Strong Medicine: Entertainment as a Force for Global Social Change
Los Angeles – Nov. 26, 2012
An article by Hollywood, Health & Society Director Sandra de Castro Buffington recently appeared in an issue of Monthly Developments Magazine on on how entertainment has become a force for global social change. The following is an excerpt. Download the full article here.
Entertainment has become the most powerful tool today for communicating health messages to the public—a force for social change. And the impact has gone global. Every night, millions of people around the world curl up on their sofas to watch the latest episodes of their favorite shows, and what they’re getting, along with the entertainment, is an education—some “spinach” along with the “popcorn.”
A growing body of research shows that TV (and film) storylines have the potential to increase audience awareness on a wide range of health topics, and to motivate people to make changes to promote their own well-being.
“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today,” Robert McKee, who has taught a story seminar for Hollywood hopefuls and industry professionals for the past 25 years, is quoted as saying.
This is particularly true when viewers are “transported” into the narrative or storyline. When the drama is truly compelling, viewers may lose track of time and forget their surroundings. They see the characters as beloved family or friends, care deeply what happens to them and want the stories to continue without end. In this state, audience members can experience much higher knowledge gains, attitude shifts and subsequent changes in behavior. This is when the “spinach” tastes more like chocolate. Consider:
• A BRCA-gene breast cancer storyline (90210) motivated 11.5% of viewers surveyed to schedule a doctor’s appointment to talk about their own risk of breast cancer.
• A vaccination-related storyline (Law and Order: SVU) produced a number of attitudinal changes—including increased support for the vaccination of all children, decreased support for parents choosing not to get their children vaccinated, and increased agreement with the science behind vaccination.
• A storyline focused on conflict minerals and rape in the Congo (Law and Order: SVU) resulted in increased knowledge regarding immigration and asylum issues and sexual violence, more supportive attitudes toward global health policy priorities and increased discussion of global health issues.
• Ten percent of the viewers of a Numb3rs transplantation storyline who were not already registered as organ donors said the episode directly motivated them to become a donor.
So if television can be good for our health, how can NGOs increase the accuracy and frequency of TV health storylines around the world?