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Tempest Over A Teapot: JC Penney Removes 'Hitler' Billboard

Photos of a JC Penney billboard in Culver City, Calif., spurred an online debate over whether the tea kettle resembles German tyrant Adolf Hitler.
Imgur, via KPCC
Photos of a JC Penney billboard in Culver City, Calif., spurred an online debate over whether the tea kettle resembles German tyrant Adolf Hitler.

After receiving complaints that a billboard advertisement included an image resembling Adolf Hitler, JC Penney has reportedly taken the sign down. The move came after images of the billboard in California's Culver City spurred a controversy on Reddit and elsewhere online. The retailer says any resemblance to the late leader of the Third Reich was unintended.

"Several customers have taken to the Web to complain about a J.C. Penney billboard that's next to the 405 Freeway in Culver City," reported the Without A Net blog at member station KPCC Tuesday. "The problem: It kind of looks like Hitler."

Citing ABC-7 in Los Angeles, KPCC says the billboard has now been removed. The item is also no longer on the JC Penney website, although that could be because it has sold out.

The billboard promoted the Bells and Whistles Stainless Steel Tea Kettle, part of the store's collection by designer Michael Graves. But to some, the image of the kettle included dark details that could be taken to represent Hitler's iconic black mustache, parted hair, tie, and right arm raise in a Nazi salute.

"Totally unintentional." a JC Penney rep tweeted in response to a question about the kettle and the ad yesterday. "If we'd designed the kettle to look like something, we would've gone w/a snowman :)" The tweet included an image to illustrate their point.

But elsewhere on Twitter and other sites, people took to playing a game of sorts: reworking the lyrics of "I'm A Little Teapot" to include references to Hitler.

On JC Penney's Facebook page, at least one person didn't see what the fuss was about.

"People are so stupid!" said a customer named Leigh Anne. "That teapot doesn't look like Hitler anymore than I do."

In a poll, KPCC's readers were divided, with nearly 31 percent (as of noon EDT Wednesday) saying "Yes" to the question, "Does this JC Penney billboard in Culver City look like Hitler?"

Nearly a quarter of respondents said, "No, people are just imagining things."

As Without A Net's Mike Roe reports, "The item's notoriety also means that it sold out to all the Internet fans buying it ironically. (We hope they were purchasing it ironically.)"

Mike noted that while the kettle was no longer available online, reviews of it had been posted, including one that lauded its ability to boil water. Under "Cons," however, the customer had written, "Looks like Hitler."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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