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Saturday Video: On Accents and VW’s Jamaican Super Bowl Ad

Saturday Video: On Accents and VW’s Jamaican Super Bowl Ad

Controversy is no stranger to Super Bowl adverts, of course, but have you ever seen anything like the maelstrom currently surrounding VW’s “Get Happy” ad? I can’t remember another 30-second spot generating a comparable level of polarizing viewpoints, especially within Caribbean communities here in the States, back home in the islands, and really, anywhere a handful of West Indians might be gathered.

At issue is the adoption of Jamaican accents by the non-Jamaican white executives in the ad. To some, it’s just innocent fun, painting the affectation of Jamaican parlance as a cure-all for the stresses of daily life. To others, it’s offensive and demeaning, painting all aspects of being Jamaican as overly simplistic and unsophisticated in a way that suggests laziness.

Why such disparate positions?

Well, you see, in the Caribbean, accents matter like few places on earth. To the untrained ear, a Jamaican may sound just like a Trini, Crucian, Grenadian, etc. Spend enough time traveling the islands, though, and you’ll easily detect the differences. Locals in each island are quite rightly proud of the individual dialects. This also makes them rather protective of them.

UK readers will back me up in noting that this is no different than the slings and arrows Renee Zellweger endured for her starring role in the Bridget Jones films of a few years ago. Or what about Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood? Forgot that one? Can’t say that I blame you.

I also can’t say that I blame anyone who visits Jamaica (or any part of the Caribbean) for trying to adopt the local lilt. Like our islands and most of what they represent, our accents are sexy, infectious and cool. You know you want it, so you try it… often with hilarious results.

There were few bigger laughs among us kids growing up in St. Croix than the ones we’d enjoy by spurring tourists and newcomers to the island to say a few words in Crucian. Yes, it could be annoying at times, but for the most part it was all in good fun, especially when one of our “students” got the words right.

This brings me back to the ad, which overall, I like, not only because it made me laugh, but also because the main guy from Minnesota has the accent down pretty damn well.

What do you think, thumbs up or down?

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  • Scott Jacob

    Wow – first time I’ve seen it. It really stuns me that someone would spend so much money to produce and air this on the Superbowl. Really, they must be desperate to sell this car to working men… Given that, I still find it a poorly aimed attempt. What does Jamaican language and attitude have to do with a cute commuter car? Is the “don’t worry, be happy” vibe really what a white executive from Minnesota associates with Jamaicans and somehow buying this car will make my life that way? Or was it dreamed up by a German Ad exec who has never been to either place? Why not show the car driving on twisty mountain roads of the beautiful island? Who wouldn’t want to do that?

    Secondly, three hasn’t been a car in recent years, maybe ever, that has such a strong hold on the female demographic. Why risk that reputation with an ad of all men acting stupidly? They are more likely to lose more female buyers than they ever will gain selling male buyers.

    I vote two thumbs down for cultural silliness and a really poor marketing message!

  • http://www.facebook.com/curleybob Bob Curley

    For what it’s worth, I think Jimmy Cliff did the Jamaican voiceovers…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=697768401 Jonna-Li Catrini

    I am American born and raised and I found this commercial to be awful. it is never right to exploit the culture of others.

  • Amy

    I would love to hear a bunch of Jamaicans doing a Minnesota accent