If You Like Keeping Up With The Kardashians You’re More Likely To Dislike Welfare, Study Shows
Not only are the wealthy living some of their best lives in the past century, watching them go about said lives is more popular than ever. Tabloids price out their outfits and reality shows set in sprawling mansions which follow their dramas and attempts to make even more money get massive and reliable ratings. Consider the 15 seasons of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, multiple seasons of shows about wealthy Angelenos and Londoners on Bravo, and tabloid TV like VH1’s once popular The Fabulous Life Of and MTV’s celebrity house tour show Cribs. And just in case all that doesn’t sate your thirst for displays of celebrities’ material wealth and rich people problems, a movie called Generation Wealth is coming to theaters and streaming networks shortly.
It seems, however, that binging on such programming comes with a downside, according to Dr. Rodolfo Leyva, a researcher at the London School of Economics. His study of 487 adults found that exposure to displays of wealth such as ads for luxury goods, motivational rags-to-riches tales, and celebrity tabloids corresponds to negative attitudes towards social welfare and poverty alleviation programs. By contrast, subjects exposed to popular science stories, ads about public transport, and pictures of natural scenery seemed a lot more charitable toward the poor. At this point, you may be wondering if, as with all experiments in what psychologists call priming, maybe the result is just temporary and the core beliefs of consumers of materialistic media stay the same over the long haul.
Well, Dr. Leyva asked participants about their viewing habits and found that there was, in fact, a strong correlation between anti-welfare and anti-poverty alleviation views, and consuming a lot of materialistic entertainment. He also goes on to suggest that “chronic attention to materialistic media messages may indirectly increase support for the governmental enactment of punitive welfare policies” because of media that glamorizes wealth “decrease dispositional orientations toward empathy, altruism, and communality.” In other words, watching wealthy, selfish people on TV enjoying their expensive toys and being richly rewarded for their antics often makes people want to emulate them, leading them to be more selfish as well.
Interestingly enough, there’s research to corroborate that accumulating a great deal of material wealth can make you less empathetic, more self-centered, and less concerned about society’s rules and laws. Dr. Leyva’s work seems to show that these traits may be passed on indirectly, using materialistic media as a proxy. If these correlations hold up in further studies, it could add another dimension to Americans’ paradoxical relationship with wealth and partly explain how policies benefiting the wealthy in the West and seemingly opposed by overwhelming majorities of the public can still get traction and be passed into law. And this would mean that the 1% are unwittingly indoctrinating the 99% with their values while profiting from the effort, giving the public what it wants but at the price of letting the public get wrapped up in materialism beyond a healthy, sustainable point.