Defanging the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to maintain the status quo he fought against is a sad cultural reality. The ongoing mission is led by those afraid of the change he died for, the same politicians and institutions that cling to America's malignant legacy. And every year, they'll "celebrate" his birthday with self-aggrandizing proclamations accepting King's canonization but not the actual man behind it and his vision for a truly liberated society and responsible member of the global community.
This very specific kind of profit — keeping up appearances for political reasons — is broadly accepted. But on Super Bowl Sunday, Ram aired a commercial that crossed a well-established line (watch the original below). The spot shows people engaged in different kinds of public service and charity, backed by Ram trucks, with an excerpt from MLK's 1968 "Drum Major Instinct" sermon serving as narration.
Condemnation of the spot came swift and heavy. There was so much wrong: the idea that you can buy your way into heaven, the subtle military sentimentalism (MLK was vilified across America for opposing the Vietnam War), and of course, the sheer gall of a company linking MLK's words to its products. Intellectual Properties Management, the firm that manages the rights to King's speeches and works, said in a statement that the ad was approved "because it embodied King’s philosophy." That ostensible "alignment" didn't seem to convince The King Center, which distanced itself from the ad on Twitter.
The audacity of the Ram ad is particularly galling, because the "Drum Major Instinct" sermon contains a passage where King condemns advertising – he even uses car commercials as an example. Current Affairs editor Nathan Robinson took the relevant quote and placed it over the video of offending Ram ad, and it paints a much more incriminating picture for the company than the original. Watch it above, and read the relevant quote below:
Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff… I've got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car… I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America.
Thumbnail photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images