Public opinion has long been quite hostile towards a lot of welfare spending: according to the British Social Attitudes survey, only 15% would like to see higher benefits for the unemployed.Might television be partly to blame for such hostility? A new paper by Tanja Hennighausen suggests so.
She studied the attitudes of East Germans in 1990 to the question: Does success in life depend more upon luck than effort? She found that people living in areas where they could watch west German TV were more likely to say success depended upon effort than people who didn't have access to western TV.The effect is quite strong - twice as much so as the impact of being unemployed, for example. She concludes:
Television may affect policy outcomes even if that may not be intended but may just be a byproduct of providing entertainment.
The effect here, though powerful, is quite subtle. In most TV dramas, people are, to a fair degree, masters of their fate. Good things happen (ultimately) to good people and bad ones to bad people, and the good guys usually make it to the end of the series. Sure, this isn't always the case, but exceptions, such as Spooks and American Horror Story, tend to be shocking by their very unusualness. In this way, TV helps strengthen the capitalist ideology that you can succeed if only you try hard enough.
This, though, is not the only evidence that TV promotes individualism. Ben Olken has found (pdf) that in Indonesian villages where TV reception is good, social capital tends to be weaker than in villages where it is poor.
The point here is that the ideology that sustains capitalism doesn't arise merely (or even I suspect mainly) from deliberate attempts by evil capitalists to manipulate the masses. It might be, as Ms Hennighausen says, an unintended byproduct.
The evidence, then, seems to support Gillian Anderson's opinion:
The whole concept of sitting down in front of a TV feels like one of things that’s destroying society as far as I’m concerned.
But then, if you were looking for criticism of Ms Anderson, you've come to the wrong place.