Saturday, December 4, 2010

Biggest Loser: entertainment education in the form of reality TV

Dominating the health agenda, obesity has represented one of the United States’ priority health and behavior risk campaigns over the past several years.

Whether or not the reality TV show Biggest Loser was designed to be a form of entertainment education, the fact is that it is acting as a platform to raise awareness about obesity.

On the Biggest Loser, obese contestants compete to see who can lose the most weight in a given time period. Cameras follow contestants as they learn better eating habits, how to exercise and how to overcome emotional undercurrents of their eating behaviors. The show provides viewers with education about obesity and how to combat it, creating an entertainment education (E-E) program.

As defined by Singhal and Rogers, E-E is a “strategy used to disseminate ideas to bring about behavioral and social change.”(1)

The Biggest Loser gives the audience positive and negative role models, which illustrate behaviors that contribute to a healthy or unhealthy lifestyles. Viewers are able to identify their own behaviors, actions, and emotions as represented by the “characters” on the show and thus analyze how their own habits compare to the healthy/unhealthy models.

Reality TV shows are wildly popular in the United States, as well as in the global TV market, as we discussed in class on Thursday. In a highly competitive, commercial TV market, reality shows enable social awareness campaigns to reach a vast audience. E-E brings these messages to people in a way that they may not recognize them as such, in part because entertainment is such a prevalent part of people’s daily lives. “Not only does the public consume more entertainment, it is becoming a more integral part of people’s shopping, traveling, eating, driving, exercising, and working experiences,” Singhal and Rogers write. “By adding the luster of entertainment to the relatively “duller” fields of health promotion, education, and development, E-E fits in well with the contemporary global trend to entertainmentization.”(2)

In class we also discussed whether the nature of this program is truly altruistic in providing health information for the sake of health, or if it is another profit-driven program. Either way, the popular TV program is educating a nation, and a world with its international adaptations, that is increasingly obese.

1. Singhal, A. & Rogers, E.M. (2002) “A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment Education.” Communalization Theory. 12(2): 117-135.

2. Ibid.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I don't care about communication education

Somehow, I thought the segment on communication and development was going to be different. While I am known to sometimes look too literally at words and phrases, sometimes maybe I didn’t look hard enough. I was honestly kind of disappointed when I discovered that the segment was on education. It’s not that I’m against education, and it does make sense to use education as a vehicle for development, but that I thought we were going to learn more about access. This might be my uberliberal side poking through, but education is not the only thing that separates the haves from the have-nots, undeveloped countries from developed ones. Yes, teaching the youth in the Third-World about AIDS/HIV and being tolerant to a host of issues is great, but what is the US’ excuse? We are ‘developed’ but we’ve still got a lot to learn about tolerance and diseases that run rampant in this country.

I want to talk about access. I want to talk about entrepreneurship and how people can bring development to their region. I want to talk about the goals of the people. I want to talk about what people think development is, and through that, what measures can we take work together to achieve our goals. I say I want to talk because this is a discussion that I am sure does not happen on a regular basis. In our academic institutions, there is hardly enough diversity to scratch the surface of understanding our goals and the goals of people around us. Even in theory/practice courses, when we try to see what this means, we still are hindered by our own perspective. It is simple enough to think that we do not know what the other guy is thinking or experiencing, yet people still refuse to internalize that to understand what that means. Then we can have some discussion, then we can have some progress.

12/09 an update: My friend posted this on my facebook. It kind of makes fun of communication education in the US through Dora the Explorer.

Is a Global Entertainment Network the Next Step? I Hope So

Transnational entertainment is on the rise with shoes like Sesame Street, the Biggest Loser and American Idol being sold and reformatted everywhere.  CNN, Fox and Al Jazeera broadcast to a huge international audience, but they are news networks.  When will there be a completely transcontinental popular music or children’s network?  It might seem like a pipe dream, but with the growing number regional shows, bridging this gap might just be the next corporate step.  Instead of sending or importing shows to other networks, an international network would made its own programs and partner with production companies everywhere for content. 
I’d like to spend a Sunday watching a line up of Jersey Shore, Lake Shore (Canada) or maybe Bosporus Shore (not actual, yet).  Instead of hunting on the internet for foreign music, I could watch music videos from Mali, Portugal or New Zealand.  World Idol, would be on there.  And of course, a Big Brother World.  If I were creator of this station, I would make sure there was a strong outreach and development component to reach undeveloped entertainment pools.  There might be a lot of opportunities for soft power diplomacy to take root here.  If people became exposed to each others cultures and began to understand their thinking, there would be greater international cooperation.  In the privacy of a living room or in front of a lap top, a person could open their mind about another culture.  It might solidify negative preconceived notions of a culture to (lazy, greedy or impolite), but at least the strange customs would be humanized and therefore less scary. 

Reality Bites

Aside from reality shows where people actually must have a skill--like Project Runway or the Chef shows--I'm not a fan of reality TV, in fact I only watch PR if I remember to and because I love Tim Gunn. But a new book by Jenifer Pozner, "Reality Bites Back" brings up the issue of how women are portrayed in reality TV shows and the genre doesn't make it out unscathed. She points out that any reality show is far from real--each cast is carefully selected, and Pozner points out, women rarely make it past the editing room without perpetuating derisive stereotypes. Pozner writes in an article for Women's News website (

"It's a time-tested bait-and-switch: smart, professionally independent women become more successful by playing the part of the silly, dependent dimwit in the media. The phenomenally accomplished 'I Love Lucy' star Lucille Ball, the first woman to head a Hollywood production company, is probably the most famous TV example. Reality producers may have cut their teeth on 'dumb blonds,' but they want viewers to believe female stupidity knows no racial limits."

Here's a fantastic clip, breaking down how reality tv is edited (I should warn you the last 5 seconds are not appropriate, but by then you'll have gotten the idea and can stop it if you like):

So I think the reason reality TV is so pervasive is something brought up in class--it's cheap, and therefore easy to import, export, distort and watch to make us feel better about our own reality.