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.