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.