The Daily Heller: Bezos the Puzzling Oligarch

Posted inThe Daily Heller

It seems inconceivable that we are returning to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the names Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Rockefeller, Ford, among them, ran the nation as though it was their fiefdom and competed for who could control its untapped riches. Innovation has always been at the core of these riches and powers, and today we are deep into the new age of innovation—of brilliant, independent iconoclasts’ inventions that change the ways we live.

Jeff Bezos is exemplary of the new American oligarch. He conceived a system that streamlined consumption and met the needs of his consumers by using production and transportation technologies to make a global marketplace dependent on his invention. But the luxury of sit-at-home purchasing has its price. The Morlocks who work in the windowless warehouses, sorting and packing goods, have been exploited in the push to increase Amazon’s lust for market share.

The result is dissatisfaction, inequity and unfair labor practices. Unionization has returned as an alternative to bad industrial behavior and Amazon has been in the vanguard. To show solidarity, the political illustrator Josh Gosfield, in collaboration with The Nation magazine, has produced “Solidarity Forever,” a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle designed to show support for the Amazon Labor Union while raising awareness among the public. Toys and games have long enjoyed a historic place in the legacy of propaganda. I asked Gosfield how this particular entry will help the cause.

What is the genesis of this puzzle?
The Nation had the idea to create this 500-piece jigsaw puzzle inspired by the heroic struggles of the Amazon Labor Union. And even better, to donate 10% of proceeds to support the ALU. 

When art director Robert Best at The Nation asked me to do the puzzle, I was “Hell, yeah!” because there’s nothing better than combining politics and art, nothing better than creating an image that might influence events in a positive way.

I had no idea The Nation did puzzles, games or products of any kind. Is it satire or for real (or both)?
The puzzle titled “Solidarity Forever” is straight-up activist art, art that is meant to sway peoples’ opinions—in this case, to showcase the heroic struggle of Amazon workers to organize, unionize and fight for their rights. 

What are the issues that you are raising?
When I thought about how to illustrate the struggle of the Amazon workers I immediately saw the connection between Amazon and ancient Egyptian art. Jeff Bezos is a filthy-rich, self-indulgent Pharaoh seated on a golden throne, cradling his precious rocket ship. The Amazon workers are industrious, but instead of treating them as soulless drones I depicted each worker as proudly individualistic, yet united in a collective struggle for their rights, rising up and toppling over the Pharaoh Bezos.

And what are the Easter eggs inside the puzzle?
Plenty of Easter eggs: An Egyptian-type dog carrying a package. A quote from the great TV show “The Prisoner”: “I am not a number.” Warehouse workers carrying scanners as revolutionaries might carry guns. Pairing Pharaoh Bezos with the Egyptian symbol of the snake, a throne of Amazon logos, piles of hundred dollar bills, and his phallic Blue Origin rocket ship.

Any tales of joy or woe in the making or production of the puzzle?
Two things. I’ve walked around a bit to meet Amazon workers and show them the puzzle and take pictures of them with the puzzle, and it’s really been cool how approachable and talkative they are and also how appreciative they are about the art. 

A funny thing happened to me on the way to making this piece of political art. My artistic goal was to humanize the Amazon workers and to heroize their work. And having put a lot of work into depicting the workers as both individuals and as noble workers, I came to see the flesh-and-blood Amazon workers out in the street in a new way. I came to view them less as generic package deliverers and more as noble workers serving a greater good.