I'm sure a lot of people think that I'm some politically correct cranky dude with no sense of humor. But, actually, I enjoy humor quite a bit.
The VW ad was certainly meant to be funny. And, in a way it was funny. Watching a white Minnesotan speak with a Jamaican patois accent is funny. There's a real chuckle factor to watching the guy first make a fool of himself, then continue on obliviously, then seem so genuine to his coworkers that they join him in the foolishness.
But, here is why the ad doesn't sit well with me.
The ad certainly is playing into a stereotype. It's not the worst stereotype ever. And in a way, you could say it's playing with the stereotype of uptight white people as well as the stereotype of a Jamaican. And, the character with the patois accent is played in the ad as the better alternative to being uptight as well.
However, the use of the patois is still rooted in a stereotype of Jamaicans as a caricature of real people. It hasn't been a friendly caricature. And, the use in this ad didn't really do anything to turn that on its head.
There is a place for irony, satire, and sarcasm in the world. But, I don't think Superbowl ads are that place. By this I don't mean it's not allowable. I mean it's improbable that you can be successful at it. The Superbowl is the most mass marketed event of the year, every year. Each year, it works to be even more mass marketed and therefore less critical about anything. If you're going to air a satirical commercial during the Superbowl to try and challenge the racialism of America, you'll need to be a little more thoughtful than this ad was. And, if that wasn't what you were trying to do, then the commercial is by default perpetuating a stereotype.
I also don't buy into an argument that if a stereotype is a positive one and therefore not harmful or offensive. But, really, there is no such thing as a positive stereotype when stereotyping a less privileged group of people. (Perhaps there's a positive stereotype of, for example, white men. But, that positive stereotype is a function of the privilege of white men.)
Take for example the "positive" model minority stereotype of Asian-American students. Sure, it seems innocent enough at first. But, in reality the stereotype is harmful. This stereotype of an Asian-American is of a person who is dull, exceedingly studious, and extremely competitive. We go further to create caricatures of the parents as oppressive. None of these assigned traits are particularly kind. And, what of the Asian-American student who isn't interested in being the class valedictorian? Whose parents think about play time and loafing as perfectly normal childhood behavior. That's the vast majority of Asian-Americans. And, guess what, the stereotype is harmful because they're normal and not the robotic uber-students that they are expected to be.
There are ways to use stereotypes to get at deeper issues and challenge the stereotype itself. That didn't happen with the VW commercial.
Disappointing but not surprising.