Get Happy. Buy a Volkswagen.
The 2013 Volkswagen Superbowl ad asks us to “Get In and Get Happy.” I couldn’t resist a smile when watching this, but couldn’t resist a rigorous deconstruction either. The image of drone workers dragging themselves into a grey office on a Monday morning to work for The Man, juxtaposed with the laid back “no worries” Jamaican culture certainly raises cultural representation questions. The
In North America, the stereotypical image of Jamaican culture boils down to reggae, weed, and a happy-go-lucky ethic – certainly a media construction rooted in Bob Marley and tourism marketing. It is interesting in light of this that Jimmy Cliff agreed to do a voice-over on a commercial that, in part, perpetuates the mythology.
The ad has been called racist and offensive. Here we have a white guy bringing Jamaican culture to the office, not a black Jamaican (as a youtube comment rightly points out). Substitute a Rastafarian dreadlocked dude for the Minnesotan and you have lost the humour. And you might have a more obviously racist text. But as it is, this ad takes on the dreary values of the American middle class worker buckling under the crushing power of the Bossman. The only value that is not mocked here is the German engineering ethic: only precision German engineering can bring happiness. In the end, it wins out over the laid back rasta culture, now positioned by default as a contrast to the precision culture of German engineering. Now it could be that the Jamaicans can take it easy now that the Germans have done the heavy lifting, but the discrepancies are too obvious..
It is interesting that this is at bottom a German product marketed for the middle class American market. The Jamaican attitude of laissez-faire is injected into the picture as a fantasy for the middle class drone – that’s why people go to Jamaica on all-inclusives, to experience doing nothing for a week. But as a value, doing nothing goes directly against the grain of American values. The Jamaican culture exists here merely as a charming escape. And this is likely what is rubbing people the wrong way.
So does the ad essentially sell the values of German precision engineering at the expense of its opposite, the ‘do nothing’ Jamaican stereotype?
After watching the ad, and reading some commentary (see below), teachers might ask their students some key questions:
1. What values are being sold here? “Don’t worry. Be Happy”? Or, “true happiness can only be acquired with a German car”?
2. Who is it mocking: white middle class drone workers, or Jamaican culture? What various responses will different audiences offer, such as: white Jamaicans, African immigrants, Trinidadians, Germans?
3. How is gender positioned? (Virtually all speaking characters are males)
4. What is the connection between race and culture, and which of these is the commercial concerned with?
5. Read the following, and respond to various audience reactions. What appears to be the majority opinion? Do you agree or disagree?