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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