Is Fortune Joking With This Cover?

13/01/2016 10:19 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Fortune

Fortune's January cover story is about Amazon's plans for expansion into the Indian market. It's your average "India business" feature with one twist: an egregiously ill-advised cover depicting Jeff Bezos as a Hindu deity.

Bezos is depicted, by Australian illustrator Nigel Buchanan, through assorted conventions of Hindu religious imagery including blue skin and a jnana mudra hand gesture (signifying meditation and wisdom). (Under duress, I might say they were going for "Vishnu.") But his eyes, which are brown in real life, are conspicuously light, as if to assert his whiteness, that the iconography is just a visual gag.

Tech blogger Anil Dash tweeted about the cover on Saturday, and pointed out the poor taste of pairing the image with a headline reading "Amazon Invades India." “Also, many Indian people (like my dad) were born under colonial rule. So a headline discussing a corporate ‘invasion’ is probably not ideal," wrote Dash.

Fortune editor Alan Murray issued a non-apology on Twitter to "those offended."

First of all, "those offended" is, well, everyone, because the design is in such poor taste. In the full cover, its neo-colonial, imperalist overtones are explicit: "How Jeff Bezos is conquering the next 'trillion-dollar market'." Oh, come again? India is reduced to a dollar amount under a white man's purview? Haven't heard that one before.

And the cover is part of a long, racist tradition of carelessly appropriating Hindu iconography for its color, traditions, and unique visual conventions while erasing its history and context to make a joke, a point, and/or a profit.

It's a cringeworthy occasional trope of magazine covers like those of Ms. (twice) and the National Review.

More importantly, it begs the question of what is the chain of command, or the high levels of a newsroom, where a cover like this gets green lights all the way to print.

This is why diversity in publishing matters, not just among writers, but among editors too. I can only imagine the clueless cadre of individuals who not only failed to identify this as offensive, but ostensibly found it a good idea, with creative merit.

Like:

Subject: January cover

Okay team, we're down to three options: Amazon drones flying over New Delhi, a pile of Amazon gift boxes at Diwali, or Jeff Bezos as Vishnu.

Re: January cover

Dude! Definitely the last one. I have a great feeling about this.

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