A Super Bowl ad featuring the voice of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King has been the subject of intense controversy.
Dr. King’s voice was played over the top of a Ram Trucks advertisement. These extracts were taken from his “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, which was delivered during Super Bowl Sunday 1968. The sermon was an adaptation of J. Wallice Hamilton’s 1952 homily, “Drum Major Instincts”. In the sermon, Dr. King encourages his congregation to seek greatness, but to do so through service to one another.
The Ram advertisement quotes Dr. King’s sermon.
“If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognise 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. … 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.”
The original King sermon goes on to express anticapitalistic sentiment, however, even decrying car advertisements for promoting the idea that status is a commodity to be bought.
“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,” Dr. King says.
“In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbours 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. … I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbour’s car. … I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America.”
This slippage was not lost on several Super Bowl viewers, who took to Twitter to decry the advertisement.
exploiting martin luther king’s legacy for a dodge ad the year kaepernick was effectively banned by the league is the epitome of everything wrong in america today pic.twitter.com/Oa1WUadD2C
— Waleed Shahid (@_waleedshahid) February 5, 2018
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) February 5, 2018
Does the Martin Luther King Jr. Dodge come with the Rosa Parallel Parks assist feature? Because if not you can keep it.
— Travon Free (@Travon) February 5, 2018
Ram Trucks Responds To Controversy
Ram Trucks addressed the controversy in a statement, arguing that the advertisement is meant to highlight the organisation’s charitable initiative, Ram Nation. The statement said that the company had the expressed consent of Dr. King’s estate.
— RamTrucks (@RamTrucks) February 5, 2018
The Super Bowl halftime show is one of the most watched American television events. It is often used to unveil new trailers for upcoming films.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor