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?