Thursday, June 01, 2006

Who Are the "Volk" in "Volkswagen?"

I should preface this post with a disclaimer: I love Volkswagen(s). I've probably coveted one since I was in high school and the smart boy who drove a candy-apple red Jetta blared Kraftwerk at a decibel-level that shook my braces in my mouth. [He's an oncologist at Duke now, just in case you were getting all judgy...] When it came time for Mr. Fluff and I to buy our first new car, we bought a Passat, which I drove for a year before it ignominiously disappeared on us. Sigh. When my colleague pulls up at the office in her brand-new, shiny VW, I swallow a lump of jealousy.

Volkswagen has traditionally had not only fine German engineering (dammit, they ARE fun to drive, but I'll spare you the Farf-word), but also exceedingly fresh, clever advertising for said engineering. There was a particularly excellent one a few years back, in which an ethnically-ambiguous couple drove their VW in the rain, and the entire world around them began to move in time to the rhythm of the windshield-wipers. No dialogue, just music. Ahhh. There is, in fact, a thriving net discussion on the music that VW picks for its ads (I'll admit to downloading Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" because of an ad. I'm not proud.)

So, with all of that, all the love, what the HELL is up with the new commercials? VW, why hast thou forsaken me?!!

In case you haven't seen them, the ever-useful YouTube has posted a couple, but I'll give you the most egregious two (and the only two I've seen actually broadcast):

Urgh. Do you have that gross feeling in the pit of your stomach? That's usually the identifiable symptom of discomfort when privilege is claimed as oppression. It makes me a bit nauseated to think about the way that these are constructed so as to make the white male characters here portray themselves as victims of stereotyping thrust upon them by uninformed/bigoted people of color. Damn those people of color! Why can't they be more sensitive?!

You see what's happening in these commercials, right? It's notable, I think, that VW stages these confrontations as problems of stereotype, which do, in fact, affect everyone of every race, body type, occupation, ability, and now, consumer practice. I suppose one who were so inclined could make the argument that the ads actually make use of the ways in which stereotypes are used against minorities, and that their clever hook comes from reversing these. I can't get away from the fact, however, that a simple reversal of the stereotype does not have the same effect; when the Jetta driver in the first commercial is asked to teach his friend how to dance, for example, his job opportunities are probably not going to be limited by that same assumption. Likewise, in the second commercial, the assumption that the boyfriend can hike is not as potentially life-altering as the assumption that the father would be passing governmental nuclear secrets to China (see Wen Ho Lee) or presumed to take part in the Japanese dominance of the auto market (Vincent Chin).

Oh Volkswagen. Did it have to come to this?


Blogger csc said...

hmm. I think the bigger picture VW is trying to say is that we're the one's bringing baggage concerning ethnicities into these commercials, when as far as the world of the commerical is concerned race plays no part in how these people treat each other (wouldn't it be nice if the real world was like that).

So, if anything I believe VW is trying to see people for what they are and not for the way our culture might have stereotyped them.

my two cents.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 10:26:00 PM  

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