business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB reader John Rand had some thoughts about Kate McMahon’s review of the Amazon 4 Star store in New York:

Read Kate’s commentary with interest as I have not been anywhere near NYC to visit the Amazon 4-Star location. It set me to thinking about the difference between “targeted curation” and “popular”.

I have little doubt that Amazon does indeed have enough data to say with some accuracy  “Here are the things appearing as desired or highly rated from a large sample of America”. And at the same time, any given individual looking at such a list might well think “Why would I need any of this stuff?”.

We are no longer a country of broadly similar tastes, lifestyles, or desires. That is so 1950s. It is why mass media gives way to targeted media, why undifferentiated retailers fail where they once were successful doing (more or less) the same things.  Our ability to satisfy our individuality is now stronger and in many ways easier than our willingness to accept commonalities.

Any organization (whether retailing, social, political, technological) that starts out with the premise that just because some people like something than everyone else will like it – is missing the most fundamental social trend of the last 50 years – high degrees of variance. Different schools, different churches, different backgrounds, different tastes, different family structures. Some people are overwhelmed by all this diversity, some celebrate it, some leverage it, some resist – it still remains the most important underlying subtext of the 21st century.

Several decades ago you probably watched the TV shows that were popular for your age group and community. You listened to the music that was top of the charts.  You read the same newspaper, shopped in the same stores, and frankly, it was a deadly dull world by comparison, dominated by the lowest common denominator of everything.  It gave us fast food, packaged meals, uniform clothing, life in cubicles, and some truly awful interior color schemes. (If you recall some of the décor of the 60s and 70s you know what I mean).

I am stunned that Amazon, of all companies, does not understand this. “Most popular” and “4 Star Rated” is the spiritual successor to “As Seen On TV” .  Amazon is the company that first learned how to take advantage of the “Long Tail” – how could they have missed this?

Also got several emails about the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” controversy.

One MNB reader wrote:

Just like TV shows the radio station could, just prior to playing, give out a warning that the following may be offensive. The listener can turn down the volume, change channels, or just turn it off. Or just listen.

A movie reference: Do the needs of the one or the few outweigh the needs of the many?

MNB reader Mike Griswold wrote:

I hope your email box size is flexible as I am sure your observation on the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” will garner plenty of responses. I am struggling with addressing a lack of attention to important issues like #me too and retroactively attacking songs, shows, etc. where there was no malicious intent. When the song in question was written, it was not created with the intent to promote date rape. Nor was Rudolph created to promote bullying, yet people want to go there as well. I agree completely that people have the right to protest, businesses have the right to respond as they see fit. Unfortunately any business who responds by saying we hear you, but we don’t see it that way; are often then labeled as insensitive.

Lastly, I would suggest we would be better off looking at much more recent content such as the “50 Shades” series, and music lyrics as an example of things to find offensive, not things created 40 years ago.

From another reader:

If they don't want to hear a particularly song, they should switch stations.  They have no right to prevent everyone else from listening to it.

And another:

Sheesh, forget the movie scene, enjoy the song, and the holiday season because as I look at the national weather map, Baby it is truly cold outside.

From MNB reader Jimmy Ducey:

Talk about making something out of nothing.

A simple solution for those who are offended is to remove the song from your play list, or change the station.

Those of us that don’t have such a cynical approach to life will keep listening.

And from another:

Its not about the song, or content so much .. it PC police running amok. Now a candy cane ban is proposed, reason: alternatively because the J shape could mean Jesus, or the feminazis call it phallic imagery. Your thoughts smart guy??

One MNB reader wrote in to agree with me:

Thank you, Kevin, for this morning’s comments, with which I wholeheartedly agree. More folks with the influence you have should speak out.

I’m not sure how much influence I have … and the volume of email I got disagreeing with me suggests that it ain’t much.

Let me respond a little bit…

First about the candy cane reference.

Apparently an elementary public school principal in Nebraska put out a memo saying that candy canes should not be displayed in school during the holidays because the shape is for the first letter of Jesus’ name, and the red and white colors represent his blood and purity, in that order. He also banned a lot of other Christmas-related stuff - even items like Elf-on-a-Shelf connected to the secular view of the holiday - but was overruled by the district, which said his memo was not consistent with district policy.

For the record, I think the principal was wrong. I understand and agree with the idea that public schools ought not be in the religious observance business, but he went way over the line in my view. But I think a lot of schools go way over the line in a lot of ways. (We can have that conversation another time.)

But I think equating the candy cane story with the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” story is not entirely fair. And, I think you undermine your argument by using such an offensive and antiquated term as “feminazi” … it suggests you are unwilling to even consider the thoughts and feelings of people who are not like you. (If my daughter were not a feminist, I’d figure I did something wrong in raising her. And the last thing she needs is neanderthals suggesting that feminists are Nazis.)

People are absolutely right when they say that the radio stations have the right not to bend to the will of these protestors. Listeners can change the station, if they want. All true.

My reason for bringing this up is that in this case the businesses have a decision to make - one that is not just a business decision, but one with cultural and societal implications. They can do they want, and listeners will do what they want … but the only thing they can’t do is ignore the context of whatever decision they make.

The ideals of compassion and sensitivity, it seems to me, are built on the premise that as human beings we ought to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of people not like us, to understand how and why their view of the world differs from ours. We can try to be nuanced in how we think and act …or not.

This isn’t really about a song. It is about how the world is changing. Like it or not.

I’m not the most sensitive guy in the world, but I’ve decided that I’m going to try … because I think it makes me a better person. Sometimes I change the way I think and act, and sometimes not. (Such a lapse is when I call someone with whom I disagree a “neanderthal.” What can I say? I’m not perfect.)
KC's View: