Ram Trucks’ Shameful Attempt to Appropriate Martin Luther King

Ram Trucks’ Shameful Attempt to Appropriate Martin Luther King February 4, 2018

I just heard the voice of the famous anti-capitalist Martin Luther King, Jr, preaching on service, in order to sell automobiles.

I understand sportsball is to blame.

 I don’t watch the Super Bowl because I don’t like football. I don’t have anything against it or anybody who does; I just dislike sports. I like to watch the commercials, though, so I’ve been looking at them on YouTube. That’s where I ran into this gem. Better watch it quick because I think it’s going to go the way of that Black Lives Matter Pepsi ad before the night is out. You can find it here. I’ll wait.
What you just heard was the voice of Martin Luther King, Junior, from his sermon entitled “The Drum Major Instinct.” It’s a homily based on the tenth chapter of Mark, adapted from an earlier work by J. Wallace Hamilton. You can read or listen to the whole thing here.  In this beautiful sermon, King criticizes the unbridled desire to draw attention to oneself. He’s got eloquent and harsh words for just about everybody– people who live above their means, as well as the United States military industrial complex. Nobody gets a pass. And he finishes it with a meditation on the words he wants to hear at his own funeral– which is chilling, when you consider that he was murdered two months later to the very day. He preached that sermon fifty years ago today, and he was gunned down fifty years ago this April, also on the fourth of the month.
 And now the words of his sermon are being superimposed over all kinds of happy images. You’ve got black scholars, white construction workers, white fishermen, many shots of beautiful babies of both races including one unborn. You’ve got a woman making a pile of trash for some reason. You’ve got black men handing out what look to be raw chickens to jubilant white people in the rain. And you’ve got a white soldier kneeling to embrace his son, not to mention a small complement of United States Marines in dress uniforms marching on parade– and not a single one of those United States Marines is black. It’s a sea of armed and uniformed white guys.
Those videos of military personnel seem especially out of place, considering how outspoken King was against the military– indeed, exactly one year before his death, he famously preached that “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
There was a lot more to King than boycotting buses, one quickly discovers. He was not a peaceful teddy bear patronized by all but a handful of zealots, as some people seem to want to regard him today. King was a radical who preached the hard truth to America about all kinds of things– not just about white supremacy, as if that weren’t enough, but about money, about Vietnam, about what was done to the Native Americans; about all of America’s sins. People were scared of him.  The exact same kind of ordinary, quietly respectable, ill-informed white people who think Black Lives Matter are terrorists and Colin Kapernick is disrespectful were relieved when somebody finally shot King. I’m certain at least one of them was muttering about fine people on many sides that very day fifty years ago. Martin Luther King Junior’s era was not at all unlike our own.
Except, of course, that today, just shy of fifty years after his death, King’s words are being piped along to a montage of can-do American stock footage during a football game. To what end?
To sell trucks.
Ram trucks, specifically. You can see a Ram truck transporting an ENTIRE CLAPBOARD CHURCH down a dusty street at about the halfway point. It’s like Pope Innocent III’s Dream of Saint Francis Saving the Church, only with trucks and infinitely more offensive. That’s what a truck salesman thinks “service” consists in, I suppose. White Marines and a pickup truck moving a Protestant church. This is a commercial for brand new Ram trucks, which Ram humbly thinks you might want to use in your performing humble acts of service. But they’re not giving them away for free; don’t let’s be silly. Buy a brand new truck today, in honor of Martin Luther King, and use it to move churches and pass out raw chickens.
I think it might amuse Ram to know what Martin Luther King Junior thought of buying new automobiles. It’s easy to find out; he preached about it in that very “Drum Major Instinct” sermon they lifted the can-do quote from.  King had this to say:
“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…”
And later he’s more pointed:

You know, economists tell us that your automobile should not cost more than half of your annual income. So if you make an income of five thousand dollars, your car shouldn’t cost more than about twenty-five hundred. That’s just good economics. And if it’s a family of two, and both members of the family make ten thousand dollars, 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 five thousand dollars a year and driving a car that costs six thousand? And they wonder why their ends never meet. That’s a fact.

If Dodge is selling a truck for more than five thousand dollars at any lot anywhere in America at this moment, I think we should all head over there and thumb our noses at them right away. After the football game is over, of course. And when we get back, we’d better give some serious thought to King’s powerful words on service. And then we’d better go back outside and serve– serve our community in ways that Martin Luther King, Junior actually would appreciate.
It’s a far better way of honoring his life than buying an overpriced truck.
(image via Pixabay)
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