Some people are angry about Amazon’s new series, “Hunters”. In truth, books are Amazon’s real Anti-Semitism problem, not television shows.
Hunters tells the fictionalised story of the hunt for Nazi criminals many years after the holocaust. Controversy has been stirred by depiction of “events” from the holocaust that didn’t really happen.
“The conflict is between comprehensive detail and getting an audience’s attention”
A number of groups are particularly upset at the depiction of Jews made to take part in a deadly human game of chess. Sadistic games did happen, they say, but not this one.
This is part of a long standing tension in film and television, and one that is unlikely to end any time soon because of the moral motivations involved.
History v Entertainment
As depicted in the 2009 movie “The Invention of Lying”, factual relaying of history can make for uninspiring entertainment.
“Both sides are motivated by moral right”
From Shakespearian plays to Schindler’s List, entertainment based on history rests heavily on creativity. It also often reaches far larger audiences than academic books or in-depth documentaries.
Anyone who works in communications understands this conflict between comprehensive detail and getting or keeping an audience’s attention. That conflict is perfectly moral.
Those who adapt history for entertainment have a clear moral motivation in doing so. If factual correctness and detail reach fewer people than poetic licence, then a core message that bigotry led to terrible things can be better served by poetic licence.
Those opposed to this view feel that poetic licence diminishes public understanding – which compared to comprehensive accuracy, is true. So both sides of the conflict are motivated (at least in part) by “moral right”.
“Reading Mein Kampf is almost a requirement if you want to understand 20th century history”
The director of Hunter has offered an additional defence – that using historic examples feels more exploitative and likely to hurt survivors than fictionalised equivalents. That may also be true, and thus moral.
At it’s its heart, however, this Amazon scandal feels more like a new front in the larger Amazon Anti-Semitism scandal.
Profiting From Nazi Propoganda
Amazon has been criticised for selling Nazi Propoganda. That might be an odd criticism in some regards, but in this case it seems well-founded.
Other than religious movements, Mein Kampf is probably second only to The Communist Manifesto among history’s most successful works of propaganda. Reading both is almost a requirement if you want to understand 20th century history and political method.
“Questions about Amazon’s attitude (or lack of one) to selling Anti-Semitic propaganda”
That being the case, ensuring availability of such works is not a bad thing. The problem Amazon has is that it appears rather impartial about the subject. That is perfectly reasonable in regards to a supermarket selling three brands of baked beans, but is anathema to any decent human being faced with Nazism.
A perfect and recently high profile example of this is the sale of Der Giftpilz, a Nazi children’s book that casts Jews as poisonous toadstools hidden in plain sight among decent mushrooms (German people).
From an academic point of view, and for those tackling bigotry today, the book is a useful resource. It shows how deeply the Nazi machine embedded its ideology into the education of German youth, and how it diversified its messaging for different audiences (in this case children).
“Amazon is not the state. It is only when state censors decide what bookshops can stock, that a dangerous world is entered into.”
Worryingly, Amazon sells it as “sought after by collectors”. This may be true but it raises troubling questions about Amazon’s attitude (or lack of one) to selling Anti-Semitic propaganda that many buyers might use to serve their personal Nazi agenda. Some comments on Amazon about the book certainly indicate 21st century Nazis like the book.
Unlike Hunters, Amazon’s defence of selling such material is weak because it offers the false reassurance that censorship is dangerous and wrong.
That defence is made weak by Amazon itself. Amazon acknowledges that it does have guidelines for censoring what it sells. It just didn’t apply to this piece of Nazi propaganda, apparently.
“Profit – not morality – is the key motivation for a company”
More importantly, Amazon is not the state. It has always been perfectly reasonable for a bookshop to not stock a book. It is only when state censors decide what bookshops, libraries and universities can stock that a dangerous world is entered into.
Motivation Determines Outcomes
In regards to a television show, the outcome is almost irrelevant. The same tension will come up again and again for perfectly good reasons across many shows and movies, because the conflicting outlooks are motivated – at least in part – by strong moral feeling.
In regards to books, the situation is different. It is hard to see a moral case for continuing to profit from the dissemination of Nazi propoganda. Libraries and academic institutions still provide such material for free to those seeking to understand the past – completely unhindered by the state.
But ultimately, profit – not morality – is the key motivation for most companies. If Hunters loses viewers and sponsors, it will be pulled regardless of a moral case for its production. If selling Nazi propaganda generates more income than is lost by people refusing to shop through Amazon because of it, it will likely continue to propagate Nazism, or maybe some rival will.
Because profit motive, not morality, is vital to understanding business behaviour even on political matters.