By// Starrene Rhett Rocque
A Super Bowl Volkswagen ad has become the center of controversy since being leaked online a couple of days ago. The ad depicts a White man “from Minnesota,” and then at the end, an Asian-American man and another White man speaking with a Jamaican accent. The idea behind the commercial is to show that “the power of German” engineering makes people so happy that they become as carefree as possible–sort of like lounging on a Caribbean beach.
Via The Atlantic:
The controversy started on CNN yesterday when Jamaican-born Christopher John Farley of the Wall Street Journal said: “Although I love you featuring Jimmy Cliff in the ad, a terrific Jamaican performance, the Jamaican accent did sort of strike me as Jar Jar Binks-ish.”
The New York Times’s Charles Blow had a more intense reaction, saying the accent was “like blackface with voices.” The commercial was discussed this morning on the Today show and their “ad expert” Barbara Lippert, the editor-at-large of MediaPost.com called it racist.
VW America Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mahoney has been defending the ad on CNN: “We did our homework to make sure we weren’t offensive so we did some research to make sure we didn’t go in a direction we didn’t want to go.” Additionally, Mahoney explained that they VW marketers talked to about 100 Jamaicans in the research phase and had a speech coach on hand. And there isn’t unanimous outrage: On CNN, Soledad O’Brien said she liked it, the Today show couch was divided on opinion.
Despite the varying opinions, the island’s government and stands behind the commercial.
The island’s government has endorsed the commercial, which shows an ebullient white worker from the U.S. state of Minnesota trying to cheer up glum colleagues with a Jamaican patois accent because he is so happy with his Volkswagen. At the start of the commercial, he paraphrases the lyrics to late reggae icon Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” as he tells his co-workers: “No worries, mon. Everyting will be all right.”
The company’s website continues the theme, offering a clip of Jamaica’s Jimmy Cliff singing “C’mon, get happy.”
On Wednesday, opposition lawmaker Edmund Bartlett said the television ad “is a perfect illustration of Jamaican culture’s global reach and our uncharacteristic penchant to be happy even in challenging situations.”
Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill said he believes the Super Bowl commercial has the potential to increase tourist arrivals.
“I think this is a very creative commercial which truly taps into the tremendous appeal that brand Jamaica and its hospitable people have globally,” McNeill said in a late Tuesday statement.
At a Kingston bus stop, office assistant Jennifer Blake said she saw the Volkswagen advertisement online and thought it was amusing to see an American trying to speak patois.
“I’m not sure why people would think it was offensive or anything,” she said Wednesday, adding that many of her friends have shared links to the commercial on social media.
Nearly all islanders, regardless of class, can speak and understand the country’s patois. Jamaica’s official language is standard English, but many people cannot speak it.
Those who speak standard English fluently, mostly people from the middle and upper classes, tend to use patois for emphasis or to affect a down-to-earth persona.
A representative for Volkswagen of America said Wednesday morning that the company has no plans to pull the Super Bowl spot.
“As of this morning, we received no consumer calls or complaints about our ad. In fact, we’ve only received positive endorsements,” Scott Vazin, a company spokesman, said in an email.
So, there you have it.
In my opinion, it’s not racist because the commercial isn’t making a statement intending to subjugate a group of people based on racial background.
Two, there are White people and Asians living in Jamaica who obviously speak with a Jamaican accent.
Three, these actors faking Jamaican accents is the same as actors faking American accents or British accents and so on.
If they had been wearing dreadlock wigs and smoking weed then we’d have a problem, Houston. But even then it wouldn’t be racist, it would be stereotypical.