During the holiday season, Amazon released a new commercial. It depicts a Catholic priest and a Muslim cleric meeting for a cup of tea in what appears to be the priest’s home. It all looks very friendly with smiles, laughter, and even a close-up of the priest patting the imam’s forearm affectionately. At some point, the imam rubs his knees. This is our clue about the content of their conversation. They are discussing prayer and a shared problem:
Prayer is hard on the knees.
The two men finish their tea, rise from their seats, hug, and then the priest sees the imam to the door. On the street, the imam rubs his chin and reflects on the conversation. Inside, the priest does the same and, taking his iPhone out of his pocket, he taps the Amazon app and orders something. But what did he order?
The answer comes when, shortly thereafter, the imam hears a knock at his door. It is an Amazon delivery. The priest also receives a delivery from Amazon. The men open their respective boxes and find that each was thinking the same thing: inside are knee pads. They chuckle, slip them on, and the commercial ends with the priest, in a church, kneeing comfortably before his God in prayer while the imam does the same in a mosque.
It is hard to be too critical of this commercial. In a time when so much of what we see, especially in advertising, is inflammatory, this spot is clean, gentle, and hopeful. But for all of its good intentions, what is the commercial saying? Is Amazon promoting a sale on knee pads? No. Is it about efficient delivery of Amazon products? Partly, but it is saying much more than that. Here Amazon serves as the third person in this conversation, the mediator, a bridge between these two religious parties.
The commercial has a distinctly postmodern flavor to it, hinting at the idea that all conflicts are just the result of misunderstandings and can be worked out over a cup of tea. My guess is that Amazon isn’t particularly religious and thus relativizing the fundamental differences between these two absolutist religions is easily done. The message is one of capitalism mixed with postmodern notions of tolerance.
I have a much bolder idea for Amazon:
Make a commercial of this type, but instead of a Muslim and a Catholic, make the central characters a Democrat and a Republican. Better yet, make them Hillary Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump. Yes, perfect. Show them chatting affably over tea or coffee. Hillary pats Trump’s arm affectionately. Trump tilts his head to the side and smiles warmly. They rise, take a selfie together, tweet the photo with the hashtag #BFF, and laugh. Trump sees Hillary to the door and gives her a hug. On the street, Hillary rubs her chin thoughtfully. Inside, Trump does the same and makes a call. In the next scene, each receives a package from the other.
Of course, no such commercial would ever be produced. It is easy to relativize things you don’t care about and Seattle-based Amazon doesn’t care about religion. Allah? Jesus? Submission? Grace? What’s the difference! Lighten up, drink some tea, and don’t forget to buy something from Amazon! But relativize political differences? Fat chance. I can hear the shrill cries of the Twitterverse. Our doctrines, our creeds are too disparate. Drink tea with them? Never!
As for the ending of the commercial, I picture it this way: Hillary opens her box and finds a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Inside Donald’s is a hall pass for a weekend in Vegas with Hillary’s husband, Bill. Attached is a handwritten note: “What happens in Vegas, Donald … Love, Hils.” The screen fades with Hillary and Trump nodding, laughing, smiling appreciatively at the thoughtfulness of the other.