The Bug & I
Barbara Lippert owes an apology to every single non-black Jamaican for implying that they do not exist! She has her head so far up her own... She isn't even educated enough to know that Jamaica is a country of many colors: people from Africa, India, European decent all claim Jamaica as their home and ALL speak in the same manner. This commercial is as racist as the outback commercials... Both impersonate (rather poorly) a different country's dialect. I don't find the add very funny nor creative... But it has nothing racist about it!
The above is a snippet of one of the more polite notes of the hundreds I’ve received since Monday morning, when I appeared on the “Today Show” to discuss the early release of VW’s “Get Happy” Super Bowl commercial.
The spot, a cross between “Cool Runnings” and “Office Space,” shows unhappy white dudes (and for some reason, one Asian guy) in short-sleeved white shirts and ties, glumly hanging around their soulless workplace, all with a case of the Mondays. “You know what dis room needs? A smile,” Dave from the Gopher State tells his colleagues, lit-up and gesturing during a downer of a meeting. “Who wanna come wit I?”
That sounds funny, granted. But I said I didn’t like the way “black people” were used to infuse happiness into uber-white people. That’s what brought on the letters, mostly from Jamaicans or friends of Jamaicans or people who like to vacation in Jamaica. And unlike the letter writer above, they mostly found the spot funny.
The “Today Show” subsequently put up a poll on its Web site to determine whether viewers found the spot offensive. About 93% of the voters did not.
I was told I was uptight, a dumbass, and too P.C, among other things. That’s what makes a ball game.
Still, I’d like to apologize for the gross imprecision with which I spoke. I should have made a distinction between Jamaican and “black.” Jamaica is an island with a beautiful mosaic of residents of every stripe and background. The Jamaican patois and culture is associated with fun and friendliness and "irie" (no worries,) not color. I’m sorry for my mistake.
Secondly, I realize that a word like “racist” is way too important and inflammatory a term to throw around when discussing a Super Bowl commercial featuring a positive Jamaican vibe, even if it’s a stereotype. More precisely, I should have said that I found the device of using the Jamaican voices coming out of Minnesotans too contrived, and racially insensitive.
I also found it weird that not one African-American was included in the office. Why?
And while obviously surprising and memorable, the voice thing put me in mind of the whole Jar Jar Binks controversy from “Episode I: Phantom Menace.” Another character with a Caribbean accent, Binks was a clumsy, loud, comic foil. It also reminded me of the time (granted, long ago) in advertising when typically, big, older black women were the only ones who were allowed to express emotion. There was an AT&T commercial in the 1970s featuring just such a woman, crying, because her son called to say he loved her.
Look, I’m know I’m just a white lady from New York. And parts of the commercial were funny. I loved when the guy said he came from “De lahnd of ten tousand lakes.” There’s a wonderful moment when the guys are in the Beetle, the Jimmy Cliff cover of the Partridge Family song, “Get Happy” is playing, and the spot begins to make sense, because the Beetle is a happy car. The teaser, with Jimmy Cliff, was terrific.
But then the whole awkward division between uptight white guys and Jamaica comes back when they pull into a spot and another white bureaucrat says “You’re late!” It’s too bad the whole commercial wasn’t shot with everyone singing inside the car -- it would be so much less jarring.
It’s certainly not going to be the worst commercial at the Super Bowl (if it runs.) Not even in the bottom 20. But it’s certainly not up to VW’s past standards, like “The Force.”
But really, any car can advertise that it makes you happy.
And I found it bizarre that there is zero link, and even a vigorous disconnect, to a German car company, still touting German engineering. That’s about as far as you can get from “irie.”