Sunday, July 21, 2019

Bread and circuses and trashy TV.

Image by Christian Dorn from Pixabay
It's common knowledge by now that television programming has less to do with entertaining viewers than it does with making money. Programming is a vehicle for the ads, pure and simple. The more viewers a show can attract, the more eyeballs that will be exposed to the commercials aired along with the show.

This is why TV executives went nuts a few years ago when viewers started to figure out ways to skip over the ads. We've always had the random viewer who would leave the room to get a sandwich or use the bathroom during a show -- but now that technology has evolved to the point where viewers could record programming to watch later or watch shows online, and miss the ads altogether, it may reach a point where it becomes prohibitively expensive to produce any new programming at all.

But that's a side issue. What I wanted to talk about was the quality of the programming that's shown to all those eyeballs.

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about a study done in Italy. It found a correlation between the trashy programming on one of the country's two channels and viewers' belief in simplistic political thought. Beginning in the 1980s, viewers could choose light entertainment provided by Mediaset instead of the more educational programming offered by public broadcaster RAI. The researchers correlated people's viewing choices with political believes, and discovered 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."

This effect was seen most starkly in kids who were under 10 and people who were over 55 in 1985. The kids have since grown up, and a lot of them became supporters of Italian populist politician Silvio Berlusconi.

How did it happen? The Post says, "In Italy, it’s not that television made voters more conservative. Instead ... it seems to have made them more vulnerable to the anti-establishment stances favored by the country’s populist leaders of all persuasions." In other words, viewers who opted for trash TV instead of more challenging entertainment -- reading a book, say, or watching the news -- lost the ability to think skeptically and to reason effectively. Or never developed it, in the case of the kids.

Feel free to extrapolate from this the current situation in the US, where adult-oriented cartoons, reality TV, and Fox News became popular during roughly the same time period as Mediaset did in Italy.

And then step away from all your screens and exercise your mind. Read a book or something. Please.

These moments of commercial-free blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell -- who, by the way, writes books.

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