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The effects of dumbing down TV

Discussion in 'Personal' started by MAGAorMIGA, Jul 21, 2019.


    MAGAorMIGA Star commenter


    (It's behind a paywall so I've pasted the text but not the graphs etc that support the analysis). It's a pretty depressing article. The more you dumb down TV and make it purely entertainment, as opposed to information- or education-focussed, the more right-wing and prone to voting for populists its consumers get.

    How trashy TV made children dumber and enabled a wave of populist leaders

    This is a story about how the lowest common denominator of popular media paved the way for the lowest common denominator of populist politics. And it’s got data.

    It begins with the opening of Italy’s airwaves, long the dominion of the highly regarded public broadcaster RAI. In the 1980s, an aggressive and unabashedly unsophisticated channel called Mediaset elbowed its way into the market and spread across the country, buying up small local channels and countering RAI’s educational mission with a heavy dose of cartoons, sports, soap operas, movies and other light entertainment.

    By 1990, 49 out of 50 Italians could watch Mediaset — half of the country had gained access in just five years. These unusual events allowed a team of Italian economists to compare towns that initially had Mediaset with otherwise equivalent towns that didn’t get reception until later, and thus calculate how a few extra years of lowbrow TV can shape a society’s politics.

    The results are bleak. In the American Economic Review, Ruben Durante of Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Paolo Pinotti of Bocconi University in Milan and Andrea Tesei of Queen Mary University of London analyze detailed broadcast-transmitter data to show that more exposure to Mediaset’s vapid programming was followed by an enduring boost in support for populist candidates peddling simple messages and easy answers.

    You may think this relationship has an obvious explanation, presumably because you’re aware that Mediaset’s founder and controlling owner is noted populist politician and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. But the researchers go to great lengths to prove this isn’t just a Berlusconi effect. For starters, the bump extends to his populist competitors, particularly the Five Star Movement. Founded on a comedian’s blog a decade ago, the anti-establishment movement became the biggest single party in Italy’s Parliament after last year’s election.

    Television’s role in populist success apparently lies in entertainment, not in political messaging. During the period when certain areas had greater Mediaset exposure than others, neither Mediaset nor Berlusconi had entered the political fray. The researchers digitized years of old newspaper television listings to show that Mediaset offered almost three times as many hours of movies and entertainment as RAI and avoided almost all news and educational programming.

    Benjamin Olken, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who pioneered the broadcast-tower analysis used by the Italian team, said the research added to evidence that “TV that’s not explicitly about politics can have an effect on politics.”

    In a 2009 analysis published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Olken analyzed differences in TV and radio signals in 606 villages on the Indonesian island of Java to show how greater access to broadcast media corresponded with lower civic participation and lower levels of trust.

    In Italy, the economists also used critics’ reviews, as well as ratings from the Motion Picture Association of America, to show Mediaset’s programming was of lower quality and less suitable for a general audience.

    They found that lowbrow television’s electoral effect came with a bump of almost 10 percentage points between the two groups that watched it most: those under age 10 and those 55 and older. As they aged, the two groups would both come to support populists, albeit for different reasons.

    Young people who watched Mediaset during their formative years would, Durante said, grow up to be “less cognitively sophisticated and less civically minded” than their peers who only had access to public broadcasting and local stations during that period.

    Durante describes it as a matter of opportunity cost: Every hour you spend watching TV is an hour you aren’t reading, playing outside or socializing with other kids. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but that may have long-term effects on what kind of person you will become.”

    On a battery of psychological and cognitive tests administered to military conscripts, young men from areas with more Mediaset exposure were between 8 percent and 25 percent more likely to earn the lowest scores. On an international test conducted in 2012, Italian adults from places where they first would have been exposed to Mediaset under the age of 10 had math and reading scores that were significantly worse than those of their peers. They were also less civically minded and less politically active.

    It’s not surprising, perhaps, that these men and women were attracted to Berlusconi and later the Five Star Movement, both of whom were more likely to use simple language in their speeches and platforms, the researchers show.

    Trashy TV’s brain-numbing effects weren’t as pronounced for Italians exposed to Mediaset later in life ⁠— researchers found their test scores were similar to their peers. Instead, their populist leanings were influenced by the news. By the time Mediaset offered regular news programming, in the early 90s, many older viewers had been hooked on the channel’s cheap entertainment and were much more likely to watch news offered by Mediaset than by other broadcasters.

    Coverage at stations tilted toward Berlusconi in the 1994 election, soon after scandals felled the conservative government and inspired the entrepreneur turned populist demagogue to throw his hat in the ring. Older TV watchers were glued to the news and swept up in the campaign.

    This result echoes a 2017 analysis in the same academic journal by a separate team that used variation in channel listings to calculate that Fox News gave Republicans a half-point boost in 2000, building up to a six-percentage-point advantage in 2008 compared with a baseline scenario in which the channel didn’t exist. They did not find a similar significant effect for MSNBC.

    In Italy, it’s not that television made voters more conservative. Instead, Durante said, it seems to have made them more vulnerable to the anti-establishment stances favored by the country’s populist leaders of all persuasions.

