Weary New Yorkers traveling to work through the 42nd Street subway were jarred awake Monday by the Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan decor plastered all over some of the cars.
The MTA reskinned the benches on select buses to promote Amazon Studios‘s The Man in the High Castle, an alternate-history science-fiction series that depicts life in a world where the Axis Powers won World War II. One side of the bench sports a variation of the Rising Sun, Japanese symbol, and the other displays the Reichsadler, or German “Imperial Eagle” (sans swastika).
Unsurprisingly, commuters are criticizing the MTA for green-lighting such a controversial marketing ploy. It’s a striking, unsettling display—a feeling that ultimately encompasses the essence of the show—but for some riders, it fails to provide enough context to justify plastering a train car with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan insignia.
“On the television program, which explains this is the notion of an America controlled by Hitler, you get that context,” Evan Bernstein, New York regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, told Gothamist. “On the train, seeing the American flag paired with a Nazi symbol is viscerally offensive, because there is no context as to what it means.”
Additionally, Bernstein said, “This ad campaign has a feel of exploiting things that are so sensitive to so many people.”
It’s commonly understood that Nazis are bad, and bringing them up tends to be awkward. While these ads might be offensive, they also assert a prominent aspect of the show—that people should feel that discomfort. The show takes place in a “tough world” run by “people that did some terrible things,” as Joel de la Fuente, the actor who plays Inspector Kido on the show, said on a panel at New York Comic Con in October.
Regarding a promotional poster showing the Statue of Liberty with a swastika, de la Fuente calls it “deeper than words,” like a “punch to the gut.”
“We welcome that,” he said at the panel. “We want people to have whatever feeling they’re going to have. And the hope is, these specific characters, if we do our jobs well and if we create real, complex characters, we’ll slowly start to challenge our ideas of what’s good and what’s bad and hopefully pull you into an interesting mix of gray.”
The ads achieve this goal, but it might be difficult to attract viewers if the ads offend them instead of piquing their curiosity.
Update 1:24pm CT, Nov. 24: After considerable uproar, MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz told Variety early Tuesday that “Amazon has just decided to pull the ads.”
Screengrab via Amazon Studios/YouTube