Learning from the Soaps

Learning from the Soaps

Soap operas in Brazil have been a surprising force for social change. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedroliveira/407890498/" target="_blank">pedroliveira (flickr)</a>
Soap operas in Brazil have been a surprising force for social change. Photo: pedroliveira (flickr)

Cell phones are the gadgets that are changing the developing world, right? That's what scores of articles over the past few years — including several posts on Global Envision — have said. Yet a recent post on Aid Watchers points out that all this fanfare around cell phones has allowed us to forget about another device that has led to positive change. And ironically it's something we often love to hate: television.

Some people think TV as a waste of time and energy, but it's also a potent way to spread information and model certain social norms. In particular, there's some evidence that soap operas can inspire social change. In Brazil, for example, soaps depicting small families actually influenced women to have fewer children, according to a 2008 paper by researchers at Bocconi University and the Inter-American Development Bank. Meanwhile, economists from UCLA and the University of Chicago found that domestic violence decreased in rural areas of India with access to cable television. But these aren't the first times TV entertainment has been a progressive influence. In Mexico, a 1970s soap opera inspired 25,000 of its viewers to pick up free materials from a literacy campaign that had been unsuccessful until the show mentioned it, reports PRI.

Television can have a positive impact in developed countries as well. As one of the comments on the Aid Watchers post points out, Americans probably know more about the United States judicial system thanks to shows like Law and Order.

Yes, there's a lot of crap on TV. Shows can be pretty violent and the characters often unrealistic. Thankfully there are some positive messages to be absorbed as well.

Curated news and insights about innovative, market-driven solutions to poverty explored through news, commentary and discussion.

Learn more »

Global Envision newsletter