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The Uses and Abuses of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s message Part III: Dodge Ram Superbowl Ad

February 5, 2018

It has been almost 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and so far we have written about 2 ways in which organizations have misused the message of Dr. King.

On January 8, we wrote about how the Grand Rapids Urban League misrepresented the message of Dr. King by hosting their annual Corporate Breakfast on the Civil Rights leader’s birthday. 

On January 25, we wrote a second piece that looked at how the Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute, used Dr. King’s message to justify their own ideological agenda

In today’s post, we investigate the absurdity of the Chrysler Corporation’s use of an excerpt of a Dr. King speech to sell their trucks.

Here is the TV ad that ran during this year’s Superbowl.

The spot begins by providing viewers with the date of the speech that Dr. King gave, which was February 4, 1968. The Chrysler TV ad uses audio from that 1968 speech from Dr. King and the excerpt they use centers around the notion that we should not do good in order to be recognized, rather, we all should do could in the capacity of being a servant to others.

There are several images that accompany the words of Dr. King, including a firefighter, a teacher and a group of US soldiers. The images of soldiers in the TV ad are particularly offensive, not just because Dr. King was an outspoken critic of the war in Vietnam, but a tireless proponent of non-violence. Using the images of soldiers in an ad using Dr. King’s words about being a servant, is a fraudulent use of the message of the slain Civil Rights leader.

The speech that the Chrysler ad lifts a few of Dr. King’s words, is actually taken from a sermon entitled, The Drum Major Instinct.

King encouraged his congregation to seek greatness, but to do so through service and love. King concluded the sermon by imagining his own funeral, downplaying his famous achievements and emphasizing his heart to do right. Dr. King knew that his days were numbered and that he was being targeted by repressive forces.

In this sermon, Dr. King also talks about racism and the war in Vietnam. In fact, Dr. King makes a scathing remark about the US involvement in Vietnam, saying:

God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.

However, the bulk of the sermon is devoted to the theme of being a servant and not wanting people to see the “good work” we are doing.

The irony of what Dr. King has to say in this sermon, when considering that the Chrysler Corporation was using Dr. King’s comments to sell trucks, is reflected in the following observation from the pulpit, when King is talking about people wanting to be recognized:

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. That’s the way the advertisers do it.

There is even more irony in Dr. Kings words, just a few sentences later when he says:

But very seriously, it goes through life; the drum major instinct is real. And you know what else it causes to happen? It often causes us to live above our means. It’s nothing but the drum major instinct. Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income? You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford. But it feeds a repressed ego.

So, not only does the Dodge Ram ad misuse the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the sermon in which these words are taken from, actually calls out the seductive nature of advertising to buy cars from the very company which is fraudulently appropriating the message of slain Civil Rights leader.

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