What Martin Luther King Actually Thought About Car Commercials
Not sure if you saw that Superbowl thing that happened last weekend. Apparently in between the multi-million dollar ad spots some men also played some sports? The Superbowl’s a funny thing. Sure, some people tune in to see a bit of concussed gladiator hand-egg. But really it’s all about those ads.
Some were quite funny and creative this year. Like that one in which the one Procter & Gamble-owned laundry detergent brand used a beloved actor to mock the very concept of advertising with the help of a bunch of other brands it owns. People loved that one.
Some others were… Not quite so well received. Like the Ram Trucks commercial that used a speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to sell its message and product. I debated with myself whether or not to embed it here, but in the end I decided that for educational purposes it would be best to do so. Look:
Underneath the video on YouTube, the description reads:
In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ram truck owners also believe in a life of serving others.
They serve because they’re driven by a higher calling. They serve because they feel a shared responsibility and commitment to their family and community. They serve because they’re men and women of their word. They serve because they know the world could use a little more kindness.
The balls on these guys, huh?
Isn’t capitalism neat? You can literally use anything, to sell anything, never mind the cognitive dissonance that might be involved. The example of Dr King offers up such a perfect case study of how the system works, how it attempts to de-fang even the memory of whatever it perceives as a threat, lest that be enough to at some point stir up discontent. Vilified and hounded by the establishment in his time for daring to upset the status quo, Martin Luther King’s image and legacy has, since his execution, been sanitised and re-packaged for safe consumption. Where once there was a dangerous revolutionary there now is a gentle and saintly elder statesman whose words can be cherry-picked and twisted to serve whatever narrative the powers-that-be need. Upset that Black people riot when the police kill too many of them? Worry not, just deploy a context-less quote from Dr King about peaceful protest. Never mind his actual thoughts on the matter:
And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity. - Grosse Point High School, March 14, 1968
As far as that execrable Dodge commercial goes, some wonderful person (YouTuber Nathan Robinson) has done an amazing thing. He has taken another recording of Dr King’s—taken from a different part of the same speech that Ram cherry-picked from—and he has overlayed that over the ad footage. Look, it’s amazing:
Petr Knava lives in London and plays music