Controversy over Volkswagen Superbowl Ad, Featuring Jimmy Cliff

In lieu of the SuperBowl festivities, businesses are dropping serious bank for a 30-second ad space during one of the most watched events of the year. Commercials in the past have been epic, funny, risqué and definitely controversial, and this year is no exception.

Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton recently received some backlash for her Mercedez Benz commercial, as critics (the Parent’s Television Council) bashed the ad for being racy and sexist. 

Now another car ad is getting fussed about. A huge uproar over the Volkswagen commercial showing a jovial office worker speaking in a Jamaican accent has left some vexed. The Volkswagen teaser mirrors the “everything’s irie,” feel good vibes of Jamaican and Caribbean culture. The fact that the worker is a Midwestern white guy has led to criticizing remarks, calling the commercial “racist.”  USA Today reported on the controversy, and New York Times columnist Charles Blow even likened it to blackface.


Others disagree that the commercial reinforces stereotypes and stand behind the German auto company. The non-profit organization, Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS), and the Caribbean Heritage Organization (CHO) released a joint statement this afternoon, supporting Volkswagen’s “Get In, Get Happy” campaign.

As members of the Caribbean diaspora, and Jamaican, we find the commercial, amusing and indeed a fascinating example of subtlety in subliminal messaging. In one fell swoop, the ad directors have superimposed Jamaicans’ reputation for being hardworking (the three jobs archetype) as well as our reputation for having a laid-back, positive, don’t-worry-about-a-thing disposition through the character of the Volkswagen. And yes, the accent in the commercial is not perfect, but it certainly is recognizable.

What we DO find problematic and bordering on offensive are the mostly non-Jamaican critics, who contend that the commercial is racist, with some going as far as saying that it’s like putting a Black face on a White or Asian person. We hasten to assure the viewing public, that being Jamaican, just like being American, is a nationality and not a race.

Any one of the actors featured in the commercial could be a native Jamaican. Yes, most Jamaicans are of African ancestry (that is to say Black), but Jamaica also is home to a significant mixed-race and diverse racial population. Jamaicans are East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and European (that is to say White). A true reflection of the Jamaican National Motto, ‘Out of Many One People.'”

Volkswagen also released a sibling ad that features famous reggae singer Jimmy Cliff, but backlash from the Game Day commercial has detracted from the campaign. 

Cliff covers the Partridge Family theme song “Come On Get Happy,” and invites a temperamental, wacky crowd of adults and children to calm down, and enjoy the large field of grass they’re frolicking in.  No problems there, not even a comment on his thick, yellow poncho and tri-color newsboy hat.

Watch Cliff’s VW commercial below:

What do you think of the controversial commercial? Comment below.

Source(s): USAToday, LargeUp,



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