February 23, 2013
In recent weeks Jamaicans have been captivated by two online viral videos, mainly the VW Superbowl Ad and the Harlem Shake craze. The latter has topped Gangnam Style attracting what Andrew Rauner dubs a ‘Psy-level mass phenomenon’ featuring Skydivers, underwater stormtroppers, newscaster (local and international) and more. The craze started after a man named Filthy Frank made this video dancing to Harlem Shake (by Brooklyn-based producer Henry Rodrigues aka DJ Baauer) without doing the ‘Harlem Shake’. Hundreds of copycat videos have since followed.
For Baaucer, much has come of this for a pretty much unknown fellow, except if you were a nerd scouring SoundCloud. Baaucer earned himself a place in music history by virture of being the 21st song to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100 Chart, since its launch in 1951; and it’s the Brooklyn DJ’s first song on the chart. According to Philip Sherburne in Spin, this is luck on top of luck. One thing for certain, Baauer should thank amateur videographer and Billboard for adding YouTube streaming data to the pile of numbers that determines where a song is placed on the Hot 100. A good addition since YouTube is where persons go first to check out songs, not Spotify, iTunes, or Radio–this is debatable but I won’t delve into that here.
The VW ad, which everyone should have seen, features an American office worker from Minnesota who owns a 2013 Volkswagen Beetle (I think they are cute – yes cars can be cute; I won’ accept an alternative opinion LOL) adapting a Jamaican accent to spread smile among his gloomy coworkers on a Monday morning. All this is done to the tune of 2013 Grammy Winner, Reggae Category, Jimmy Cliff, who happens to be Jamaican . The commercial done to air during the Superbowl, with an early release on YouTube, caused controversy with characterisations and opinions ranging from uncomfortable and racist to likes and appreciation. Jamaican tourism officials, including the poirtfolio minister, affirmed their support of it in articles carried by USA Today and the Associated Press; both with a combined audience exceeding 190 million readers.
John Lynch, director of tourism at the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) in a Jamaica Observer article had this to say, “The interest this commercial has generated is incredible and speaks to the power of the Jamaica brand…We hope this sparks an interest in persons who have not yet experienced the destination to come visit; enjoy a memorable Jamaican vacation, our people and most important, Get Happy in Jamaica.”
There seems to be a fascination with Jamaica in the Western and Central European nation of German, or otherwise as another company (the electronics store Saturn) in that country showed favour to Brand Jamaica though in a highly controversial ad. The commercial intended for German TV made its way on YouTube in late January and shows two coffee shop attendants trying to brew coffee, which results in the burning of the Jamaican Flag. The experience is captured through CCTV and out of respect for the Jamaican flag leads to a demonstration. Here is the video:
The following subtitles are scripted in German; the following is the translation in English using Google Translate:
Wenn sie meine Fahne verbrennen, verbrenne ich ihre – If they burn my flag, I’ll burn their
Wir alle lieben Jamaika diese leute verbrennen die Jamaikanische Flagge- We all love these people burn the Jamaica Jamaican Flag
The words of the soundtrack are familiar because it’s that of Murderer by another famed Jamaican, Barrrington Levy. In school I was taught to burn a flag was offensive, in fact it is considered desecration. Friend and Attorney-at-Law, Stephen Greig notes: “under German criminal laws it is illegal to damage the German flag and it is also illegal to damage or revile flags of foreign countries. What we do not know is if there is an exception for dramatic works such as a play or a commercial.”
I couldn’t resist sharing the video with friends and associates, particular since at the time my Twitter timeline by the twitter-heavy-wigs, or anyone for that matter, but I saw everyone talking about who was doing Harlem Shakes videos locally et cetera. The opinions I got were varying and included references saying we couldn’t expect better particularly because the old Nazi ideology that demanded the purification of ‘the Aryan race’ and ‘the German blood’ originate in the said country, upset and ‘what if’ questions.
On the German AD
Could the baring of the Jamaican Flag in the kitchen speak to the presence of the Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee being used by the coffee shop or is it the coffee of choice? Should we think of this more deeply? Should we as a people, and through our Tourism Minister and agencies like the JTB, condemn this (after all like the Volkswagen commercial this has gained traction with over 450,000 views on YouTube) and ask for its removal? Or should we accept?
To be frank, I’m not outraged as some of my fellow country folks with the Saturn Ad, I’m okay with it. I think it helps put us (Jamaica) in the international scope and once again make us relevant and leaving Jamaica in individuals’ minds. It is clear from all intents in the video they wanted to be associated with the Jamaican brand, it immediately took me back a couple years when Sydney Bartley (former Director of Culture now Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth and Culture) said in a presentation, “anybody who wants to be somebody wants to be Jamaican, the only person who doesn’t want to be Jamaican is a Jamaican”. I have no idea about his views on the matter at hand, but I hope you get the picture that clearly Jamaica sells. The Germans did it with the VW Ad (that so many persons got up in arms about, including persons who don’t recognize Jamaican Creole as a language) and Saturn is at it again.
We can agree that the flag should never have been burnt or stomped on, but should we not be making a hullabaloo? @mrsseven65 in responding to Dr. Sonjah Stanley Niaah, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of West Indies, Mona, on Twitter said it well. @mrsseven65 puts it well there are other things to be up-in-arms about like the Tivoli Incursion, a very topical and pertinent issue, which we’re yet to get answers on.
Protocol experts and others might say pull the ad, but come on folks the Saturn ad is daring, it’s brilliant; yes I like it! Perhaps it is because I’m a rebel why I like it. Let’s snap out of the talks about asking for the ad to be pulled since it touches on so many issues, chief among them cultural sensitivities & free speech. My honest gut opinion: let’s not get tied up in this flag furore, certainly the folks at JTB can find a way to take advantage of this free publicity and marketing. Go Jamaica!
As always, I welcome your thoughts on the matter, do share with me below.