Entertainment Education: Holding Hands and Making the World a Better Place. So Why Do I Feel Queasy?

Something struck me while doing research on the diffusion and varying successes and failure of Sesame Street in different countries. I found particularly disheartening the fact that little Israeli and Palestinian children could not hold hands and play on the same playground because they just could get get the logistics together, couldn’t for a moment suspend reality and put put politics aside. What hope then was there for the adults to find any modicum of peace? Why wouldn’t they get with the program? Literally.
But the something I couldn’t put my finger on also made me queasy.Then a light. It’s the underlying objectives, those sublimated ones couched as human rights concerns and altruism that bear consideration. At the root of many EE projects is the furtherance of US goals and objectives. We know the ones that are always at the forefront: US national security and interests of multinationals and the creation/expansion of a free market so that MNCs can sell their wares and increase market share thereby making shareholders rich, happy and remain blissfully oblivious to third world concerns.

Traditionally, the reality has been the flow of Western ideals and values cut and paste onto that of subaltern states with little consideration or care of success or if it fits well into the culture. Some can argue – and I think Dutta does without calling a spade a spade – that EE is a new fangled form of imperialism and a hold over the enslavement of subaltern population. Dutta writes, “The criticism begins with…EE projects located within the realm of modernization…rooted in Western hegemony without involving subaltern participants in problem identification and solution development.”  They’re like little children; we have to tell them what’s good for them.

I wonder however, how much freedom these nations have to refuse certain EE campaigns or to insist on playing a greater role in solving their problems. What, would be the consequences of socio-economic aid, to relationships with International Organizations and NGOs if a subaltern state say refuse an EE campaign? Yes, their attempts may be stymied by lack of funding, knowledge and technological capabilities but I argue that speaking your own truth and writing one’s own narrative is an empowering tool in development.

There are several sides to this coin and we can play devil’s advocate for years. For instance, I understand issues that give rise to the need for need for population control. In this era of the trickle over effect of globalization, burgeoning population growth affects the world’s population in terms of migration and refugees, availability of food and other vital resources and the need for development aid. But this is an oversimplification of the matter and to place sole responsibility on a segment of the population that often has little voice or power. There are no free lunches. The solution may lie in finding a sustainable balance between Western-coordinated EE campaigns that are interspersed with and strengthened by subaltern voices and solutions.

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Do we really know about HIV/AIDS?

Frank in his case study of Jasoos Vijay, talks about how to use drama for development. But he highlights the cultural and normative elements to apply this edutainment for development. As Bandura defines the social context as “Complex cultural patterns of behavior are, in larger part, transmitted and regulated at a social-systems level.” He elaborates the Bandura’s social cognitive theory by claiming that activating a particular group prototype not only makes associated attitudes more accessible, but it also makes them normative.

In this case study, he talks about HIV/AIDS in India. Even though the prevalence rate is relatively low in India, yet India has the third largest population of people living with HIV/AIDS, the number is about 2.5 million. The World Health Organization lists several factors that make the task of controlling the spread of HIV in India especially challenging.  Factors such as unsafe sex and low condom use; migration and mobility; injecting drug use; widespread stigma;

India’s HIV/AIDS case reminds me the HIV/AIDS issue in China. I just checked the WHO about the basic fact of HIV/AIDS in China.  The number of people who are living with HIV/AIDS in China is increasingly sharply. But the discussion of sex and sexual health has traditionally been a taboo topic in China, especially in the traditional and rural community. I think the Chinese government should pay more attention the HIV/AIDS issues. For example, many people do not have basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS. For example, many people cannot correctly identify two ways of preventing sexual transmission of HIV. Still, many people have misconceptions about the HIV transmission. So if the Chinese government can cooperate with other international organizations such as WHO to design and implement an edutainment program on TV, to improve people’s knowledge about HIV/AIDS. While at the same time, to promote support and treatment for those living with HIV/AIDS.

 

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Wikileaks

I’m hesitant to lean to far one way or the other on the Wikileaks situation.   In terms of a security breach, it is simply remarkable that one person would have access to 250,000 files.  It is even more remarkable that a person who had access to said files would attack the United States through their dissemination into public view.  I think the person who leaked the files should be charged with Treason, and if any informants or covert agents are killed he or she should also be charged with accessory to murder.

As far as the effect on diplomacy, only time will tell.  As we’ve seen throughout the semester, diplomacy is a nuanced and tricky field, and I suspect that in the short term there will be issues with trusting American diplomats.  However, it would certainly not be in any country’s best interest to ignore the United States, and thus it would be hard imagine any leak that would be bad enough to permanently damage the U.S. diplomatic agendas.  Considering the decline in the international reputation of the United States over the last 8 years, I think Wikileaks is more like salt in the wound, rather than a new gaping injury.

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A is for Aids Education

Clearly the word is out about the efficacy of television as a teaching tool, and how entertainment programming can serve in health education and development. The countries with the largest population affected by HIV/AIDS are South Africa, Nigeria, and India (in that order), and it makes sense for these and other poor and developing countries to apply communication tools to raise awareness and combat a problem for individuals and society.

From Takalani Sesame‘s Kami in South Africa and Nigeria, to Jasoos Vijay in India, the key is to create a context and characters, be they Muppet or human, with whom viewers, young and old, can identify. Sesame Street combats stigmas associated with the disease through children’s programming. As a drama aimed at adults, Jasoos Vijay can delve into some of the meatier issues, and can address taboos and sexuality more directly. 

