the problem, with no specification as to how they’ll work on the problem.

Let’s say a wife cheats on her wife, and when she’s found out, says, “I’m so ashamed of myself, I made a mistake, it won’t happen in the future.” Her partner would be absolutely justified in assuming that the cheater’s clearly got narcissistic avoidance issues, and Amazon’s statement displays the same psychology. Or, more bluntly: it’s not me, it’s you.

Of course, as in a relationship, sometimes it’s not helpful to overanalyze the things people say, especially if they’re said in the heat of the moment–but, given the long time (by internet standards, and, last I heard, Amazon was an internet company) it took for this brief not-even-official statement to be released, I believe it was carefully worded, and thoroughly debated. The insulting arrogance I’m attributing to Amazon in their statement may be an overreading on my part, but it’s difficult for me to imagine that the absence of the words “sorry,” “apology,” even “mistake” could have been anything but deliberate. If Amazon’s PR department had anybody on Twitter (and it would be positively frightening if they didn’t), they would have known that people really wanted Amazon to apologize instead of blaming it on some “glitch.” The people who tagged their tweets #glitchmyass weren’t just people who claimed that Amazon actually was intentionally censoring books–the majority, I’d say, were people who thought that the “glitch” explanation wasn’t enough, and they wanted a more satisfactory explanation along with an apology. We did give Amazon the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know about any of you, but I was expecting a press conference kicked off by a real phony apology–or better yet, a press conference conducted through Twitter.

Why was it decided not to say the magic word? The only reason I can come up with was that they were afraid to be perceived as catering or capitulating to an LGBT audience, which might have a negative impact on another sector of their demographic. They decided that it would not be worth it to risk the ire of the fundies and the homophobes. As I reread the statement, it seems more and more clear to me that it’s calculated to have nothing in it that the religious right could use to call a boycott on Amazon. On a generous reading, you might say that they are apologizing for a fuckup that affected the homos, but there’s no way that you could say that they’re apologizing to the homos. It’s a crucial distinction, I think, one governed by fear of the “Real Americans.”  That market share, it seems, is more important to them than  lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transfolk, and people with disabilities.

Does that make Amazon evil? Maybe they’re being wisely pragmatic: maybe the religious right does give them more revenue than us book-loving queers and other minorities and our allies. That’s their decision to make, which they’re entitled to. But we’re entitled to make ours.

I boycott a bunch of companies. After all, I’m somebody white people should like. But really, it doesn’t come into play in my day-to-day life. I boycott McDonald’s because they lied about the beef tallow in their fries. I’m a vegan, though, so it’s really not that hard. I boycott Exxon because they’re totally evil about climate change, but I don’t drive. But Amazon? I’m a grad student. Our institution, which only has grad students, is not large enough to support a profitable inhouse bookstore. Thus, during my years here, I have spent a lot of money on Amazon. Well, relative to what I make. So this is a boycott that’s actually meaningful for me. (And plus, as I’m sure many of you know, there are many other reasons to boycott Amazon which we’ve been reminded of over the past few days.)

On Sunday, I may have said that I would never buy from Amazon again, but I quickly changed my position to wait and see. I’ve waited and seen. Oh, and the pants thing. One of the cool things about the Great Twitter Shitstorm of 2009 was that, in addition to there being a lot of emotion and good old-fashioned righteous indignation, there were moments of unexpected humour–as happens in many good street protests. After #amazonfail and #glitchmyass came #nopants, started, I believe by Maureen Johnson, who came up with some delicious protesty rhymes, such as “Hey, hey, what do we SAY? Amazon must be more GAY! Read our TWITTERS, read our RANTS. Now we all take off our PANTS!” So I did, but now I’ve put them back on.

What if Amazon actually does apologize? It’s highly unlikely. The window of opportunity has passed, and to issue an apology right now would keep the issue alive when it seems to be fading away.

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