Friday, January 27, 2012

Romance, Revenge, and....Responsibility?

This can change people’s attitudes and behaviors. It has even been described as “a real catalyst for social change.” Nope, we’re not talking about politics or literature. We’re talking about soap operas. Yes, that cataclysmic romance between Felipe and Elena may actually be teaching you a thing or two about public health. With a viewership in the millions and characters that people can relate to, soap operas are an excellent medium for delivering education and social messages.

According to an article in the New York Times, the first soap opera that intentionally attempted education was a 1969 Peruvian telenovela called “Simplemente Maria,” in which a country girl moves to the city and learns to read and sew. After Maria marries her literacy teacher, enrollment in literacy classes in Peru skyrocketed. A similar pro-literacy telenovela in Mexico called “Ven Conmigo” had comparable effects.

But can soap operas influence behaviors such as safe sex and family planning? That seems to be the case. Regular viewers of “Soul City” in South Africa are significantly more likely to use condoms during sex, and soap opera viewers in Brazil have lower fertility rates than their counterparts.

The creators of socially conscious soap operas understand the importance of collaborating with local organizations to provide helplines and social services, and can even receive funding from the government or international donors (such as USAID) for their work.

Read the article (and watch a clip from Kenya’s “Makutanu Junction”) at:

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