Underlining these approaches to entertainment education seems to be the aspect of showing, rather than telling. Positive role models can be much more effective than bombarding people with information, especially concerning a delicate topic that causes unease. And if a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, then the entertainment quality is the sugar in this scenario.

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Definitely not brought to you by E for Edutainment.

Now, I know this week’s readings were focused strongly on edutainment, but frankly, I had enough of that with Sesame Street.

Instead, I’d like to  talk about an aspect of international communication which we haven’t really touched on- the private sector.

A fellow IC’er turned me on to a company, SoukTel, which has taken advantage of the surge in mobile communication to help people in Somalia, Sudan, Peru, Morocco, Palestine, and Iraq find jobs. By filling out an e-resume through a series of text-messaged questions, people are able to connect with jobs in the region which they would otherwise not know about.

SoukTel has also created a way for non-profits and aid organizations to deliver better aid to people in need, by using the same question-and-answer though SMS forms to help these orgs to complete needs assessments and connect people with relevant services.

Is this not the coolest thing ever?

Going back to things we’ve learned earlier this year: how technology and globalization have changed media flows (although not THAT much,) glocalization and hybridized goods, and how public diplomacy is more than just propaganda blanketing the rest of the world, doesn’t this seem like a perfect opportunity for the United States to practice a little behind-the-scenes promotion of its agenda… and of peace?  If people have jobs and security- and more importantly, if they have hope in their  future and are invested in their livelihoods and communities- they are less likely to join a terrorist organization, turn towards fanaticism, and end up trying to get a bomb past the undress-rays at security (through unspeakable, unspeakable means.)

And after all, isn’t that what we want?

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Entertainment Education moving in the right direction

Entertainment education (E-E) is an increasingly used strategy that is interwoven in each of our lives more than we know. There is no question that entertainment is one of the best ways to get an individuals attention, so why not put educational information within entertainment. Entertainment education has been a strategy used for a long time, however in time it has been recognized that entertainment education must make some changes.

There are still needed improvements for Entertainment Education. In the article Theoretical Approached to Entertainment Education Campaigns: A Subaltern Critique, Mohan Jyoti Dutta of Purdue University notes how especially with E-E campaigns relating to global health, it has been a one-way flow of communication. Hence, it is vital to include all to participate in E-E endeavors. Dutta refers to the importance of the Third World Agency in E-E international health communication.

New E-E campaigns in the third world are including local participation and local voice in the programming, take Sesame Street for example. I think the west still has much improvement to not shove what they think is important for others, but there have been some changes to recognize the others voice in these E-E campaigns.

Arvind Singhal and Everette M. Rogers authors of the Article A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment-Education, note other great changes that must be made to E-E which include a broader understanding of individual, group, and social-level changes as well as understanding the various resistance to entertainment-education interventions.

I think the Internet could become a great opportunity and open many new possibilities to convey E-E messages. Hopefully, as technological availability spreads and people in the developing world have more access to the Internet, it could be easier for them to participate and create their own Entertainment education programs.

 

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For New Messages, Press Play: Updating the US Communication Strategy

For years, much of the world has considered the US communication system of messaging influencing more than a little draconian. Even lesser developed countries and regions that many may have quietly assumed to be easily duped or seduced have looked askance and with more than a little distrust at Western messaging tactics and objectives. According to Corman’s article 21st Century Model for Strategic Communication, the new Pragmatic Complexity Model “de-emphasizes control and embraces complexity and replaces repetition with variation. A number of international affairs issues from the quagmire that is the  Iraq war to the debacle of the war in Afghanistan to the spectacle of the Bush years to the shame of the Abu Ghirab prisons, the US lost a great deal of credibility and soft power, if not military might. Moreover, the information revolution has granted the power of information and opinion to the globe. Corman’s that successful diplomacy hinges on the delivery of the right message is a bit of an oversimplification. Winning ideological hearts and minds has become predicated on so much more than that. Pres. Bush’s creation of the Office of Global Communications with its mission to “ensure consistency in messages that will promote the interests of the United States abroad, prevent misunderstanding, build support for and among coalition partners of the United States, and inform international audiences.” Herein lies one problem. International audiences, ie. “people on the streets” in foreign towns and cities have had to balance blaring messages of freedom and democracy with the images of the destruction and mayhem our wars have wrought. Many in the Muslin world, as Corman  points out (having viewed alternative, Non-western media fare) have become resentful of having Western ideals and ideologies imposed on the culture and consciousness. 

Even before the years during which the Message Influence Model was popular and effective, the US communication strategy was characterized by sending messages and achieving US objective and policy goals. Just think of the virulent Anti-France sentiments when France dared defy the US Iraq war imperative. Legions boycotted French wine and even fries, for goodness sake.  The myriad challenges facing world leaders coupled with the dissolution of barriers facilitated by ICT, necessitates a change in US response, strategy and understanding of the complex nature of global issues. Countries and cultures are now reserving the right to choose for themselves rather to be dictated to or force-fed messages from the front office. Many Muslims are turning their noses up at our notions of freedom and democracy and turning an eye to our legion of problems and issues, and ask, “What has it gotten them? I’ll keep my culture’s imperfections, thank you!” 

I agree with Corman that “There is no “magic bullet”—no single message, however well-crafted—that can be delivered within the existing system that is likely to change it.”  We have entered an age where collaboration and dare I say, Listening, not waiting to “message” is essential indeed detrimental to mutual peace and cooperation.

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