5:25 am - 01/30/2013

Volkswagen's Super Bowl Ad: Is it Racist?

Volkswagen unleashed their big new "Get Happy" Superbowl ad upon the internet this week, and the question on everyone's mind is—naturally—wait, is that racist?

   In it, "Dave" – a white man from Minnesota – speaks in a fake Jamaican accent as he implores his co-workers to "get happy" and overcome "the Mondays." Eventually, office life brightens and Dave takes his boss and some co-workers for a spin in his Beetle. Each speaks with a Jamaican accent as the commercial ends.

So, the commercial is basically "Under the Sea" meets that time Michael Scott came back from Sandals Jamaica and wouldn't stop playing the steel drum. It exploits the idea that "island people" are all happy-go-lucky cartoons paid to serve us with a smile (to echo Pam in that same Office episode, um, Jamaica's kind of an impoverished country...) and the fact that, clearly, Americans aren't sure whether or not we're "allowed" to make fun of Jamaican people. Gray area!!! Cha-ching!

Not great. Perpetuating positive stereotypes is not as bad as perpetuating negative ones, but it's still a systemic problem that warrants examination. (Also, can we please euthanize the what-if-a-white-guy-didn't-talk-like-a-white-guy school of comedy already? Pleeeeeeeeeease?)

But no matter how offensive you might find the ad (or not), no five minutes of television have ever blown my mind harder than the Today Show crew attempting to talk about it. Specifically, whether or not the ad's "Jamaican flavor" is problematic. My friend posted this clip on her Facebook with the caption, "It's okay, guys. Volkswagen consulted over 100 Jamaicans." And I was like, "Ohhhhh ho ho ho ho, my friend! She is so funny with the jokes!"

Then I watched it.

[OP Note: The Today Show Video won't embed, but you can view it here

In the Today Show clip they talk about the ad, where Matt Laur defends the ad, saying, "I take a completely different view of it. I have to be honest with you. I thought if you buy this car, it puts you in a happy place and what's happier than all the memories we have on being on beautiful islands on island time? that's the way I took it." One critic of the ad called it "Blackface with voices" </b> ]

AND THAT IS ACTUALLY LITERALLY WHAT THEY SAY. THEY CONSULTED 100 JAMAICANS. That's a statement that Volkswagen actually released, and then the Today Show actually repeats on the air, and then an "ad expert" lady comes on and her outrage goes terribly wrong. You must watch it. Is it Christmas? Is this real life?

Well, 100 Jamaicans couldn't be wrong! That is the going rate for an acquittal in Racism Court. 100 Jamaicans and 30 Helens. Oh, Today Show, don't ever stop being so awkward and terrible. I love you.

Anyway, here's Adweek on why cries of racism won't hurt Volkswagen:
While it won't say so explicitly, Volkswagen can lean on three facts here: First, the Jamaican accent is not exclusively a black accent. This technically makes it difficult to call the ad racist, even though its humor is racial-i.e., it clearly derives from showing a white guy talking like a black guy.

    Second, perhaps due to the laid-back reputation of the island nation, the Jamaican accent is simply not seen by many Americans as an offensive one to imitate. By contrast, an ad with white Minnesotans talking in stereotypical Asian accents clearly wouldn't fly.

    Third, the entire tone of the ad is positive and feel-good. This makes it less likely for people to want to punish Volkswagen for it. The theme and very title of the ad, "Get Happy," is a rebuke to critics who would want to spoil the party.

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superdogbiter 30th-Jan-2013 12:54 pm (UTC)
oh here go hell come
therearewords 30th-Jan-2013 12:56 pm (UTC)
Oh Good Gods in Hell when will people get it through their thick skulls?
therearewords 30th-Jan-2013 12:59 pm (UTC)
Nope, can't get past the 10 second mark.
its_debatable 30th-Jan-2013 01:01 pm (UTC)
the south will rise again man!
shortstuff85 30th-Jan-2013 01:56 pm (UTC)
lulubelle007 30th-Jan-2013 02:06 pm (UTC)
chandler's money well spent
pastelstar 30th-Jan-2013 06:17 pm (UTC)
ben_superdetka 30th-Jan-2013 10:28 pm (UTC)
lol irl
americnxidiot 30th-Jan-2013 02:49 pm (UTC)
xxgoddessevexx 30th-Jan-2013 01:03 pm (UTC)
who comes up with this shit?

