Soap Operas as “Edutainment”

July 15, 2013 • Family Planning, Serial Dramas, Radio Serial Dramas, Daily Email Recap

Soap Operas as “Edutainment”
July 11, 2013



Turns out, popular media is not always a mindless distraction. There is evidence that so-called “education-entertainment,” which weaves important information about health, safety, and cultural issues into an enticing plot line, can be highly effective in combating cultural prejudices and encouraging positive behavior. In some cases, exposure to progressive media is enough to upend societal preconceptions. For example, a recent study shows that one year after cable television was introduced into several rural Indian communities, fewer viewers said it would be acceptable for a husband to beat his wife than said so a year earlier. The study also found that there was a reduced preference for male children in Indian communities with cable access compared to those without it.

Progressive television programs in Brazil have had a comparably powerful effect, as writers and producers have taken on social and cultural issues, adding both more drama and more educational value to their programs. For example, a 2008 study found that after Brazilian soap operas began portraying families that were smaller than the national average, the fertility rate dropped in the regions where these shows aired. Women viewing these programs sought to emulate them and, combined with greater access to contraception, this led to a declining fertility rate and an increase in women’s independence and ability to pursue educational and career opportunities.

Similarly, television programs can encourage entrepreneurship. Simplemente María (Simply Maria), a Peruvian soap opera that aired in 1969, followed the fictional story of a young woman who moved to the city, learned to read and sew, and eventually became a famous fashion designer. The show was wildly popular and aired five days a week for two years. The rags-to-riches story, ripe with lessons about perseverance and women’s independence, led to a substantial spike in enrollment in literacy classes throughout the country.

In Pakistan, NGOs like the Aurat Foundation have long used radio-based soap operas to reach rural women, many of whom are literate, with important social and health messges. Now, deeply contentious issues are increasingly examined through popular culture outlets, such as film and television. Bol, the highest-grossing Pakistani film of 2011, tells the story of the strained relationship between a father and his transgendered son. And the upcoming show Taan, a spin-off of the American show Glee, tackles issues related to homosexuality, Islamic extremism, and interfaith relationships. The widespread popularity of Bol and high expectations for Taan, in a country where homosexuality is punishable with life imprisonment, illustrate how popular media can challenge cultural norms even in repressive societies.

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