TRIGGER WARNING – This blog post pertains to sexual assault.
I recently came across a news article that links back to our discussion of entertainment education. It notes that a study published in the Journal of Health Communication found that frequent viewers of Law & Order, CSI, or NCIS “are more likely to help prevent sexual assault or intervene if they have the opportunity”. The study authors document a shift in how sexual assault has been portrayed in television crime dramas. While story-lines that placed blame on the survivor were common in the late 1980s and early 1990s, more recent analyses have focused on debunking such “victim-blaming” and have included instances of bystander intervention.
The study is grounded in the integrative model of behavioural prediction, which holds that the likelihood of an individual performing a certain action is dependent upon their attitudes toward performing said behaviour, perceived norms about the behaviour, and perceived self-efficacy to carry out the behaviour. In the context of the study, the authors defined the behaviour as “taking action before or during a sexual assault or by speaking out against attitudes that support sexual violence” (Banyard et al., 2007 in Hust et al., 2012, p.107). Given that norms may vary according to setting the researchers controlled for beliefs that seemed likely to influence bystander intervention: rape myth acceptance, perception of social norms and peer expectations. A detailed explanation of how the researchers defined these variables is provided in the article. After controlling for these factors the authors found that “exposure to crime dramas was positively associated with intentions to intervene. Exposure to primetime crime dramas explained .7% more variance after considering all previous predictors” (Hust et al., 2012, p.118). Although this might not seem like much, it is important to consider that these cases differ somewhat from the case-studies of entertainment education highlighted in class. Most notably, they did not occur in the context of a planned health communication intervention and were not based on a specific methodology (cf. The Sabido Method). They raise the possibility of planned and coordinated health messaging in primetime crime dramas, which may prove more effective. Hust et al. (2012, p.119) argue that “larger effect sizes may be generated by exposure to crime dramas that have a greater focus on sexual violence” as well by the frequency with which individuals watch said programs.
This study has some obvious limitations. It only addresses sexual assaults that occur in a public or otherwise communal space. Most serious sexual assaults occur in private, where intervention by a third party is unlikely. Furthermore, the study participants were drawn from freshmen university students living in residence. This may limit the generalizability of the study’s findings to the broader population. However, the choice of sample does not seem unwise given concerns about sexual assault on university campuses.
The publication of this study is, unfortunately, timely in light of recent cases that have seen much attention in the media. The sexual assaults that took place in Steubenville and in Cole Harbour occurred at parties and communal gatherings, the very sort of contexts cited in the study. Although we must make comprehensive efforts at combatting the rape culture that enables perpetrators of sexual assault and shames survivors, the potential for entertainment education to play a role is cause for some hope.
Hust, S. J., Marett, E. G., Lei, M., Chang, H., Ren, C., McNab, A. L., & Adams, P. M. (2013). Health Promotion Messages in Entertainment Media: Crime Drama Viewership and Intentions to Intervene in a Sexual Assault Situation. Journal of Health Communication, 18(1), 105-123.
The thought of getting entertained and educated at the same time excites me. Very often, I experience one over the other. But on those occasions that I am entertained and learn something new at the same time, I tend to remember those things a lot better.
A couple of weeks ago, I watched a social documentary called “The House I Live In”, which advocates for a deeper and critical analysis of drug laws within America’s justice system. It addresses an important public health issue that affects many people. After watching the film, I couldn’t help but feel empowered in some way and ready to make a change. I’m not sure how much I can really do as one individual but I was very enlightened after leaving the theatre.
The point is, I was definitely entertained and educated.
Check out the trailer for the film:
All of this got me thinking about the importance of entertainment education and how it relates to issues of public health.
What Is Entertainment Education (EE)?
Entertainment education, as its name suggests, is all about educating people through some form of entertainment. In this case, it’s all about educating people about health issues but in an entertaining way. In essence, entertainment education is a communication strategy for social change.
– places educational messages into popular entertainment
– raises awareness
– increases knowledge
– motivates people
– changes attitudes
– often leads to social action (KFF, 2004)
More and more public health organizations in the United States are using entertainment education as a form of health communication. EE can be conducted by health agencies or anyone who has the means to influence media and/or has a personal concern for a health issue. Hollywood-based organizations are often involved in the U.S. when it comes to entertainment education. (Check out Hollywood, Health, & Society at http://hollywoodhealthandsociety.org/)
Entertainment education is often a complement of the work being done by NGOs, the government, etc. It serves as an alternative means of health communication. Television (e.g. soap operas, reality shows, sitcoms, etc.) is the main source of entertainment education in the United States (KFF, 2004).
Shows such as “Friends” emphasized the issues surrounding unplanned pregnancies while “Lizzie Mcguire” (a favourite of mine!) looked at issues of self-esteem. Whatever the specific medium may be, health-related messages have been incorporated into the media for a long time and continue to be. All of this is entertainment education.
Check out the following video from the WHO’s Entertainment Education Project:
Other examples of EE include the movie “Contagion”, which I watched in a class last semester. It also left me educated and entertained. I didn’t realize until then how powerful the incorporation of health-related messaging into the popular media could be.
Whether we notice it or not, health messaging and entertainment education is all around us, even while we’re watching that late-night sitcom to release the stress of our daily lives.
Some examples of issues that EE works on,
The Art of Storytelling
Tell A Story. Change The World.
Storytelling is extremely powerful as it forms connections between ideas and presents them in a way that is appealing to the senses. Narratives help make sense of the things that people encounter in their everyday lives; they are invaluable in presenting ideas and provoking thought about a variety of issues.
Story-telling is an intrinsic part of human beings. We have been “hardwired” to engage in storytelling to create meaningful interactions. It’s no wonder then that storytelling is such an important aspect of entertainment education and public health.
From the WHO video above, “Entertainment education is as old as storytelling itself. As long as humans have told stories, they have taught lessons as well.”
Storytelling as the root of entertainment education is an aspect that I find very appealing. Storytelling is also about presenting information in a creative way. In my opinion, entertainment education is about the capacity to portray important health messages in uniquely creative or creatively unique ways. Infusing socially-relevant issues into media communication is an excellent way of getting the message across and getting people to think. I don’t know about you, but the next time I see anything on T.V. or at the movies, I’ll definitely be paying attention to any health messaging that may be shining through.
For more information, see:
Kaiser Family Foundation (2004). Entertainment Education and Health in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/entertainment-education-and-health-in-the-united-states-issue-brief.pdf
– Misha B.