Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people in our four-wheel drive trucks, will get to the promised land.
Now, we’ve heard it all.
Mixed in the Super Bowl scramble of commercials about laundry detergent and potato chips Sunday was an advertisement for Dodge Ram trucks featuring a voiceover from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The 60-second spot, which aired just before halftime, focuses on the theme of service and shows various clips of teachers, soldiers, firefighters and farmers making all manner of civic contribution with excerpts from King’s “The Drum Major Instinct” speech playing in the background.
It also shows a Dodge pickup truck splashing through the mud.
“If you want to be important — wonderful,” King says in the clip from a speech he gave Feb. 4, 1968, two months before he was assassinated. “If you want to be recognized — wonderful. If you want to be great — wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.
“By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great,” King says. “You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know the theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
And a 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi.
“Ram,” say the words printed on the screen. “Built to serve.”
Social media was rightfully outraged.
“Corporate America. NBC, NFL should be ashamed,” tweeted actor John Cusack.
“The King family has vehemently defended MLK’s likeness, voice, speeches, etc. FOR DECADES,” tweeted April Reign, a marketing director from Atlanta. “To hear him now … on an ad … to sell … trucks … is unsettling.”
King’s own daughter, Bernice King, said the family did not sign off on the ad.
“Neither @TheKingCenter nor @BerniceKing is the entity that approves the use of #MLK’s words or imagery for use in merchandise, entertainment (movies, music, artwork, etc) or advertisement, including tonight’s @Dodge #SuperBowl commercial,” the King Center tweeted.
The worst thing about the commercial — besides the fact that it co-opts and corrupts the slain civil rights leader in the middle of Black History Month — is that it takes King’s comments out of context.
Before King launched into his message about service, he actually had something to say about how to buy a car.
“You know, economists tell us that your automobile should not cost more than half of your annual income,” King says in the same speech.
“So if you make an income of $5,000 dollars, your car shouldn’t cost more than about $2,500. That’s just good economics. And if it’s a family of two, and both members of the family make $10,000, they would have to make out with one car. That would be good economics, although it’s often inconvenient. But so often, haven’t you seen people making $5,000 a year and driving a car that costs $6,000? And they wonder why their ends never meet.”
Not exactly what Dodge was trying to say, was it?