At the end of a long day scrolling through memes, there are a few things we can reliably turn to for comfort. Specifically: removing your bra, grabbing a bottle glass of wine, and turning on Bravo. Unfortunately, according to a new study, one of those things (Bravo) is making you a monster who hates poor people. Honestly, I’m a little sad that these researchers are spending their money on ruining reality TV. But I’m even sadder at what the study results showed. Let’s dig in.
This London School of Economics study tested participants in two ways. First, they polled the group about their TV watching habits, focusing on shows like The Apprentice (BBC version) and Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Overall, they found that regular watchers were more likely to have materialistic and “anti-welfare” attitudes. (To be clear, they demonstrated anti-welfare attitudes when specifically questioned about the issue. Watching KUWTK has no correlation with randomly railing against the existence of welfare, unless you happen to be Paul Ryan.)
Second, the researchers showed some participants ads for luxury goods and pictures of celebrities. The other participants looked at ads featuring nature or animals. The researchers then polled all participants on their “views on wealth, success and government benefits for impoverished people.” The results? With only 60 seconds looking at the ads promoting wealth/expensive goods, people were way more likely to back anti-welfare policies.
After looking at a Prada ad for 60 seconds, apparently:
What It Means
So, why would this be the case? Obviously, they can’t know for sure—but if you watch reality TV on a regular basis (think: all Real Housewives, Vanderpump Rules, KUWTK, etc), you probably have a pretty good idea. The study author, Dr. Rodolfo Levya, phrased it like this:
“Programs like ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘The X Factor’ are engineered to absorb audiences into the world of wealth and celebrities so act as ‘cultivators’ of materialistic values and attitudes…If there is more emphasis on materialism as a way to be happy, this makes us more inclined to be selfish and antisocial, and therefore unsympathetic to people less fortunate.”
As much as I’d love to poke holes in this, I have to say that it holds up. What I watch on TV has a strong influence on my purchasing habits. (Exhibit A: I never would have gotten eyelash extensions if I hadn’t been bingeing Vanderpump Rules.) And I do pretty firmly believe that a trust fund would solve most of my problems. So yeah, I’ve definitely bought into the whole “materialism as a way to be happy” thing. That being said, the idea that money = happiness is not exactly new to our generation. So it feels a little cheap to pin all of that on the advent of reality TV. If anything, it’s just exaggerated the phenomenon.
As for the other finding (that people became anti-welfare and generally unsympathetic), I find this harder to explain. Personally, I don’t feel a strong correlation between wanting to buy a designer bag and supporting Medicaid budget cuts. Then again, Trump rose to fame through The Apprentice, and his 2019 budget proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance. So on a national level, we’re definitely seeing a lack of sympathy in that direction.
Overall, as much as I love blaming any bad character traits on external factors, these study results are disappointing. (And not all that surprising.) Am I going to advocate that you throw out your TVs and/or boycott the Kardashians? Def not—for one thing, I’d be out of a job. But in your quest to live half as luxuriously as Blue Ivy Carter, maybe consciously take the time to remember that other people are struggling too. In other words, make an effort to care as much about the homeless population in your city as you do about Kim and Kourtney’s latest feud, or they’re going to label Bravo a public health risk and take it away from us.