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Money Beliefs and Luxury Lifestyle TV

Money Beliefs and Luxury Lifestyle TV

By Rick Kahler CFP

***

If you watch TV shows that flash luxury products and feature rags-to-riches stories or the lives of the rich and famous, will you become more materialistic and cold-hearted toward the poor? You might, according to an August 1 story by Sarah Knapton in The Telegraph, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians may make viewers cold-hearted towards poor, study suggests.” It cites research done by the London School of Economics showing that “just 60 seconds of exposure to materialistic media is enough to significantly increase anti-welfare sentiment.”

The article mentions two studies. In the first, participants were divided into two groups. One group was shown clips of luxury products, rich and famous people, and rags-to-riches stories. The other group saw neutral images of London sights, natural scenery, and headlines about dinosaurs. Both groups were then asked questions that evaluated their attitudes toward wealth and success, government benefits, and impoverished people. The group shown the materialistic media scored more negative attitudes toward welfare and welfare policies.

In the second study, participants were asked if they regularly viewed shows like The Apprentice and X-Factor. Those who did were found more likely to hold materialistic and anti-welfare attitudes.

I have some doubts about these studies. For one thing, they mix data on two very different issues—an acute reaction to a stimulus and a chronic behavior.

In the first study, both groups were exposed to stimuli and their reactions were immediately measured. What the research apparently did not do was follow up in one day, one week, or one year to see if the negative anti-welfare impact persisted. My hunch is that, had they tested the two groups one week later, there would have been no significant difference between them in their materialistic or anti-welfare sentiment.

My belief that this is a short-term phenomenon is supported by similar research in neuropsychology made popular by the field of behavioral finance. For example, if two groups are asked to guess the price of something and one group is given a random number before guessing and the other isn’t, the guesses of the first group will be closer to that number than those of the second group. This is called Anchoring, which lasts but moments. A person’s ability to price the object into the future is not permanently impacted.

This is a separate issue altogether from the second study. Here we are talking about a long-term, chronic behavior. People who regularly watch these shows are drawn to them, in part, by their beliefs about money, known in financial therapy as money scripts. I would make the case that many regular viewers held money scripts of valuing wealth and materialism before they watched the shows. While it is unlikely viewing the show created these beliefs, it probably reinforced them.

Can media affect our attitudes toward money? This is a chicken-and-egg question. What comes first? Does the money script attract the viewer to the show, or does the show form the money script? My experience suggests it’s mostly the former.

Perhaps a more accurate headline summing up these studies might have been, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians may give viewers a momentary cold heart toward poor, study suggests,” or “The Apprentice attracts viewers more given to materialism and a cold heart toward poor, study suggests.”

The media play to what their consumers find attractive. I am guessing in an anti-materialistic and pro-welfare culture these shows would attract fewer regular viewers. While the media certainly can influence our attitudes toward money, it’s more probable that our collective attitudes toward money affect the media more than the media affects us.

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One Response

  1. Hunting Season

    Many South Dakotans observe an annual holiday that isn’t on the calendar in most other states: the mid-October opening weekend of pheasant hunting season. Opening day of deer season is an important event in the state as well.

    The effect of hunting on our state’s economy is significant. A study commissioned by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department in 2016 determined that $1.3 billion was directly spent on outdoor recreation between October 2015 and October 2016. The largest single portion of that spending, $683 million, came fromhunting.

    Even more important, hunting is a part of our state’s culture. It is about family traditions, spending time outdoors with friends, and putting food on the table.

    It is also about respect for nature. Like other outdoor enthusiasts, hunters typically have an inherent respect for nature and a concern for the environment.

    This is hard for those not familiar with an outdoor culture to understand. To many, hunting beautiful creatures like pheasants, deer, antelope, and elk seems nonsensical and cruel.

    Yet most hunters view hunting season as a time of harvesting what the land has provided, in much the same manner as those who hunted this land hundreds of years before them. Most hunters eat what they kill. Not only is game meat more nutritious, it can be muchmore economical than commercially raised animals. For some South Dakotans, a freezer full of venison is an important part of feeding the family on a limited budget.

    Of course, the dollars and cents of hunting don’t always make economic sense. My teenage son, for example, has followed a longstanding tradition and become a hunter. His great-grandfather and grandfather hunted pheasants. I used to hunt deer; Davin was raisedon a diet that included venison. Davin, however, decided to set a new standard in the family. He became a squirrel hunter.

    Yes, South Dakota has a statewide squirrel hunting season. It lasts from September through February, with a daily limit of five animals.

    This didn’t set well with my wife, who loves every squirrel and bunny that graces our property. When Davin came home overjoyed that he shot his daily limit of squirrels, she put her theater experience to good use in order to act excited for him. Davin and hisbuddy, as responsible hunters, decided to use every part of their harvest. They saved the squirrel meat for making jerky, they made knife sheaths from the pelts, and they harvested the tails to sell to a company that uses the fur for fishing lures.

    I asked my son how much they would get for the tails. He proudly said $0.20 for perfect tails and $0.08 for damaged ones. Given the difficulty of hitting a scampering squirrel, perfect tails were not necessarily the norm. My mind quickly started a cost-of-goods-soldanalysis of the tails, totaling the expenses of the license, gas, gun, and shells. I came up with a cost of $1.50 per tail. My encouragement was to start a new squirrel tail fad of some sort and sell the tails to his friends for $3.00 each.

    I didn’t realize there was a possibility for an even more lucrative market. Some of my friends and neighbors enjoy feeding songbirds through the winter. Many of them are tired of searching fruitlessly for squirrel-proof feeders. It’s possible, with the rightmarketing approach, that they could be persuaded to pay a bounty for every clever little feeder-raiding varmint removed from their yards.

    This might not add noticeably to the economic impact of hunting in the Black Hills, but at least it could make squirrel hunting a less expensive hobby.

    Rick Kahler CFP

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