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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos as Lord Vishnu? Magazine apologizes for deity depiction

This depiction in Fortune magazine of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as the Hindu deity Vishnu prompted criticism, and an apology from the magazine's editor. Image via the Twitter feed of artist Nigel Buchanan

(RNS) Hinduism certainly has numerous memorable manifestations of God, from Brahma the Creator to Shiva the Destroyer.

But despite the remarkable success of retail giant Amazon, its founder Jeff Bezos is not one of them.

That’s why the editor of Fortune magazine is now apologizing for a colorful cover that depicts Bezos as the Hindu deity Vishnu — known as the Preserver — in a story on Amazon’s plans to “conquer” the enormous marketplace in India.

“Neither the artist nor the editors of Fortune had any intention of parodying a particular deity or of offending members of the Hindu faith,” Alan Murray said Tuesday evening (Jan. 12) in a brief statement on the magazine’s website. “It is clear that we erred and for that, we apologize.”

The tempest over the image on the current international edition of Fortune erupted after the Sydney-based artist who drew the cover posted it on Twitter on Jan. 5.

“Ok, cool @FortuneMagazine now do one with Bezos as Jesus in honor of Black Friday?” blogger Anil Dash tweeted in response on Saturday.

In an ongoing thread, Dash made it clear that he was not concerned with “sacrilege” as much as his perception that Fortune had no one in its office with the background or sensitivity to question the propriety of such an illustration.

“Also, many Indian people (like my dad) were born under colonial rule. So a headline discussing a corporate ‘invasion’ is probably not ideal,” he added.

Others were not as forgiving about the irreverence of the illustration.

Vishnu is “a highly revered major deity in Hinduism meant to be worshiped in temples or home shrines and not to be used indecorously or thrown around loosely in reimagined versions for dramatic effects,” Rajan Zed, a Nevada-based Hindu author and activist, wrote in a statement on his website.

How could “a mortal” be depicted as Lord Vishnu, “who is the director of our destinies?” Zed asked. He also denounced the “inappropriate usage of Hinduism concepts and symbols for pushing (a) selfish agenda or mercantile greed.”

Depicting religious figures in secular forms or to poke fun at them can often raise the ire of believers, and in some cultures and faiths can provoke charges of blasphemy or even violent attacks on those believed responsible for such transgressions.

In India religious sentiment is running so strong that an arrest warrant was reportedly issued last week for a famous Indian cricket player, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, over his appearance as Vishnu on the cover of a business magazine from three years ago.

(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS)

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

10 Comments

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  • The Hindus need somebody like the Catholics have Bill Donahue: funnel money to an aggressive blowhard to pay him to say things you can’t thus providing you with plausible deniability. But on the other hand, why not? What is more in tune with today’s corporatocracy zeitgeist than taking a captain of industry and making him into a godlike figure? Why in some countries people like that actually run for the Head of State position.

  • “Others were not as forgiving about the irreverence of the illustration.”

    They should have made Bezos into Muhuammed! This kind of bullying from religions is disgusting.
    It is Freedom of speech! Grow up! Done!

  • Make Jeff Bezos as Muhhamad and muslims will teach you freedom of speech. May be they behave in more appropriate manner at times.
    Anyways if you want respect , you need to show respect to others aswell.

  • That reminds me, in the 1960s Playboy Magazine regularly featured articles by religion writer Harvey Cox and one was illustrated by a full-page “Laughing Jesus” Sketch, pen and ink on brown, really inspiring. I’ve seen other “Laughing Jesus” illustrations since but none as good as that one. I would love to have a print of that or just a copy of the page. The plaster “Buddy Jesus” from “Dogma” is pretty stupid and the point was that it was stupid.

  • This is likely to create a ripple only if there is an election around the corner of which there are many round the year. But, as to sales and real concerns there is going to be no effect. Chalta-Hai is the grassroots mode here.

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