Yesterday, I glimpsed a rather interesting headline, reading: â€˜VW Ad, Complimentary or Offensive? Â I inquired about the issue and was informed that VW had apparently posted an ad on CBS that is somehow offensive to Jamaicans. I immediately went on YouTube, anxiously awaiting the video, but still, with a sense of reluctance, predicting how disappointed I would be in VW, a large and supposedly responsible conglomerate, for producing such material.
As I watched the ad, anticipation grew as I awaited the offensive remarks. To my surprise, the video finished with me wondering if I had actually watched the correct thing. I did a second search and verified that the video that I had watched was indeed the correct one.
A Simple case of Exuberance
Immediately, I realized that it was a simple case of unnecessary exuberance and overreacting. As I explained to someone today (unrelated incident), mimicry does not equate to derision. If something about a person is mimicked – in this case, the way a person speaks and even their own distinctive mannerisms â€“ it does not in any way imply that you intend to belittle. This is of course, if and only if itâ€™s not done in a condescending or burlesque way.
What I saw was an ad depicting Jamaicans as fun loving, easy going, and most importantly-determined, strong willed and persistent people. I simply fail to see the issue with that, albeit the actor played the part in a rather goofy way (I suppose that simply added luster to the comical effect). Regardless, the ad simply displayed Jamaica in a real way.
Jamaica, â€˜No Problem Monâ€™
The proverbial â€˜no problem monâ€™ has been the cultural punch line for Jamaica for decades. Obviously, this statement conveys the same fun loving and easy going nature of Jamaicans. How is it that no one has taken issue with that? Jamaicans are able to keep their eyes fixed on the silver lining, to weather the storm and to endure through the hardest of times with a smile; if thatâ€™s not a complimentary attribute, I do not know what is.
To all those who say it is a picture of mindless happiness, I say, you have not been to Jamaica. There are Jamaicans who survive situations that are imaginable and they do it with optimistic hope, not mindless happiness. Did you know that even amid the economic crisis facing the island, the U.N. World Happiness Report ranks Jamaica as number 40 out of 156 nations studied? A lesson for some of us perhaps?
If you ask me, the world needs that; the world needs the Jamaican spirit. It does not matter that much how you bring that spirit of persistence across, as long as people are able to identify with the power of such a mentality, the Jamaican mentality.
No Misrepresentation or Ridiculing
As far as I could see during the ad, there was no form of blatant misrepresentation, violation of anything sacred or any other form of offensive misappropriations that would cause the majority of Jamaicans any form of discomfiture. As far as I could see, VW can rest assured that the ad does not disrespect Jamaicans and most will not take offence to it, as that would not only be surprising, it would be silly as well. VW is in the business of selling cars and they are fully aware that isolating any group would not be in their best interest.
The Issue of a White Minnesotan Playing a Jamaican
Many people seem to misunderstand the variety of cultural mixes that truly represent Jamaica. They have no clue as to what â€˜Out of Many One Peopleâ€™ the national motto conveys. Interestingly, most people who would say the ad is offensive are people who either know nothing about Jamaica except the distinguishable accent or otherwise know very little about the country. Jamaica is a melting pot of cultures, a unique fusion of peoples that produces a hybrid culture second to none. This implies that Jamaica is not only home to people of African descent, but Caucasians, Chinese, and Indians as well.
The color of your skin, then does not define whether you are Jamaican or not. It is therefore impossible to object to the ad on the basis that the actor was not Jamaican. So whatâ€™s so weird about a white guy from Minnesota faking a Jamaican accent? Nothing – at most- Jamaicans find it funny.
Endorsement by Government Officials
Jamaicaâ€™s former Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, and current Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Wykeham McNeill, have both endorsed the ad. Wykeham said Thursday that he thought the Super Bowl spot was â€œvery creative.â€ McNeill went on to say, â€œwhat I really want is for everyone around the globe to do exactly what the commercial portrays: â€œTap into your inner Jamaican and â€˜get happyâ€™.â€ So to all those people creating a fracas, itâ€™s not necessary to make a mountain out of a molehill, itâ€™s simply amusing to see an American trying to speak patois and adopt the Jamaican â€œno problem monâ€ concept. Itâ€™s not racist, let it go. If you are looking for racism, believe me, you could find real racism elsewhere. FYI, I am Jamaican as well.
By Norvan Martin