On Friday, the New York Times printed an article on Jeff Bezos’ recent attempts to create a personal brand. The article came on the heels of his and his wife’s $33 million donation to a nonprofit that provides college scholarships to Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
“Some of the people who know Mr. Bezos said his new public face was for business expediency. Others believe it is a result of personal growth,” the article said. “But they all said it was clear that Mr. Bezos and Amazon were trying to go beyond his tech persona to show the world his other sides.”
The only new thing I saw was nipples.
How many CEOs do you know pose for New York Times photographers wearing tight shirts with no undershirt? This may be the first billionaire areola I’ve ever seen. I imagine I’ll put it on my wall next to my *N Sync posters.
This is a far cry from the bookseller of 1998.
2017 was a banner year for the new testosterone Bezos. The public got to finally see the shiny, giant “Bezos Balls” in their completed glory, “Swole Jeff Bezos” became a meme, and Bezos tweeted a Bono-like video of him smashing things on a wind turbine. In a time when nerds are getting their due in popular culture, Bezos is positioning himself as their muscle-bound coverboy.
This is branding and this is message control.
It’s the reason why in the past month Walmart, AT&T and Comcast announced $1,000 bonuses and higher wages at the same time they implemented mass layoffs. Comcast laid off 500 workers, AT&T more than 4,000 and Walmart more than 7,500. They didn’t want you to talk about that. They want you to focus on the positive.
It’s like when my father missed my graduation and my mom said, “At least he sent you a card.” Nope. You don’t get accolades for that.
It’s great that Bezos, who is worth $105.1 billion gave $33 million to help kids being screwed by President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. After 22 years, Amazon is being less stingy.
It’s also great that Amazon donated space in Seattle to Mary’s Place, which provides shelter for homeless families. But that doesn’t address that Amazon’s exponential growth directly correlates with Seattle’s rising rents, income inequality and homelessness. It doesn’t work to lessen the amount of people experiencing homelessness; it just gives them somewhere to stay. It doesn’t make Amazon a good member of the Seattle community; it just makes it seem like one to people who aren’t paying attention.
We often hear that Amazon brings jobs to Seattle. But they aren’t all high-paying tech jobs. Some of them are brutal. Case in point: the people who work for Amazon, but also don’t work for Amazon.
They’re the Uber-like workers for Amazon Logistics or Amazon Flex, delivering your packages from their personal cars. They’re contractors, so they don’t get health care or retirement benefits like USPS, UPS or Fedex workers. They have to use their own vehicles and pay for their own gas and upkeep, cutting into their minimum-wage pay. If something happens to them on the job, they don’t get worker’s comp. They don’t get paid days off, overtime, or any of the perks employees get.
Many companies have been routinely hiring contractors instead of employees because they’re cheaper and they don’t have to treat them as well. Some companies like Uber, Lyft, and Amazon Flex have built their whole business model on it. They justify it by saying people who work these jobs can leave whenever they want. But life is hard for the unemployed and underemployed in Seattle – sometimes you just have to keep any job, even a bad one.
The service isn’t even that popular. These layperson contractors don’t have the access to apartment buildings that USPS does, nor the storefronts of UPS and Fedex. If they can’t get in, you don’t get the package, even if you pay for Amazon Prime.
Maybe I’m a bit pissed because I ordered Eucalyptus Spearmint scented candles last week that never arrived and then spent my Friday going through four different customer service people to get a refund – Samantha, Kumar, Cheryl and Marilyn.
But I’m not alone. The service is extremely unpopular on Twitter.
— Eric Miller (@6t8stang) December 11, 2017
The lesson in this is that everything is terrible with this model. Customers are unhappy because their packages are tossed out of car windows. Delivery people are unhappy because they’re underpaid with no benefits and have to sue for their rights.
Yes, Bezos gave 0.03% of his wealth to help undocumented immigrants. That’s great. But don’t let it overshadow the negative impacts of Amazon on Seattle – taxpayer-funded improvements of the Amazon campus, rising rents and house prices, homelessness, African Americans being pushed out of the city, traffic, and poorly treated contract workers. And since its inception when Bezos tried to found Amazon on an American Indian reservation, the company has tried its hardest to avoid taxes.
It’s hard to look away from the nipples, but I’m trying.