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News and Views by Dionne Jackson Miller

pointed commentary on current affairs in Jamaica and the Caribbean

Month

January 2013

That VW ad – Jamaica No Problem – Offensive? Or Good Exposure?

Have you seen the VW ad that’s creating all the controversy? It depicts an American spreading joy and cheer by talking to everyone in what is supposed to be a Jamaican accent. Check it out, it has had over 1.5 million hits on Youtube in less than a week!

The ad has also sparked criticisms of racism and stereotyping.

USA Today cites “pop culture guru” Barbara Lippert  as one of the critics.

“It made me uncomfortable to see all of those white people in an office setting doing this,” she is quoted as saying. “I found it offensive.”

Apparently, seeing white people trying to talk Jamaican is  offensive.

Diving at Rick's (Negril, Jamaica)
Diving at Rick’s (Negril, Jamaica) (Photo credit: caribbeanfreephoto)

Well, that happens every day of the year in our resort towns though! Somehow, the critics perceive the ad as making fun of Jamaicans and our culture. It is interesting that many Jamaicans, who can be so quick to take offence, don’t seem to see it that way.

Erwin Floyd G, commenting on the Facebook page of my radio programme Beyond the Headlines said this:

“there’s nothing wrong with the ad…it shows how much everyone around the world appreciates our culture and will do anything to incorporate it in their’s…it shows happiness and acceptance to me. A great ad!”

Let’s get this straight. I have NO problem with this ad. Do the accents suck? Of course! The VW executive interviewed about the issue on CNN’s Starting Point said they used a coach to work on the accents. Emmm, ok. They didn’t do such a great job. But is that really the issue?

The message of the ad is that if you go to Jamaica, you’ll be happy. Jamaicans are happy-go-lucky people who spread happiness wherever they go. Is it a stereotype as some charge? Yes, probably, but when we’ve spent 50 years marketing ourselves as the country to visit if you want to “feel alright” and with our unofficial (official?) tourism slogan being “Jamaica, no problem” I’m not sure that we can take offence at this point. But undoubtedly some people have.

Another visitor, to our Facebook page, Barbara Hart, said this:

“VW need (sic) to pull this ADD (sic) this is outrageous, we are not a poppyshow, this is not hilarious this is mocking our Patwa language, and he sounded so false to the bone, every one try (sic) to use us in every way possible…”

Is Jamaica more nuanced a country than sea and sand, with some dreadlocked ganja-smoking idlers sitting under a coconut tree? Clearly. But the vast majority of our visitors will never see that side of Jamaica, since they will only ever interact with “happy”, smiling Jamaicans whose job is to make them “feel alright.”

For me, the more important issue is the tremendous reach of our culture, how others enjoy our language (which we are unable to come to terms with) and the tremendous impact we have on the world.

Let’s put this in financial perspective.

Yahoo Finance reports that companies are paying nearly $4 million for one 30-second Super Bowl ad this year, and

English: Line graph of cost of 30 second adver...
English: Line graph of cost of 30 second advertising spot during Super Bowl US television broadcast. Data taken from Wikipedia articles (if more than one price is given, lower has been set). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

that last year more than 111 million people watched the 2012 Super Bowl. That’s millions of people who will likely see this ad and could be influenced by it.

One CNN anchor who commented on the VW ad said that he wasn’t sure what it did for VW but it did make him want to visit Jamaica. I’ll take that!

What do you think? Did the ad offend you?

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The problem with Prime Minister Simpson Miller and that Chicago Tribune editorial

 

Portia Simpson MillerOne of the primary problems facing Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is the cult of fanatical followers she has inspired. While this is understandable given her tremendous popular appeal, the negative side is that every criticism is perceived as a personal attack on Jamaica’s first woman Prime Minister by elitists who turn up their noses at her humble background and are determined to bring her down. As a result, many of her followers seem incapable of objective analysis of her pros and cons.

One can only hope that there is at least one person in the room with her who will stick up a hand to say when she is going wrong, but I’m starting to seriously doubt it.

A perfect example is the Prime Minister’s recent national broadcast. At a time of great uncertainty for the Jamaican economy, at a time when the whispers in the corridors of finance and business are that the year ahead will be very difficult for the country, at a time when Jamaicans are unsure what to expect from an IMF agreement, or what to expect if there is no agreement, the Prime Minister steered clear of actually talking about any of the real problems facing the country.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out what should be obvious to us all, and the Chicago Tribune for some reason, has now chosen to hold up Jamaica to the world as an example of failed policies and a dismal economic outlook, saying Jamaica provides an object lesson in

“the catastrophic effects of borrowing way too much, and the painful choices that follow. This saga, less familiar than Greece’s, is a lesson for lawmakers in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

“The Caribbean nation actually is in worse financial shape than Greece: Jamaica has more debt in relation to the size of its economy than any other

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, Internat...
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

country. It pays more in interest than any other country. It has tried to restructure its loans to stretch them out over more years, at lower interest rates, with no success. Such a move would be risky for its already nervous lenders. So Jamaica is trying to wangle a bailout from a skeptical International Monetary Fund. Another deadline for a potential deal just came and went last week, though negotiations continue,” it goes on.

