Questioning whether a controversial Super Bowl ad by Volkswagen is racist ought to take each of us back to the question of what is beauty. Watch the ad and decide for yourself.
The ad features a white, average-looking guy walking around a corporate office dispensing “don’t worry, be happy,” style advice in a thick Jamaican accent. The juxtaposition of white guys, and one Asian, riding the VW depicting Island-style carefree living is hilarious.
But the VW-Jamaica ad is no ordinary car ad. Commercials run during the Super Bowl are the equivalent of Oscar night in Hollywood. They can run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for just a few minutes of air time. Millions of people watch them and their reaction can sell a product or tank it. So of course VW was hoping to create a buzz. But the German auto company does not want to be viewed as racist. It can be a fine line.
They need not worry. The VW ad is edgy and funny, but it is not racist. It celebrates the optimistic, can-do spirit of Jamaicans and does it with a patois accent. An advertising executive told NBC’s Today show around 100 Jamaicans were interviewed before the ad was released.
UPDATE: The Jamaican government has officially endorsed the ad. Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill explains why. Not everyone agrees, New York Times columnist Charles Blow compares the ad to blackface, a discredited form of theatre that relied on racial stereotypes.