Entertainment Education: Violence wanes with pen

Domestic violence threatens the physical, emotional and psychological health of countless individuals, but, according to a speaker at the College, these situations can have factors as unlikely as soap opera plots.

“There is tremendous power in creating and telling stories for new realities,” said Arvind Singhal, a professor of communication studies at the University of Texas – El Paso.

Singhal, an expert in the field of entertainment education, presented his research  about using fictional stories to transform social realities on Thursday, April 4.  The lecture, “Entertainment Education: Saving Lives by Surprise,”  was sponsored by several groups at the College, including the Public Health Communication Club.

“Entertainment education really has an effect on communities,” said senior communication studies major Ashley Fisher. “Radio and TV programs can truly make a difference.”

Singhal has travelled across the globe studying the field of entertainment education.  The idea, he explained, is to use fictional stories and media to positively impact the lives of communities.

“If you’re trying to change a community norm, then you have to show a community modeling it,” he said.

The practicality of entertainment education was tested when Singhal applied his research to the 1999 popular South African soap opera, “Soul City.” He noted that domestic violence in many South African homes shared a consistent narrative.

“Stories are passed down,” Singhal said. Men and women learned their roles in the household from previous generations. Young men learned from their fathers that husbands were entitled to absolute authority in their homes. Mothers taught daughters that wives should submissively endure abuse. Society encouraged outsiders who noticed the domestic violence of their neighbors to mind their own and stay out of private affairs.

“The pen can move in any direction it wants,” said Singhal, who shared his studies of entertainment education and domestic violence with the writers of “Soul City.”

The plot of the soap opera chronicled the domestic violence  experienced by a woman. In the show, neighbors unite to take a stance against the violence by banging pots together outside of the abuser’s home. This action, Singhal said, made the private matters of the home public and told the abuser that the community did not approve of his actions.

“The magic really begins after you switch off the radio or TV,”  Singhal said. “Stories travel fast, especially if it is a good story.” Singhal was not surprised to hear of real accounts of neighbors protesting abuse in their towns by slamming pots and pans together outside of houses.

Some students found Singhal’s research enlightening.

“You don’t think of fairy tales as being informative, let alone (stories that can) change social norms,” said Vincent Wase, senior communication studies major.