Amazon’s “Echo” and the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy

Earlier this afternoon I was watching this short advertisement for Amazon’s latest product:

(Email subscribers, you might need to visit my webpage to see the video.)

While watching this short video, I was at first intrigued and wonder if it is better than Apple’s Siri. Then, without meaning to, I noticed the rampant normalcy and perpetuation of heterosexism (or heteronormativity), sexism, racism, and capitalism. This is the definition of a blessing and a curse. I can’t watch anything without immediately deconstructing it and examining the power structures at play.

Patriarchy is perpetuated because a Man, in this case the husband and father in particular, is the center of attention — not the product — despite the voiceover narration by a young female voice. He teaches one of his daughters and corrects his wife when it comes to operating the product. (The son already knows, if you didn’t notice.)

Patriarchy is also emphasized given that the relationship between the White Man and White Woman is emphasized via their three children, when they are in bed sleeping and Echo wakes them up, and when they are dancing. This also speaks to heteronormativity. Consider too the extremely taboo nature of showing fictionalized married characters in the same bed that existed not that long ago.

Patriarchy and sexism takes root too in that the Woman in this narrative is cooking in the kitchen and instructs Echo to add “wrapping paper” to the shopping list, implying shopping. Shopping and cooking are both stereotypical female domains and almost the extent of permissible roles, historically speaking. Although, she does have a few speaking lines.

Another element of sexism–and this in particular relates to the historical unconsciousness–is that the voice of Echo is female, as is the default voice of Siri. Echo, furthermore, is there to serve the family and answer all of their questions for no pay and no thank you. (And when giving commands or asking questions, the family never says “please” or “thank you.”) Now, of course, with machines notions of pay and thanks are very different. HOWEVER, those who we expect to serve all of our needs and answer all of our questions have almost never been fairly treated, historically speaking.

Racism–or Whitenormativity–is present in that all of the characters are racialized as White.

Capitalism is naturally also present given that Amazon wants people to buy Echo. Capitalism and classism are also present given the implied large size of their home. It is at least two stories (stairs are shown several times), a front door to a house (opposed to an apartment, for instance), and takes places in six or seven rooms. The family is clearly composed of good capitalist given all of their possessions and the shopping list they are making!

All of this happens in under four minutes, and all of this reinforces perfectly what bell hooks terms the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy. Now I know from lots and lots of experience that many people will say “you are reading too much into this.” I would first respond read this. Then, I would remind you that each and every aspect of the short commercial (a mini film) were deliberately choose. This rhetoric speaks very powerfully to present-day mores and by extension, the values our society and Amazon truly want to uphold.

Of course not every commercial or movie should or even could have diversity in terms of how people are classized, racialized, etc., but that this is clearly a wealthy, English-speaking, White family, with a White Man leading his White Wife and their three White children is most worthy of significant note. This brief advertisement excludes almost all of the people who are actually United Statesians.