The Banal Heartbreak of Amazon's FC Ambassador Propaganda Program
Jeff Bezos has more money than anybody else on earth. As Notorious B.I.G sagely noted, mo money inevitably brings mo problems. Bezos’ problems are accordingly vast. You do not get to be the richest man in the world without being an evil fuck.
There’s a widespread perception that Amazon is a terrible company to work for, that its warehouse employees work impossibly long hours under grueling, exhausting conditions.
It does not help that Amazon does not recognize unions and will not allow its employees to unionize. Amazon has a serious PR problem when it comes to the public thinking it’s evil so it has decided to go on the offensive with its “Amazon FC Ambassador” program.
The idea of the Amazon FC Ambassador program is to fight the widespread perception of Bezos as the devil and the Amazon warehouse as hell by offering a counter-narrative of happy Amazon warehouse workers happily sharing with a grateful public the real, unknown truth: that workers have lots of fun, that big daddy Bezos totally lets them wearing silly hats sometimes and that, counter to conventional wisdom, they are not overwhelmingly suffering from depression linked to over-work and brutal work conditions.
Amazon created a series of Twitter accounts for “Amazon FC Ambassadors”, average, everyday Amazon warehouse employees (the FC stands for fulfillment center) who take to Twitter to gush about how much they love their jobs, how much fun they’re having, what a great company Amazon is to work for and how the public perception of Amazon as evil is, at the very least, somewhat exaggerated.
This curious PR initiative recently attracted unwanted attention when people began to notice a series of curiously identical, interchangeable accounts from people so overwhelmed with appreciation and gratitude for Amazon as an employer that they were moved to share that cult-like enthusiasm with a misinformed public in exchange for what former employees have described as a paid day off and a 50 dollar Amazon gift card. Oh, and a sandwich for lunch, cold cuts and bread, nothing fancy. I mean, a gourmet feast that absolutely blowed everyone away!
That may not seem like much for your soul but being able to write that you did publicity for the world’s richest man looks better on a resume than saying you did non-unionized drudge work for a soulless corporation notorious for its mistreatment of employees.
The tweets are a curious bunch, full of hashtags, exclamation points to indicate just how non-miserable they truly are, weirdly technical information about how well they’re paid (no need for a union for these happy campers!) and, most fascinatingly and depressingly as far as I’m concerned, photographs showing just how much fun they’re having.
The costumes just make everything seem sadder. The fun and mirth they’re supposed to convey, the sense of “We work hard but we also have a lot fun!” just registers as sour, defeated sadness. As an antidote to the soul-crushing, alienating, crazy-making pressure and misery of contemporary life as a wage slave for the world’s richest man, being allowed, even encouraged, to dress up like lovable video game everyman Mario once or twice a year is pretty weak.
There is no sentiment in the world sadder or more poignant than, “Look how much fun we’re having!” If you’re genuinely having fun it shows. It emanates from your pores. You exude joy and pleasure. It’s non-fun that you have to hashtag and photograph and try desperately to pass off as the real thing.
Then there are the tragicomic glimpses of the FC ambassadors’ true ambassadors that slip in between all the mindless boosterism for the deep-pocketed bosses and gushing about the sweet-ass nature of their jobs.
In one particularly heartbreaking tweet an Amazon employee identified as Hannah-Amazon FC Ambassador wrote,
“I suffer from depression too, and at one point I wanted to quit Amazon. But I realized it was my fault for the problems I was dealing with, and not Amazon's. I'm allowed to talk to people, but sometimes I don't want to. Now I have some great coworkers to pass the nights with.”
I don’t know where to begin when it comes to unpacking the sadness of that tweet. Maybe the single saddest element of it, to my chronically depressed, lonely, existentially alienated self at least, is that it feels real, not just in the sense of coming from an actual employee but also in reflecting how she actually saw her experiences. It was all her fault. Her controversial and widely disparaged employers are blameless. Every bad thing that happens to her is the product of something broken and wrong and unacceptable inside her and everything Amazon does is wise and kind and in the best interests of employees it cares deeply about.
When you’re depressed, that’s how you see the world. You’re the problem. You’re the one whose sadness and awkwardness and inability to interact with other people freely and easily is making you miserable. Your boss is right to look at you askance because the brokenness is inside you, certainly not in Amazon as a soulless international corporate behemoth.
Your boss looks after you, makes it possible for you to have friends and not talk to people if you don’t want to.
That, to me, is way more heartbreaking and sad than Amazon creating bot accounts to create an artificially rosy picture of its employees’ lives.
Looking at these unintentionally depressing, absolutely heartbreaking accounts is like looking at a social media version of The Office with all of the sadness and poignance and none of the jokes or fun.
I used to be a company man. I used to believe in companies. I used to think that they cared about me, that they wanted me to be happy as well as productive.
I don’t feel that way anymore. My heart got broken too many times and I did work I loved for companies like The Onion and Pitchfork. I can only imagine how dispiriting it would be to believe in a company like Amazon, to be emotionally invested in the idea that you’re part of a family, not just an employee, and discover otherwise the hard way.
Amazon wanted to convey the impression that its warehouse employees are having an absolute ball that the public tragically doesn’t know anything about. Instead, in trying to “re-educate” the public about the true nature of Amazon employment they opened a bottomless well of personal and professional sadness and invited the public to take a good long look, oblivious as to how the ambassadors and Amazon would come off.
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