20240116 It’s a bird Image 01

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman! Using Mass Media to Fight Intolerance

Joseph F. Gomes, an assistant professor at the School of Economics, Louvain, will present and discuss his working paper titled ‘It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman! Using Mass Media to Fight Intolerance.


This paper examines the impact of progressive radio programming on societal change during the early period of desegregation in post-World War II U.S. We investigate the influence of the popular radio show “The Adventures of Superman” on promoting tolerance and exposing the bigotry of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in 1946. Using state-of-the-art radio propagation models, we map the broadcast’s exposure and analyze its effects on various socioeconomic outcomes. We find that counties with higher exposure to the broadcast experienced a significant decrease in support for segregationist political candidates. Individuals potentially exposed to the Superman program during their childhood exhibited more progressive attitudes towards racial desegregation and African Americans later in life. These individuals were also more likely to be in interracial marriages and less likely to participate in the Vietnam war. Additionally, we uncover significant and progressive long-term effects of the radio coverage on county-level outcomes such as the presence of active KKK branches, civil rights organizations, and accessibility of non-discriminatory services for African Americans listed in the “Green Books.” These results underscore the potential of progressive radio programming as a catalyst for social change and contribute to our understanding of how media shapes societal attitudes and beliefs.

About the Speaker

Joseph Flavian Gomes is a (tenured) Assistant Professor in Economics at the Economics School of Louvain and Research Director at the Institute of Economic and Social Research (IRES) at UCLouvain. Furthermore, Professor Gomes is also a CEPR Research Affiliate (International Trade and Regional Economics program, Development Economics program), and an Invited Researcher at J-PAL. His primary research interests are in the fields of Development Economics and Political Economy.

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