Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is historically no fan of commercial TV or advertising, at least he had a lot of tough things to say about both in a 1979 opinion piece in the Vermont Vanguard Press, "Social Control and the Tube." At the time Sanders was working as a carpenter and documentary filmmaker his campaign bio says, having yet won his first office as mayor of Burlington.
The piece drew attention when Sanders was a contender for the 2016 nomination and is worth revisiting now that he is a front-runner for the Democratic nomination and is given a decent shot at unseating the sitting President.
As Sanders saw it, in a piece he said he hoped would stimulate discussion, the major purposes of commercial TV were to 1) make as much money as possible for the owners of industry and its advertisers, 2) "like heroin and alchohol," to provide the chance to "space out" rather than face pain and conflict in their lives, and, in an early take on "fake news," 3) to propagate political points, "including lies and distortions through 'the news.'"
He pointed out that the Chase Manhattan bank at the time was the largest stockholder in CBS and NBC and the third largest in ABC (behind Bankers Trust and Bank of New York), saying the networks were controlled by those powerful institutions.
He was not particularly enamored of the ad-supported model for the medium, either.
"Using the well-tested Hitlerian principle that people should be treated as morons and bombarded over and over again with the same simple phrases and ideas," he wrote, "the astute minds on Madison Avenue are capable of converting millions of TV viewers to one or another product in a manner of months."
Lumping the media with other capitalist institutions he opposed, Sanders said the owners of the TV business didn't want to use their medium to educate, uplift or improve life because that would be acting against their best interests. "What the owners of the TV industry want to do," he wrote, "and are doing in my opinion, is use that medium to intentionally brainwash people into submission and helplessness," in the process creating a "nation of morons."
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