That damn Ram ad! Using some of MLK, Jr.’s most inspiring words about selflessness—borrowed from Jesus—for promoting trucks “built to serve.”
I was immediately offended. And I wasn’t the only one. Angry tweets circled the globe.
“Black people can’t kneel and play football but MLK should be used to sell trucks during the Super Bowl? Unbelievable.” – writer and comedian Akilah Hughes.
“MLK who died striking with workers decrying militarism & imperial war makers – used to sell shiny trucks with marching soldiers – corporate America NBC NFL should be ashamed.” -actor John Cusack
There were other shameless examples during the Super Bowl.
- Toyota vaunting interfaith understanding by piling Christian, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim clerics into one of their cars.
- Monster headphones like a “Savior” that will turn your world from B&W to Technicolor.
- Budweiser truly caring about clean water supplies in developing nations.
- Hyundai so deeply concerned about victims of cancer.
Folks, this is nothing new.
27 years ago, in his book Wake Up, America, Tony Campolo warned of this trend—the selling of goods that supposedly satisfy our deepest needs. He mentioned ads that promised spiritual fulfillment, like one shot from an aerial view, panning across a throng of people gathered on a hill. They represent all races and colors of the world, joining hands and singing in a unity this planet has never seen. Was it a symbol of the Kingdom of God? Was it a call for racial reconciliation? No, it was a commercial for the Pepsi Generation. Similar soda ads ran during Super Bowl LII.
Corporate encroachment like this is so insidious. Campolo put it this way. “In our TV ads, it is as though the ecstasy of spirit experienced by a Saint Theresa or a St. Francis can be reduced to the gratification coming from a particular car, and the kind of love that Christ compared to His love for His church can be expressed by buying the right kind of wristwatch ‘for that special person in your life.’ In all this media hype, things are sold to us on the basis that our deepest emotional and psychological needs will be met by having the right consumer goods.”
The ultimate result of these ads is the tragic reverse of their promises. Materialism causes a decay of spiritual contentment. It increases our alienation from God and each other. Jesus knew this. It is why he said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21
Maybe we really are living in that “inverted totalitarianism” that Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and Presbyterian minister has pointed to for years. In his book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, written with Joe Sacco, he defines the term as “a system where corporations have corrupted and subverted democracy, and where economics trumps politics. Every natural resource and living being is commodified and exploited to the point of collapse, as the citizenry is lulled and manipulated into surrendering their liberties and their participation in government through excess consumerism and sensationalism.”
Wake up, America!