    In the ’90s and early 2000s, Berlusconi was “well positioned to benefit from the decline in cognitive skills and civic engagement,” they write, but by 2013, he was outflanked by the insurgent Five Star Movement, whose strong rhetoric won over the Mediaset-affected voters who had once broken for Berlusconi.
  2. artboyusa

    artboyusa Star commenter

    How amazingly patronising and one sided...I mean, how deeply concerning. Better put all TV in the hands of those who can be trusted to use it wisely. Like..
  3. Jude Fawley

    Jude Fawley Star commenter

    I must admit I'm becoming far more intolerant since Hilda Ogden (la, la, la, la, la) left Coronation Street and recently resurfaced on The Archers (hiss, hiss, hiss).
    monicabilongame likes this.
  4. lanokia

    lanokia Star commenter

    I know I got a lot dumber since I stopped watching the soaps, Casualty, all those so innovative police procedurals and medical dramas about rebellious doctors who buck the system but are still the top doc in their field.
    artboyusa and Oscillatingass like this.
  5. bobpite

    bobpite New commenter

    Thanks for posting this. I'm gonna try and get the actual article. It certainly supports my thinking at the moment as I grasp at straws trying to understand what is going on. I posted something on personal a little while ago which prima facie just looks like a bunch of silly questions that were very funny but I wanted to use them as an example of how, perhaps, thinking has become "unpopular" However I didn't go into that as, at the moment, a laugh is more therapeutic.
    MAGAorMIGA likes this.
  6. T34

    T34 Established commenter

    So people less exposed to political propaganda are less influenced by it.
    Quelle surprise.
    needabreak likes this.
  7. bobpite

    bobpite New commenter

    Hi T34, Well I think the article is a bit more nuanced than that. I expect we're both exposed to political propaganda but because we read and listen more widely we can be a bit more analytical and selective, (well, in my case I spend quite a lot of time shouting and swearing at the radio).
  8. Oscillatingass

    Oscillatingass Star commenter

    I would like to say I have become more intolerant since the BBC started to use programmes like Dr Who to promote their liberal agenda. I have no problem with the liberal agenda per se, I just object to Hampstead bubble living SJWs trying to tell me what I should think.
    agathamorse and cassandramark2 like this.
  9. blue451

    blue451 Lead commenter

    I'm surprised and at the same time not to see that this has been demonstrated. I'm currently back in the UK for a visit and have been depressed by the woeful quality of unchallenging mush on TV. More than once I have thought to myself that now I can better understand the vote for brexit, but didn't expect it to have been proven.
  10. Duke of York

    Duke of York Star commenter

    I have to confess that wasn't my interpretation, @T34. People get exposed to politics via a variety of sources. Hospital dramas are full of politics, but not the sort that get discussed in parliament in the same way they get discussed in dramas.

    If you get your exposure to parliamentary politics from newpapers and the like, you have the chance to weigh up the propaganda you're fed via a variety of sources, although far too often people are too lazy to seek out more than one source.

    When politics are presented in the form of a compelling TV drama, the narrative being spun in the drama can be very influential.
  11. lapinrose

    lapinrose Lead commenter

    Lord Reith must be turning somersaults in his grave!!

    O/H has been complaining about this for years, he used to work for the BBC, BFBS, Channel4 etc. It is so frustrating to have so many channels available, yet there is nothing we want to watch. We ditched Sky because of the cost and now have Freesat which has fewer channels.
  12. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

    The Impact of Television Programmes on Teenage Career Aspirations: The ‘MasterChef Effect’IZA DP No. 9804

    March 2016

    Giorgio Di Pietro

  13. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

  14. Oscillatingass

    Oscillatingass Star commenter

    Well comrades, the only thing to do in is to ban the proletariat from watching television. That way we would have a more educated society who would vote Mr Corbyn into power. Right, that's the plan. Now for the detail...……….
  15. lanokia

    lanokia Star commenter

    No, no... they just need to watch the correct materials... then they won't go distrusting their establishment leaders...
    artboyusa likes this.
  16. Oscillatingass

    Oscillatingass Star commenter

    I appreciate that Comrade Lan but the darned proles insist on choosing what they want to watch that's what we need to do something about.
  17. lanokia

    lanokia Star commenter

    One channel is all that is required Comrade. One channel which delivers only the correct thoughts... thoughts we can all share.... one mind in the hive.
    agathamorse and Oscillatingass like this.
  18. smoothnewt

    smoothnewt Star commenter

    When I lived for a while in Italy in the late 70s and early 80s TV channels were fewer, but the output from RAI was pretty dire, although the national broadcaster did provide a good news service.
    Those were the days of political extremism: the post-fascist MSI on the far right and the Red Brigades on the revolutionary left.
    I'm not sure whether TV had any role to play in this; I doubt it,though. My theory was that the fact that back then philosophy was so prevalent as a subject in the maturità (A level equivalent) had an impact on the thinking of impressionable teenagers.
  19. hhhh

    hhhh Lead commenter

    Surely people who watch a lot of TV as opposed to reading are (traditionally) more left wing? Just as people who use social media more than books are usually more left-wing?
    And when kids watched the Krypton Factor, Blockbusters and Crystal Maze instead of Love Island, society tended to be more right-wing, didn't it?
  20. Oscillatingass

    Oscillatingass Star commenter

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