Edutainment seeks to entertain its audience as well as educate them by embedding lessons in a familiar form of media such as TV, computer and video games, movies, music, websites, etc. In the world of communications, theorists believe in the persuasion theory which is a process by which people (or media) use messages to influence others’ beliefs, values, motives, attitudes, and behaviors.
I never realized how legit the term “edutainment” is, but apparently the sentinel award is given to television programs that address health and medical issues in their storylines. Last year, ABC’s grey’s anatomy received two awards- one for a minor storyline on breast cancer, and the other for a storyline about diabetes; NBC’s Scrubs received a first place award in primetime comedy with a storyline about postpartum depression. The question is, does it work? Does it really influence people enough to make a change in their beliefs or behaviors?
We all know that if young people are hit over the head with something that is trying to educate them or change their beliefs, especially if it is about health, sex, etc, they are totally turned off by it and will not let it influence them. So there has to be a tricky balance between education and entertainment to be successful.
One of the greatest examples of edutainment I can think of is an old “Friends” episode from 2001 when Rachel gets pregnant. I’m not sure if the writers were thinking “edutainment” when they wrote this episode’s script, but the on-going conversations about condoms and how they are only 97 percent effective, was an important little tid-bit of that storyline.
The condom scene starts at around 1:40.
RAND Health researchers decided to see if the condom storyline really did work as edutainment and surveyed about 500 teens days after the episode was first broadcast. 65 percent of the teens remembered that the episode involved a condom failure that caused Rachel’s pregnancy. There were other factors that went into the study, but the researchers found that some teens came away with the notion that condoms don’t work and aren’t worth using, but the teens who watched the show with an adult were more likely to realize that they do work most of the time. The problem with the “friends” episode is that it is accurate, but pretty ambiguous.
Even if this episode didn’t cause a surge of change for people to use condoms, it was a responsible aspect of the show that wasn’t necessary to the storyline and helped the reputation of “Friends” in the end. The fact that the condom-bit was so ambiguous was probably why it was somewhat successful because teens don’t like being told what they should or should not do/use.
If more shows included a message about responsible sexual behavior and what the risks are in having sex, there might be fewer problems with STDs and teen pregnancy, especially since the amount of sexual content on tv is only increasing.