Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Value-Added, But For Whom?

In "A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment Education," the authors observe that the role of the media as a societal influence gets a lot more play in communication theory than the role of entertainment, even though Western society is increasingly imcorporating entertainment into more and more activities in everyday life. (I can confirm that the Mall of American, by the way, is awesome.) I agree with the authors that underestimation of the influence of entertainment on individual and group behavior is a mistake. "Previous E-E research has mainly been conducted in developing countries and dealt with health topics," but I think there is definitely room for evaluation of the messages transmitted by entertainment content in America. I once read an account (I can't remember where) of an E-E project where a radio soap opera in an African country encouraged safe sex by having its characters make clear mention of their use of condoms every time they engaged in the behaviors that soap operas are apparently characterized by no matter where you live. This method of banging audiencs over the head with a message every time someone had sex allegedly made a big impression. In public education programs in Third World countries, that is called E-E, but in the U.S. it would be called preachiness. Would that sort of obvious messaging be tolerated on an American TV show like Gossip Girl or Sex and the City? I don't think so. This disparity highlights a double standard: outsiders can tell LDC populations what to do because it is for their own good, but in the U.S. we expect people to know how to behave responsibly and then inundate them with a world that is consequence free.

Moving on to another reading: According to Mohan Jyoti Dutta in "Theoretical Approaches to Entertainment Education Campaigns: A Subaltern Critique," developers of E-E programs for Third World countries get to "identify" the problems facing their target audience and choose the practices to encourage based on their knowledge of their target audience's culture and way of life, with limited feedback mechanisms in place to find out what the target audience thinks about the problems being addressed and the solutions being suggested. Populations bearing the brunt of structural violence-- a lack of access to proper health care, for example, or just plain poverty-- have only so much power to make the choices or obtain the resources that will benefit their quality of life. Encouraging activism through entertainment, says Dutta, is a possible way to influence change in the system that impacts people's choices. American and transnational organizations have thought that they can accurately judge the needs of Third World populations and dictate proper behavior, but I agree with Dutta that this paternalistic attitude does little to free people on the ground from their sense of powerlessness to improve their ability to make positive choices to improve their life.


  1. Hey Rachel,
    I agree with you agreeing with Dutta about the parternalistic attitude of certain aid organizations regarding development models. As I was reading Dutta's critique of external organizations only promotion development initiatives that serve their own interests, it made me wonder what is the development vision of developing countries themselves? That is, when asking for help, what do they ask for? Or are they ever consulted in the first place? Perhaps the paternalism is such that it simple dictates what kind of aid should be given without asking what kind of aid is needed?

  2. Yeah, I agree. I think it's a lot easier for us to identify in the United States because we're exposed to it so much. I think we're also probably exposed to more media in general (educational or not), so we're probably better at picking it out than people in the Third World.