How Americans turned democracy into a TV show

Studies from the past 40 years have shown that regular, heavy exposure to television can shape your views on violence, gender, science, health, religion, minorities and more.

Meanwhile, 20 years ago, we conducted studies in the U.S. and Argentina that found that the more you watch television, the more likely you’ll embrace authoritarian tendencies and perspectives. Heavy American and Argentinian television viewers have a greater sense of fear, anxiety and mistrust. They value conformity, see the “other” as a threat and are uncomfortable with diversity.

There’s probably a reason for this. Gender, ethnic and racial stereotypes continue to be prevalent in many shows. Television tends to distill complex issues into simpler forms, while the use of violence as an approach to solving problems is glorified. Many fictional programs, from “Hawaii Five-O” to “The Flash,” feature formulaic violence, with a brave hero who protects people from danger and restores the rightful order of things.

In short, television programs often feature an authoritarian ethos when it comes to how characters are valued and how problems are solved.