Martin Luther King Had A Dream: Of Great Big Powerful Pickup Trucks!
And when you get home, Bull Connor will help you wash your truck with a hose.
Dodge Trucks ran what it hoped would be a very inspiring ad during the National Traumatic Brain Injury Festival yesterday, featuring a brief excerpt from King's 1968 "Drum Major" sermon. The ad included King's voice over a montage of hard-working Americans, all of them working hard and serving others, or at least looking telegenically servicey, teaching, rescuing people (from floods and fires!), marching in the Marines, doing ultrasounds, and of course a Dodge RAM pickup towing a weathered old church -- undoubtedly a historic black church or a replica of one! -- closing with the slogan, "Built to serve." It really is a pretty ad, and the King quote IS inspiring:
If you want to be important, wonderful. 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. And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great. 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 you can be that servant.
But wouldn't you know it, some people -- the sort of insufferable politically correct nitpickers who live to make life hell for ad agencies who simply want to use a civil rights martyr to sell some trucks -- had to go and point out that the very sermon the ad quotes extols Christian service over capitalism and consumerism. King, adapting a 1952 text by another minister, was addressing the "drum-major instinct," the human desire "to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first," as embodied in the story of James and John asking to be seated on either side of Jesus when he took his throne in heaven. King said that desire for recognition was understandable, but not the way to real happiness.
And while moving toward that talk of humble service to others as the highest value, King took a moment to note how advertising tries to flatter our own desires for recognition:
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. [congregation: "Make it plain!"] 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. ["Yes"] That's the way the advertisers do it.
King then went on to gently reprimand those who are duped by their desires and the silver-tongued admen who prey on them:
Do you ever see people buy cars that they can't even begin to buy in terms of their income? ["Amen"][laughter] You've seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don't earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford.
Or maybe shiny new Dodge RAM trucks. King went on to condemn the vanity of keeping up with the Joneses, for falling into the normal but empty trap of thinking
I got to drive this car because it's something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor's car.
The sermon also admonishes listeners to serve without any expectation of reward, because the service itself is the thing.
While he was at it, he also used the sermon -- from exactly 50 years ago yesterday, as the ad notes -- to condemn America's national hubris, our desire to run things:
God didn't call America to do what she's doing in the world now. ["Preach it, preach it!"] 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.
But God has a way of even putting nations in their place. ["Amen"] The God that I worship has a way of saying, "Don't play with me." ["Yes"] He has a way of saying, as the God of the Old Testament used to say to the Hebrews, "Don’t play with me, Israel. Don't play with me, Babylon. ["Yes"] Be still and know that I'm God. And if you don't stop your reckless course, I'll rise up and break the backbone of your power." ["Yes"] And that can happen to America.
So yes, people were not pleased with the ad. We did rather like this repurposing of the ad's video, with audio from King's condemnation of advertising:
Update: Yes, of course the anti-ad has already been removed, thanks to a DMCA takedown by Chrysler. The creator may be able to argue it's a fair-use parody, so should if reappear, we'll find another copy.
Dodge, for its part, pointed out that it had paid its thirty pieces of silver to Intellectual Properties Management Inc., the company that owns the rights to King's speeches. The company is owned by King's son, Dexter; the outfit's managing director, Eric D. Tidwell, said in a statement today,
We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King's philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others. Thus we decided to be a part of Ram's 'Built To Serve' Super Bowl program.
Not quite so the King Center or King's daughter, Bernice King:
Dodge's corporate mothership, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S., was just the teensiest bit defensive, but not apologetic, because look at all the people talking about
Dodge's shitty trucks serving others now:
So there's your New MLK: not just a guy who detested affirmative action, but a truck pitchman.
Could have been worse. Yesterday was also the birthday of Rosa Parks, and we can all be relieved she wasn't featured in a Greyhound ad.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.