So where or how does the Volkswagen ad fit into this paradigm? I reached out to my colleague, Carole V. Bell, Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies Department at Northeastern University to get her reaction. (By way of disclosure, I am Trinidadian; Professor Bell is Jamaican). Although Professor Bell is not offended by the ad, she admits being continually annoyed by the reductive way the identity of “Jamaican” is constructed. The VW ad, she points out, is one-dimensional; the accent and attitude are a one-note gag.
Professor Bell wrote in an email exchange:
This VW ad is consistent with the Malibu Rum ad campaign and a previous Red Stripe campaign. When we’re not being celebrated for our athletic prowess, which is great, Jamaicans are frequently reduced to happy go lucky simpletons or violent drug dealers in American culture. And I think that’s trivializing. It’s also creatively lazy, and I believe, ineffective. Marketers use it because the ‘happy-go-lucky/no problem, mon’ Jamaican has become a recognizable stock character. Jamaicans also use that image to sell products to tourists.”