and who the fuck would give the ok on this?!
thirteencands 30th-Jan-2013 01:08 pm (UTC)
so many ads are offensive and ppl don't give two fucks
hetairai 30th-Jan-2013 01:16 pm (UTC)
didnt you read? 100 Jamaicans
xxgoddessevexx 30th-Jan-2013 01:20 pm (UTC)
100 Jamaicans were consulted, they didn't come up with it and they didn't give the end ok.
hahahey 30th-Jan-2013 01:04 pm (UTC)
the ad is just straight up annoying, idk why that's supposed to be amusing
mandramoddle 30th-Jan-2013 01:37 pm (UTC)
dearpencilpal 30th-Jan-2013 01:07 pm (UTC)
why not put him in, like, horrid vacation clothes and sandals with socks using his regular accent telling people to turn their frown upside down? then in the end they would all get out of the car with floral patterned button downs and umbrella hats and it's the same concept but not fucking idiotically handled.
nyse 30th-Jan-2013 02:02 pm (UTC)
Sounds too much like right is what I'm guessing.
lanavis 30th-Jan-2013 02:18 pm (UTC)
What is your icon?
shy_mse 30th-Jan-2013 01:09 pm (UTC)
What is an "Asian" accent?
I love how they group a whole continent together -__-
sky3205 30th-Jan-2013 01:11 pm (UTC)
Jamaican accent
shy_mse 30th-Jan-2013 01:16 pm (UTC)
in the second last paragraph, Asian accents are mentioned
nene718 30th-Jan-2013 07:20 pm (UTC)
keyword is stereotypical imo. the idea that all asians speak the same way is part of the sterotype.
chimbleysweep 30th-Jan-2013 01:10 pm (UTC)
That ad was really fucking annoying on top of everything else. How could anyone even edit that without wanting to stab all of the actors?

I read the description first and thought they were doing a really racist allusion to Don't Worry Be Happy. I was going to pray to God, aka Bobby McFerrin, to take them all out. I think I'll do that anyway.
manu19 30th-Jan-2013 01:13 pm (UTC)
speaking in fake foreign accents is racist nowadays?

for a moment i thought hes supposed to be german because well its a german car

either way, i dont really understand the purpose of this ad. what is it trying to tell us

Edited at 2013-01-30 01:18 pm (UTC)
miss_real 30th-Jan-2013 01:24 pm (UTC)
have you ever heard a German accent before?

He's supposed to be doing a Jamaican accent.
manu19 30th-Jan-2013 01:25 pm (UTC)
im german LOL i just assumed
andres01234 30th-Jan-2013 02:34 pm (UTC)
how in the hell is this racist??? oh amurikans....
poopanna 30th-Jan-2013 02:37 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think people are like "what can I be outraged with today?" The ad is annoying, that's about it.
_scarlett_icons 30th-Jan-2013 02:59 pm (UTC)
I've always found it annoying, but on the other hand, it's pretty much on every single show. I was watching Happy Endings and Jane did a Jamaican accent, and Penny's fiance was dressed in what was a stereotypical Jamaican attire.

They did it to be funny, and that's offensive.

It's everywhere.
curse_of_avalon 30th-Jan-2013 05:07 pm (UTC)
Scrambling for reasons how this can be offensive. I would have easily believed the annoying. Cause it is.
Racist? Really?

We had a White Professor in phonology who was born in britain but raised on the Bahamas. You should have heard that. Though he did speak Oxford English for Uni mostly.

Was he racist too?
srparker328 30th-Jan-2013 01:15 pm (UTC)
way 2 go
gorlplz 30th-Jan-2013 01:16 pm (UTC)
not racist

annoying tho
sandstorm 30th-Jan-2013 01:17 pm (UTC)
That was incredibly irritating in just about every way.
hahahey 30th-Jan-2013 01:18 pm (UTC)
I would say that it's more insensitive than racist or maybe racially insensitive if that's a thing, idk. Like I get mad as hell when black people try to mock nigerian accents for a cheap laugh so I get why people would be upset with the ad in that sense

Edited at 2013-01-30 01:19 pm (UTC)
leatherandjeans 30th-Jan-2013 01:19 pm (UTC)
Not racist imo

Doesn't make me want to buy VW tho
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