Dr. King Was Not Selling Trucks

This morning I listened to Democracy Now’s coverage of the automobile advertisement that ran during the Super Bowl, featuring the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., excerpted from his speech of February 4, 1968. On the anniversary of that speech, an ad for RAM trucks used King’s voice. How ever did we come to a place, where a corporation, their ad agency, the broadcasting network, everyone in every step along the way, allowed a thing like that to be produced, and aired? Certainly someone, in one of those meetings where this was conceived, must have shouted, had a meltdown, protested, refused? They took King’s words not merely out of context, but in direct contradiction to the very points he made, in that very speech. DN! breaks it down pretty well, you can check out their segment on it here.

Where has our collective conscience gone? How tolerant of untruths have we become? In the eagerness to make a buck, not merely the corporations and individuals that made the advertisement went along with it, but someone representing the King estate must have, as well. It’s their right, legally. They can license his words and voice and likeness, any which way they choose to. But why? To what end? Have they abdicated responsibility, or did somehow they think this was an appropriate use of Dr. King’s recorded words?

It’s one thing when a song you love gets dumped into a commercial. And who can be mad at anyone who owns a copyright, wanting to cash in on it if they can? Everyone needs money. Now more than ever. Capitalism not merely won but it won with a vengeance, glorifying consumerism and greed and making a mockery of basic human values like compassion and brotherhood. Nature bats last and nature is at bat, swinging for the fences, and instead of an intelligent, science-based and community-based federal government, the United States is squatted upon by a political party with no apparent values whatsoever, other than meanness and greed. It is in this context that The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, a biblical figure, a hero if there ever was one, one of the most important human voices of the Twentieth or any century, has his voice appropriated to glorify a goddamn truck. Using images of soldiers, for God’s sake. They couldn’t be more perverse in their violation of the meaning and intent of Dr. King’s words if they tried.

All this, while the most prominent voice in our country now, is one which only lies, all of the time, only self-glorifies, only belittles and insults, only disgraces himself and humanity with his every shallow poisoned breath, morning and night. The precise moral opposite of a Martin Luther King has been made the loudest voice, by our system of broadcast and advertising revenue, of click-bait, worship of spectacle, failure of imagination, apathy, laziness, and acute, howling stupidity.

This year I celebrated King’s birthday consciously. This year, for me, it wasn’t just a day when the schools and banks are closed, which is the depth to which I usually observe a holiday. This year I happened to listen, coincidentally, to the very speech in question here, and marveled at its prescience, its relevance, its power.

I just found it again on YouTube, so I will post it here. I’m listening again as I write. Appreciating and savoring the words of an intellectual, a man of conscience, a man of moral courage, whose voice calls us together, and inspires, and heals. Re-tasking this recording to sell cars surpasses irony and tastelessness to such a degree, I don’t even know if there’s a word for it. But such are these times. Thankfully, this recording survives intact, its intention clear, its meaning immortal.

There are some glitches in the audio there, it sounds like it was copied from a vinyl record which skips a bit, but mostly it’s intact.

Here’s King speaking to an anti-Vietnam war rally at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, April 27, 1967

Author: Eric Din

Eric makes songs, records, and little forts for cats to play in. Founder/lifer in The UPTONES, guitarist, songwriter, music teacher and music curator, Eric blogs at ericdin.com except when he doesn't.

8 thoughts on “Dr. King Was Not Selling Trucks”

  1. Eric, I imagine that most of us that saw this commercial took pause…. and then let it pass.. thank you for addressing the level of offense, and doing it so well.

  2. Thanks Eric! A heart-felt response to the Fake Reality sold to us by the Merchants of Death.
    Keep writing your rants and keep playing your music. You are appreciated

    1. Oh, thank you, Marko! Hey, sorry it took me a while to reply, I didn’t see this or the other comments here til today. Much appreciate your kind feedback 🙂 Cheers, Eric

  3. I don’t know if it’s a case of where “our” collective conciousess has gone, because if you look at the commercial on youtube, you’ll see it has 12K dislikes to 5k likes. Seems to me that more people are developing a healthy dose of cynisism in regards to advertising. I think the close up of the word “RAM” helped make people dislike this more. “Not down MY throat, asshole!”

    I have the same questions in my head as you, who the hell thought this was a good idea? It was certainly shot well, and had it been for something like a charity program, it would be more acceptable. But if the comments on youtube are any evidence of where our collective consciousness is, I think the marketplace of ideas won in the end, most people didn’t like their intellegence being insulted and said “Nope, not buying”.

    Or maybe they just didn’t like the commercial, and bought the truck any. It’s a good looking Truck. Hell, I’ll buy one.

    1. LOL thanks Jake. I also heard from a friend who thought it was cool to bring that speech before a large current audience no matter what the context. I disagree with that but I did see his point – people research the speech, listen to it without the truck ad. I still think it was just way out of line and tone deaf on so many levels, that they made the ad. Good to hear about the youtube comments and stats.

      Speaking of comments, sorry for my slow replies here, I didn’t see your comment til yeterday. E

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