Menzoid Essay: SuperBowl Sunday

In just a few short days, Super Sunday will be here yet again. The San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens shall vie for Super Bowl Roman Numeral X-L-V-I-I (or Number 47 for those who are still a tad uncomfortable with Caesarean math.)

But forget the game action taking place on the gridiron – for the last few decades, a big part of the fun when it comes to watching the Super Bowl on TV actually takes place in-between the live action when the network breaks for commercials. Indeed, it has become a tradition for several Fortune 500 companies to trot out advertisements that boast big budget Hollywood production values that rival Avatar.

The Menzoid’s personal all-time favourite remains Audi’s “Green Police” spot from 2010, an ad that is equal parts humor and horror in its depiction of an emerald-hued Al Gore-inspired Gestapo:

This year, unless it is yanked by game time, one of the ads you might see on Sunday is for the Volkswagen Beetle. But alas, the ad’s content has already caused a storm of controversy in certain circles. Why? Well, you be the judge:

Don’t know about you, but The Menzoid thinks the spot is charming. It generates smiles and chuckles; not outrage.

But according to the rank and file of Perpetually Offended Incorporated, VW’s Super Bowl spot is racist.

Apparently, it is racially insensitive to feature a middle-aged Minnesotan who loves his Volkswagen so much that he meanders around the office spreading cheer and well wishes with a Jamaican accent.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow and Wall Street Journal’s Christopher John Farley say the ad is like the audio version of blackface. And evidently superimposing a Jamaican accent on a non-Jamaican actor crosses some imaginary line in the politically-correct sand.

All of which has come as a shock to the folks at Volkswagen. After all, the company actually consulted with 100 Jamaicans to ensure the accent’s authenticity according to Volkswagen America’s marketing officer Tim Mahoney.

But the progressives out there who believe systemic racism lurks behind every corner likely believe those 100 Jamaicans are just too stupid to realize that they should be offended.

Furthermore, is it even possible to be racist by depicting a person in a good light? Is highlighting a positive stereotype still a stereotype nevertheless and therefore must be avoided at all costs?

The fact is, whether it’s due to the endearing legacy of Bob Marley or a nod to the laidback Caribbean lifestyle, many people perceive Jamaican culture and the Jamaican accent to be “cool.” Again, where’s the egregious offense, folks?

Alas, it seems as though those who are accusing Volkswagen of racism do not know the definition of the word – i.e., the belief in the inherent superiority or inferiority of races.

If anything, one could make an argument that the Beetle ad is racist against white people for depicting most of them as being miserable, humourless, and uptight.

Incidentally, the outrage by some that a “white man” is speaking with a “black accent” doesn’t pass the sniff test either. After all, there are indeed white Jamaicans who do speak with such an accent. And even if this wasn’t case, how exactly is the appropriation of a dialect even remotely racist?

Besides, to ignore the fact that every culture has its own stereotypes would be just downright foolish. Are we really so uptight about issues of race these days that we can’t even poke gentle fun at people of an identifiable group? What is so wrong in parodying such stereotypes?

And is there not a double-standard at play here? The Menzoid is of Scottish heritage, and he can tell you that when the advertising community needs to depict a character who is a blowhard cheapskate, it’s a sure-fire bet that he’ll be speaking with a Glaswegian accent and wearing a kilt. Check out this whopper from Money Mart:

Oh gracious, where are the grief counselors?!

Actually, The Menzoid isn’t upset at all. That’s because a key element of having a sense of humour is having the ability to laugh at one’s self.

Besides, let’s put racism and cultural insensitivity on the backburner for a second and talk about sexism in ads. Which is to say, if there is a male and female character in an ad and the script calls for one of them to be an absolute doofus, you can bet the ranch and all the livestock that the actor with the Y chromosome is going to be cast as the village idiot.

There you go – man as infantile moron, which is one of the most prevalent trends in advertising today. And yet, where, pray-tell, is the outrage?

Thus, to all those searching for racism and evil and malice in a genuinely good-natured and humourous Volkswagen advertisement, park the witch-hunt already. Hey, as the dude says, “Don’t worry, be happy, mon.”

 

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