Entertainment-Education and Sesame Street

In his report on the “family tree of development communication”, Waisboard mentions Entertainment-education as a strategy to bring about behavioral change. This change in turn is what is supposed to drive development (versus change brought about only by changing the system).

An example of an entertainment program that at the same time is educational to invoke change is Sesame Street. Aside from teaching the ABC’s the idea behind the program is that the muppets can address problems within a particular culture without putting blame (or shame) on a specific ethnicity or group of people. The Sesame Street Workshop is an NGO that takes that idea and applies it in countries that have faced some type of conflict or are in transition. By working with a country crew on the ground that assesses specific issues kids in a country in transition face, a team creates story lines, cultural specific puppets, and a movie set where the local sesame street can be taped. Specifics the team has to keep in mind are: are there cultural minorities? Is the language of the minority different and if so how can that be addressed in the show? What problems are children in the country facing? How can those problems be approached in a childlike yet educational and entertaining matter?

A big issue was the introduction of the first HIV-positive muppet. Especially in the US this raised concerns as media and parents were wondering what values their children will be taught. Only when it became apparent that this muppet will not appear in the US-show did the wave of concerns and protest subside.

There is a documentary out there on the Sesame Street Workshop. Watch it over the break, it’s worth it!

Though this is slightly unrelated, I thought you might enjoy this cookie monster “share it maybe” song. ūüôā Something to cheer you up during finals week.

Franzi

Media networks, oppression and globalization all met on one day in October 1989

Hanson wrote about China and its attempts to block out its citizens from having access to the internet and other modern and global means of communication. Chinese find a way to circumvent the constraints as best as they can so they too, can be a part of the globalized society. This made me think about the government enforced regulations on TV consumption that I grew up with.

I was born and raised in East Germany. In order to make a phone call one had to go to the post office and apply to make that phone call. You had to tell them whom you wanted to call and where and usually a casual “And why if I may ask?” was thrown in there as well. Then when it was your time to make the call you went to a booth (still in the post office) and placed your call, knowing full well that it was being recorded and/or live listened to by some government official, always ready to pulling the plug if you said something you shouldn’t have.

There was one state TV station. You could receive West German television in most parts of the East but your TV had to be tweaked a certain way. The more tricky part was keeping your kids from going into school or pre-school telling all about that West German TV show or cartoon characters they saw the night before. Teachers and educators had to report families that watched West German TV and that information was then used by the Stasi to implicate the families.

Before the wall in Berlin feel there were months of demonstrations all over East Germany – that mostly no East German knew about since the government tried its best to hide these events from its citizens. On October 9, 1989 over 70,000 people marched peacefully, but in fear of being imprisoned or shot, through the city of Leipzig. The fact that this demonstration would take place spread through informal channels of communication (word of mouth, leaflets) and people who came to Leipzig just for that event were not certain what would await them.

At the same time globalization was visiting the city of Leipzig in the form of an international trade fair. Journalists from across Europe and the globe were in the city to report on the trade fair – officially. A West German TV crew was hiding thoughout the city and taped demonstration footage with the intent to air it on the West German prime time news show (Tagesschau). Despite tight security and a struggle to smuggle the tapes outside of the country it worked. On October 10, West Germany, the world but most importantly East Germans (secretly watching West German news) saw what was going on in their country.

[Original footage is shown around minute 1:15]

I am wondering how East Germany would have restricted access to other means of communication such as internet or cell phones. Private telephone lines were very much restricted, in order to own a car you waited about 20 years, compared to other goods a TV was outrageously priced. Communication (via letters) was restricted to the point that every mail was opened if it was deemed suspicious or unusual (by whoever), often times not passed on or packets were sent on empty. Whatever was the content of your mail (sending or receiving) was part of the Stasi file that was kept on most citizens. How would the internet have been handled? I feel like we would have lived like North Koreans Рno phone line = no internet. Or maybe communication from the bordering countries would have had a spill over effect and smart phones and other media would also have (secretly) found its way into our daily life until people felt they could take on the government and demand freedom.

Seeing how even Russia struggles with freedom of speech and access I am glad the unification of Germany came when it did. It is one thing to live oppressed but another to know what you are missing out on.

The value of culture

 

As is argued through the lens of Critical Theory, culture is seen as a commodity. This results in the mass production of cultural artifacts that are a reflection of that culture’s communication style (Thussu pg 54). The creation process has the masses, the least common denominator, in mind. Culture is not perceived as the transmitter of heritage or the carrier of profound beliefs. Instead it is being consumed, mostly without second thought by the masses. It can be so easily consumed because these mass-products are easily accessible e.g. on tv and do not require a lot of thought process. The product is being being broken down in easy to digest pieces with a little cliffhanger here and there to tie you over the commercial break.
If you look at the current mass media output, especially in the area of tv and movie production, there is a clear bias towards (scripted) reality-tv (Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives of XYZ, Honey Boo Boo) and easy to digest movie plots (good vs. evil fighting it out in 90 minutes with a lot of action and guns or chick flicks that center around the apparently only issue concerning women in their 20s which is getting hitched) in the Western hemisphere.
Of course one can argue that this is what the masses want, easy access to easy to digest entertainment. And I do agree: after a day of working, running errands, taking care of screaming children, attempting to impress your boss so that you stay at the company while everyone else is being fired you DO want to settle in the evening to a world of entertainment that nice and easy to digest. A world that makes you laugh, albeit mostly at the expense of others or a world where you do know that in the end the good will prevail. But the fact that non-mass culture movie producers have a very hard time getting funding, finding themselves in the “independent movie” niche, should be alarming. Is what they have to say less important? Do their movies have less cultural value than Honey Boo Boo and hence they deserve a struggle to get their project up and running since they don’t cater to what the masses want?
What I am wondering is, in 100 or 200 years from now, what will society think about our consumer behavior today? What does the fact that (scripted) reality tv is so popular across the Western culture say about us now, and what does it say about us in 200 years when the need for a certain level of voyeurism has been replaced by something else. Will the society of the future look at who owns media today, who produces it and with what intentions? Or will they be even more one-dimensional in their entertainment needs resulting in the fact that a show such as Jersey Shore is suddenly difficult to grasp due to the nature of the characters, their actions and their cultural background?
Franzi
This post refers to Thussu “Approaches to theorizing international communication” from International Communication: Continuity and Change.