Entertainment Education Com 4424 - Uses & Effects of Mass Media, by Dr. Daws

This week, we're looking at entertainment education, which is defined as any content designed to persuade audiences to act in a certain way, under the guise of entertainment-based messages. We'll explore this topic in depth this week, but the best way to show you what I'm talking about is by taking a moment to watch this iconic clip from one of my favorite shows, Saved by the Bell. Remember this gem?

If you weren't alive to see this episode in its initial airing (as I was), I'm guessing you've seen the clip before or were already familiar with its premise, based on the number of Jesse Spano freakout items I'm seeing on Google. It even made its way into the SNL skit a couple of years back that renewed everyone's interest in this particular episode.

It's actually pretty funny to watch this clip now, 27-ish years later. But at the time, it was truly intense. Entertainment education messages were becoming more popular for producers to incorporate into their programs. We'd always seen entertainment education for children, primarily on PBS shows like Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. But incorporating some sort of educational message in prime-time or cartoon-time content wasn't nearly as common as it is today. More on that later.

Most of the time, entertainment education messages focus on some sort of health-related aspect, such as drug abuse as we see above, or alcohol abuse:

or healthy eating choices: (I know a certain toddler who could learn a lesson from this clip... he loves fruit and cookies but if given the choice, he will pick cookies every single time...wonder where he gets it from... probably his mom who does the same thing... I literally just sprang for emergency M&Ms from my desk drawer when I have a bag of grapes in my lunch box yet to eat...)

or sexual/reproductive health:

or even learning disabilities and social stigma:

Why does EE work so well?

The theory goes that it's much easier to learn from stories rather than just straight facts, because we, by nature, are storytelling creatures. You might not ever remember I shared a clip on Cookie Monster trying to be persuaded to eat fruits & vegetables. But the next time you eat M&Ms, you might think about me picking them over grapes - because I told you a story about it. I could *tell* you that caffeine pills are bad for you, which probably wouldn't do much to prevent you from taking them. But to actually see Jesse Spano freak out because of them, the warning against them is much more meaningful.

We also become involved, both with the storyline and characters, which further adds to a message's persuasiveness. Essentially, when we're fans of a show, we don't want our favorite characters to get hurt - so we get really involved emotionally when we see them suffering for some reason. It's much easier to learn - and have that educational information snuck in there almost as a side effect - when we care about the characters or the stories they're involved with. Your article this week goes into more detail about how that process works, so pay close attention to it.

what's this guy got to do with it?

Let me switch gears on you. That terrifying looking guy is Onkel Reje. He's crazy popular among Danish kids. He's got a tv show - and you don't have to speak Dutch to appreciate it. I challenge you to watch the whole thing no matter how freaked out you may get.

Are you noticing any differences between Onkel Reje and what we have for American kids' television? Address that in the discussion post this week, if you can work it in somehow.

If you're not up on current kids' media, here's an example of what's on pretty constant rotation at my house: from the PBS show Super Why.

What's that, you say? You want to see more Onkel Reje clips?

You're welcome.

Now, I bring up Onkel Reje for an important reason, and not just to totally weird you out. Let's think about how the Dutch handle television - particularly kids' television - differently than we do. One fundamental difference is in the sheer amount of kids' television that's available. If you want a kids' program, you can pretty much find one at all hours of the night. Our broadcast stations stay on air pretty much 24-7 these days, too. Not so for the Dutch.

Around 8 pm, this is what's aired on the primary Dutch kids' tv channel:

These are all characters from the tv shows that aired that day. Basically, it would be like seeing Big Bird, Elmo, and Oscar the Grouch going to sleep at the end of the day. And they stay that way until morning. This is what's aired all night long. No interruptions. No commercials. Just your buddies asleep.

So there are a couple of fundamental differences here that are relevant to understanding entertainment media. First: Danish kids' media is strictly for entertainment. They don't even really try to educate kids. It's just candy.

Now on one hand, this could be seen as a bad thing. We learn so much from television. I learned how to cook from years of Food Network. My mom swears I learned to read because I watched so much Sesame Street. We know from the uses & gratifications theory that media fulfill definite cognitive needs in our lives. So take that away, and yes, maybe the Dutch are missing an opportunity to educate the kids.

He's still here... haunting your dreams

But on the other hand: think about what the absence of education from Dutch kids' tv is actually teaching their children. The message here is that television *is* just entertainment, and nothing more. They're saying we shouldn't be looking to television to educate us about the world, because it's entertainment. We know that the mediated world is a distorted one. We know we shouldn't be spending 24-7 with media. The Dutch approach is one in which those two tenets are fundamental. The American model, instead, is about whatever makes more money for the media outlets. Re: product placements:

Liz Lemon is my spirit animal.

As you continue on in the unit to deal with issues related to fear appeals, keep the content we talked about here in mind. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the discussion forum!

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