The Internet is no stranger to public displays of ignorance, but for a major company to make a blunder of this magnitude and insensitivity is almost impossible to believe.
Like many other United States retailers, just before Independence Day 2014 American Apparel posted a holiday greeting to its Tumblr blog. The image the company posted was of a trail of smoke streaking across a skyline that had been photoshopped red. The hashtags #smoke and #clouds were posted along with it, obviously suggesting that we were looking at an afterimage of fireworks.
There was just one problem: the photo in question wasn't of fireworks at all. It was actually a picture of the 1986 space shuttle Challenger, moments after it exploded following liftoff. The Challenger accident occured on January 28, 1986 and instantly ended the lives of all seven of its astronaut passengers. It was the worst-ever disaster in the history of manned spaceflight, and forever changed not only NASA but Earth's entire space exploration industry.
Predictably, American Apparel followers quickly recognized the image for what it was and tweeted angry and offended replies. The retailer deleted the post, but not before screenshots were taken of it and posted all over social media. An apology was later posted, which reads:
We deeply apologize for today's Tumblr post of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The image was re-blogged in error by one of our international social media employees who was born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event. We sincerely regret the insensitivity of that selection and the post has been deleted.
Did you catch the explanation there in the apology? It was sorely needed for Americans to comprehend what could possibly cause such an egregious lapse in judgment. American Apparel claims that the mistake was made by a social media employee living outside the United States, who was "born after the Challenger's destruction and was unaware of the event."
Think about that. This international AA employee, who's probably in his or her mid-to-late twenties, had never heard of the Challenger disaster. People living outside the U.S. certainly aren't expected to have full knowledge of every historical event that happens here, but this was a world-shaking event, the kind of tragedy that people today can recall exact details about where they were and what they were doing when the news broke.
Before this employee is allowed to make anymore social media posts, perhaps someone should fill him or her in on 9/11 and Newtown.