That’s the reality the Prime Minister seems determined to ignore. What Jamaica needs is not Pollyanna-type platitudes, and an exhortation that

“Our ancestors did not fight so gallantly; did not shed their blood for us to now capitulate to gloom and doom. No. We know, as Jimmy Cliff assured us, that we can get it if we really want. All we have to do is to try, try and try, and we will succeed at last.”

No, what Jamaica needs now is a hard, realistic look at our current situation, and a courageous start to the necessary conversation the country needs to have.

Maybe someone in the room could point that out to the Prime Minister the next time she and her people are crafting a national broadcast.

Five Wishes for Better Political Leadership for Jamaica in 2013

Gordon House - seat of Jamaica's Parliament Photo by DJ Miller
Gordon House – seat of Jamaica’s Parliament
Photo by DJ Miller

Here are some qualities I would love to see to a greater extent in our political leaders.

1. Leaders who can see through their orange and green coloured glasses that not everybody criticizing them belongs to a rival political party. Some of us just disagree with your policies or direction. Full stop.  Hell, with barely 50% voter turn-out in the last election, there’s a 50-50 chance that whoever is criticizing you isn’t voting for any of you, anyway.

2. Leaders who take the time to understand the criticism aimed at them. When Jamaicans complain about your pay or perks, it is coming from years of disillusionment at what politicians have done to our beloved country.  You may not have been personally involved, but don’t ever forget that for the sake of power, politicians have torn Jamaica apart with political tribalism and killed our children, our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and friends with political violence. Whatever you have or have not done individually, memories of the havoc wreaked by your fellows are still fresh.

In addition, you have failed to deliver even moderate sustained prosperity to our nation and you have spectacularly failed to deliver an equitable education system.  When people complain about what seems to you to be a measly sum of, say $4 million, it is coming from Jamaicans, many of whom are struggling to find lunch money or bus fare, who have no option but to use the under-resourced and over-crowded hospitals you have given us while you fly off to Miami for treatment. Some of your critics have to send  children to the ill-equipped schools which is your legacy to us, and many of our children leave school as illiterate and innumerate as the day they started. So instead of responding with arrogance and disdain, how about listening carefully to what people are really saying, and answering in a tone of respect and understanding with a real and empathetic attempt to explain your (sometimes reasonable) position.

3. Leaders with a vision for Jamaica. Vision 2030 or not, very few of us have a sense that there is a targeted vision for Jamaica, that a clear direction has been charted and that we are moving with steady determination towards a real goal. We have no real hope that in our lifetimes, Jamaica will see an economic turnaround that will bring real benefits to all society, not just your friends the rich businessmen. Have you ever really, really listened to I-Octane’s “My Story?”

“Respect to all who sell bag juice
Who sell it to help dem youth
A whole heap a hell dem go through…

Man a suffer too long
Yeh man a suffer too long
Live in a di ghetto too long
Man a suffer too long.”

Listen to it again. One more time. That’s why we need a vision and visionary leaders.

Inside the Parliament of Jamaica
Inside the Parliament of Jamaica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4. Leaders who do real work in Parliament. Our Parliaments have been singularly unimpressive. Many in the Lower House are efficient only at warming benches. There is scant attention given to careful scrutiny of the Bills that are brought to the House. Debates are stunningly superficial and often lacking  much evidence of research and thought (save for a very few speakers), and the desk-thumping that passes for participation apparently serves only to wake up the somnolent. I must note that the Upper House has traditionally been light years ahead of the Lower House in this regard. This is why it has been so disappointing to have seen over the years Senate appointments made on the basis of party loyalty only, resulting in Senators who bring little in the way of intellectual rigour to the Upper House. Which brings me to Number 5.

5. Leaders who put Jamaica before party. No, we don’t think all of you do this. In fact, we are sure you don’t put Jamaica first when we see ill-advised appointments, clueless Cabinet ministers, the constant and costly re-invention of the wheel just so that you can say such and such a programme was all yours, the dithering on matters of national importance, the refusal to make hard decisions that will cost you at the polls. So while you spend decades and generations thumping desks in Gordon House, our beloved Jamaica becomes choked with garbage, squatter communities mired in poverty abound, stray dogs roam the streets and our beautiful, bright children lose their way permanently.

There are some politicians whom I think have some or all of these qualities. However, they are usually not the ones in the most senior positions of leadership. But there is some hope.  What do you think? What kind of political leaders do you want to see? Who gives you hope? 

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