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Martin Luther King Jr.|The Commodification of the Civil Rights Leader’s Image

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MLK ‘Twerk’ Party Flyers Spark Outrage

“We have a moment in time now where Dr. King’s legacy has been so sanitized and commodified that he’s become a symbol,” says Lewis-McCoy. “We haven’t given a full, honest telling of his legacy. Now nearly 50 years later, we have images of Dr. King that are simply symbols being used to attract attention. That’s because we haven’t engaged in the politics.”

While many African Americans will observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day performing works of service, attending memorial events or even just taking the day off, there are those who see nothing but dollar signs through the “commodification” of the slain Civil Rights leader’s image.

Several flyers have surfaced in recent years. Most recently, one advertising a “Freedom 2 Twerk dance party for teens in Flint, Michigan made a big splash on social media.

MLK Image CommodifiedThe flyer featured King’s face digitally manipulated onto the body of rapper Young Jeezy – complete with tattoos and a large gold chain. When news of the event reached the owner of the venue where it was to be held, it was promptly cancelled.

It’s MLK weekend so they put MLK on the flyer

“I think it’s pretty distasteful to put Martin Luther King’s image on a flyer but I’ve definitely seen it done many times,” says Brandon Smith, founder of Seattle Social, a Washington events promotion company. “I personally think most club flyers are distasteful and have this discussion all the time. They usually show some scantily-clad, overly-Photoshopped model that has nothing to do with the event or company.”

Smith adds that money and attention are the main motivators for most event organizers. “It’s MLK weekend so they put MLK on the flyer. Most promoters probably don’t think about it being disrespectful when they’re making them,” he says.

R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, an assistant professor of sociology and black studies at the City College of New York says the trend of using King on flyers points to a much greater issue: the commodification of the civil rights leader’s image in popular culture, something he says was in the works long before there was an official holiday.

For more read, MLK in the Public: Commodity, Iconography and Memory

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About Bob Coleman

Bob Coleman is the principal at Rhema Web Marketing. The firm specializes in SEO, SEM and Social Media Marketing for small businesses. Rhema specializes is helping businesses get page #1 ranking in search engines, affordably.

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