The other night, during the Super Bowl, a Dodge Ram commercial aired which took excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr’s speech, known as "the Drum Major Instinct," and aired it in one of their commercials fifty years to the day that he gave the speech.
I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about this. I was a little offended, a little angry, a little perplexed why they used this in a corporate commercial, but most of all, I was curious. Would MLK have approved of this himself? I believe that the answer is no, after listening to his actual speech. The irony of them using this particular speech is astounding. The rights to use these excerpts were given by King estates, not by the actual family themselves.
If you listen to the whole speech, it is more about the dangers of capitalism and materialism. Some of the speech includes talking about verbal persuasion through advertising. Examples include: “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” (See the irony in that?).
He also makes a good point that the drum major instinct is a cause of racial prejudice. That white people feel like they have to be superior to everyone else. What we fail to realize is that the poor white community has been put into this position, through blindness and prejudice, and have been forced to support their oppressors. They have a false sense of security because of the color of their skin, yet can’t make end's meet (Think of Trump supporters who really thought he was going to make them rich).
The speech was also a warning about the dangers of our egos leading to materialism. MLK was not a very materialistic man and realized he couldn’t take it with him when he died. His wife has said that he really didn’t want her buying covers for their front window. In this speech, he notes that he doesn’t want his funeral to be long. He doesn’t want his Nobel peace prize, or any other of his major awards mentioned. The only thing he really wanted stated was that what he did, he did out of love and righteousness; that he did do what he thought was right, regardless of the outcome or public opinion—not for praise or to be famous. Sure, he wanted others to follow in his footsteps and create a better world for all, but not for celebrity status. He wanted us to feed the hungry, love the unloved, clothe the naked, and tried to be on the right side of the war question.
He didn’t want to leave a materialistic legacy behind, he wanted to leave a committed legacy behind. He believed that any of us could do this, regardless of education or social status, and we can. You don’t have to be rich to donate your time; you don’t have to be famous to love someone or brighten someone’s day, you just have to be human as they are. You have to know that you are both in this crazy world and that you can change it, even if it’s just for one day.
He had no intention of selling you a Dodge Ram in his speech. He intended on selling you on the idea that we can co-exist in love and harmony if we are willing. We still can if we do what is right and forgo that drum major instinct and our egos. Even as a Christian man, he did not do it so that he could go to heaven—he did it because it was right. We shouldn’t need a book or a TV ad to tell us what is right and wrong. We know what that is.
In my personal opinion, I think it was disrespectful to his memory and legacy to commercialize his speech and fight for equality to sell another truck. While yes, the King estate did give them permission to use the excerpts, the family had nothing to do with it. Yet textbooks are being pulled because they do not have the permission of the King estate (which is a for profit company), for quoting Dr. King in his speeches.
I believe this goes against everything he said in this speech, and using his legacy for a corporate agenda is just plain wrong. It belittles and bastardizes everything he said and did in his lifetime as man and a leader among men.