Volkswagen’s highly anticipated ad for Super Bowl 2013 is already making waves online days before the big event, but not for the reasons the German carmaker may have hoped for. Many have called the ad racist because it features a white Midwestern office worker speaking in a West Indian (or Jamaican) accent.
The commercial (below) registered more than 3.6 million hits on YouTube in its first four days online, and VW says it has no plans to pull the ad from Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast on CBS.
This has enraged the chorus of critics who worry that the ad stereotypes Jamaican residents and mocks their dialect.
“It's pretty horrific," Ricki Fairley-Brown, president of the multicultural marketing agency Dove Marketing, told USA Today. "Why do they have a white guy from Minnesota faking a Jamaican accent?"
A marketing strategist at Watson Isaacson told the paper, “What happens in this ad is that the culture becomes a punch line, and that is offensive.”
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New York Times columnist Charles Blow compared the spot to "blackface with voices” on CNN’s “Starting Point,” while Jamaican-born journalist Christopher Jon Farley wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the accent reminded him of Jar Jar Binks from “Star Wars.”
“The Jamaican aesthetic -- shaped by such Jamaican-born notables as Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey and the revolutionary Nanny of the Maroons -- is founded on positive vibration, not mindless happiness. There’s a big difference,” Farley railed.
Actress Pia Glenn went so far as to write a 1,500-word manifesto in The Daily Beast, arguing: “With its lame use of Jamaican patois, questionable casting and casual reliance on stereotypes, the car company’s commercial is offensive to people of color and multiculturalism, stupid -- and just plain unfunny.”
VW claims it “talked to 100 Jamaicans” during the research process, and the lead actor in the commercial, Erik Nicolaisen, asserts that his Jamaican brother-in-law “loves it.” Neither of these testimonials is likely to quell the uproar.
But the endorsement of Jamaica’s former prime minister, Andrew Holness, and current minister of tourism and entertainment, Wykeham McNeill, might. Wykeham said Thursday that he though the Super Bowl spot was “very creative.”
“[The commercial] taps into the tremendous mass appeal that brand Jamaica and its hospitable people have globally,” McNeill said, adding that he loved how it uses reggae icon Jimmy Cliff’s new rendition of the Partridge Family theme song “Get Happy.”
“I believe the commercial is also a tribute to the popularity of reggae music worldwide, and I salute Jimmy Cliff for being a true Jamaican ambassador through his outstanding music.”
What McNeill really wants, he said, is for everyone around the globe to do exactly what the commercial portrays: “Tap into your inner Jamaican and ‘get happy’.”