Sources such as television, music, and the internet largely influence the lives of citizens on a daily basis; therefore, the interpretations of them lead to competing social and political attitudes. In an increasingly technological world, the measure of one’s success is increasingly based on his or her virtual connections to others. Therefore, this “success” cannot be reached without a conscious effort to become literate in the various forms of media that are available. (Let’s face it, what good is a cellular phone if one can’t manipulate the device?) Because a certain level of literacy is required to initially use a product, it is not out of the ordinary to suggest that a deeper knowledge of said product would prove more effective to its use. In other words, I believe that a successful use of the media in our everyday lives requires us to become more aware of how the various sources affect us. For example, rather than watching a commercial and laughing at the simple jokes, I might notice the social constructions behind that joke. I might realize that I agree or disagree with what the ideas that such a joke represents. In this position statement, I will attempt to prove how interpreting sources such as a commercial, television show, popular song, or internet blog can improve one’s media literacy and, in effect, “have an impact of upon the emotions and lifestyles of the users of these media” (NCTE).
Click below to view the 2013 Game Day Commercial
It comes as no surprise that advertisers educate themselves on public opinion and current social and political issues. If they didn’t do their research, the millions of dollars spent on television, magazine and internet commercials (to name a few mediums) would be wasted. The 2013 Super Bowl created wide controversy due to an advertisement by Volkswagen Automobiles in which a white office worker from Minnesota speaks in a Jamaican accent. In the commercial, the man assures his boss and co-workers that “Every-ting will be a-rite,” or something similar to this, whenever there seems to be a problem. At the end of the commercial, the Minnesotan parks his car with two co-workers who are, for lack of a better term, “converted” to his happy, easy-going attitude. I watched the Volkswagen commercial before researching the public’s reactions. Because the commercial was labeled as “racist” by critics, I was looking for negative stereotypes that might be hidden within the dialogue. While the premise of the commercial was a little strange, I didn’t initially find it offensive. But then I started thinking about the use of a Jamaican accent, and this raised many questions for me:
Is the perpetuation of positive stereotypes considered racism?
Should those stereotypes cause offense, or are we being too sensitive?
Would the reaction differ if the actor was black or actually Jamaican?
What does this commercial even have to do with cars and how will it affect the business of VW?
These questions were not only my personal reactions to the commercial. Newscasters, comedians and critics attempted to interpret the commercial as well. A newscaster on ABC asked the same question as I did, “Who decides what’s racist? Is it the critics here in the United States or is it the Jamaicans?” This newscaster’s phrasing actually got me thinking. Notice how she clarifies “critics here in the United States” as opposed to “the Jamaicans” (ABC). The clumping of cultures that differ from our own is natural us. Even if we are trying to promote a positive message, there is still a question of racial integrity. Comedian D.L. Hughley said, “I can’t actually understand what I am supposed to be mad about…I know it was supposed to make me mad, but all it made me want to do was listen to a Bob Marley CD” (ABC). This comedian is African American, and is not offended by the commercial; in fact, he further perpetuates the connotation that all Jamaicans are happy all the time. (How about this “positive” stereotype: all Chinese people are brilliant at mathematics. Does this expectation relate to the skyrocketing suicide rate in China?) Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, a marketing strategist, was interviewed by USA Today: “What happens in this ad is that the culture becomes a punch line, and that’s offensive” (Horovitz). Her interviewer, Bruce Horovitz, also spoke to the actor who plays the “Jamaican Minnesotan.” Coincidentally, his brother-in-law is from Kingston, Jamaica and happens to love the commercial. The Minister of Tourism of Jamaica said, “people should just get into their inner-Jamaica and get happy” and suggested a co-branding of VW and Jamaica (ABC).
Are critics and myself over-reacting? If the stereotype doesn’t bother most Jamaicans, should it bother us? Clearly, the VW commercial sparked my emotions when it comes to race. If I were not media literate, I would probably just laugh at the funny Jamaican accent coming from a white man. I wouldn’t notice the undertones for which I have gone into detail. Because the commercial sparked controversy, VW gained a lot of attention. This is good for any business, but what is more important, is the racial discourse that ensued. As exemplified through the VW commercial, media has the power to bring new light to important issues by engaging the audience’s emotions and way of life. The challenge is for the audience to interpret what the media presents to us and what it says about our society. In a way, the media and the public have important relationship that depends on the literacy of each other.
“Super Bowl Commercials 2013: Volkswagen Ad Stirs Online Racism Debate.” ABC News, 30
Jan 2013. Web. 6 Nov 2013.
NCTE. Guidelines for the Preparation of Teachers of English Language Arts. ed. 2006. Urbana:
National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. Web. 6 Nov 2013.
“VW Jamaica-theme Super Bowl ad: Racist?” USA Today. Gannett, 29 Jan 2013. Web. 6 Nov