Hot new controversy: Is VW Jamaican accent Super Bowl ad racist?

posted at 9:31 pm on January 31, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham

You be a judge. The butt of this very good-natured joke, such that it is, is a little bit the white guy for taking on his new accent— hence, the “dude, you’re from Minnesota” moment— and his uptight colleagues. In this commercial, the Jamaican accent becomes a symbol of one’s ability to be a little happier and chiller than the average cubicle dweller.

Refreshingly, VW doesn’t seem to be surrendering at the first sign of whining:

But the force is suddenly hitting VW, with vocal critics claiming its big game spot — this time featuring a white, Midwesterner who feigns a Jamaican accent — is racist.

VW insists it will broadcast the ad during Sunday’s game on CBS. “There is no thought to pulling it,” says Tim Mahoney, chief product and marketing office at Volkswagen of America. It began showing online Monday and since then, has been a social-media buzz saw — with most folks liking it, but some critics totally trashing it.

One critic calls the ad “horrific.” No, really:

“It’s pretty horrific,” says Ricki Fairley-Brown, president of the multicultural marketing agency Dove Marketing. “Why do they have a white guy from Minnesota faking a Jamaican accent?”

Even more troubled by the spot is Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, chief hispanic marketing strategist at Walton Isaacson, an African-American, Gay/Lesbian and Hispanic agency. “What happens in this ad is that the culture becomes a punch line, and that is offensive.”

Pop cultural guru Barbara Lippert is not amused, either. “It made me uncomfortable to see all of those white people in an office setting doing this,” she says. “I found it offensive.”

I will concede the ad does not illustrate Jamaican culture in its full and nuanced richness using historically accurate references and a kaleidoscope of native Jamaicans, but it does not make Jamaican culture the butt of a joke. Just ask the Jamaican cultural and tourism director, who wants everyone to, well, chill:

“We view it as a compliment,” says McNeill. “People should get into their inner Jamaica and get happy.” He’s even negotiating with VW for some sort of co-branding.

Commentary in the YouTube comment section is also refreshingly sane, with many proclaimed Jamaicans chiming in in support, and the general tenor matching that of the commercial— Hey, mon. Get happy. Some note it might be a little, ahem, racist to assume all people with Jamaican accents are black considering there are people of many races there. Others think it’s light-hearted, and a nod to something they’re proud about in their culture:

I am a Jamaican who thinks this ad is so funny, just can’t see what the controversy is all about. Funny thing though it’s not Jamaicans who think this add is offensive, but people who propose to think for us.

One of my favorites:

This commercial tells me that: White people are too uptight and need to be more like Jamaicans. And the best way to do that is through German engineering.


Maybe this ad can mark a victory for the virtues of chilling out— something our hyper-sensitive culture too often overlooks.

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Irie Mon 201.

Bmore on February 1, 2013 at 5:43 PM

It’s an outrageously, outrageous outrage! /

TarheelBen on February 1, 2013 at 6:05 PM

I don’t know if anyone else pointed out the historically interlaced vibe of VWs to the drug scene of the 60s, and the ganja ding of the Jamaaican man.

That aside, people are too hung up on being insulted.

RalphyBoy on February 1, 2013 at 7:23 PM

“Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.” – Theodore Dalrymple

Django on February 1, 2013 at 3:33 PM

That was kinda interesting. Thanks for posting that.

Axe on February 1, 2013 at 9:22 PM

Rascism is in the eye of the beholder.

fenryys on February 1, 2013 at 10:36 PM

And racism.

fenryys on February 1, 2013 at 10:39 PM

ras clot!!!

driguana on February 1, 2013 at 11:06 PM

This PC crap is the result of too many Sociology degrees and not enough real jobs.

gator70 on February 2, 2013 at 8:25 AM

Maybe someone already pointed this out but has anyone noticed that the three quoted offendees are female? Why are women so damned uptight?

princetrumpet on February 2, 2013 at 8:30 AM

If I made a list of the 500 most offensive or insulting ads on TV today, this would not be among them. It wouldn’t make me buy a VW, but it wouldn’t make me wish never to buy one, either. A great many TV ads are so stupid and intelligence-insulting that I simply decide their product is not one I could agree to support.

Freelancer on February 3, 2013 at 11:04 AM