Photo courtesy of Telenovela Garden
Did Judy sleep with Alejandro? Even though she's married to Sebastian, who's in a coma from leaping in front of a bullet fired at her by Don Curio, Alejandro's jealous evil twin brother? Will she learn the error of her ways, and that promiscuity and unprotected sex are dangerous global threats that lead to overpopulation and health woes?
She might if the production happens to be helmed by the Population Media Center, a Vermont organization that creates serialized radio and television dramas that use "entertainment education" strategies to positively influence the social behavior of audiences in third world countries around the world. The shows' creators believe these soap operas, which currently air in 15 countries across 4 continents, will slow population growth, increase HIV/AIDS awareness, and promote family communication. Basically, PMC hopes to be a sort of General Hospital to the world.
How, Exactly, Will Soap Operas Change the World?
By engaging audiences in riveting, melodramatic stories of course. PMC uses the Sabido method, first made famous in the Mexican telenovelas, to tell stories of high drama about conflicted characters that eventually develop into role models that practice safe sex, honor gender equality, and do responsible family planning.
Take Khat Vong Song ("Aspiration to Live"), the newest radio drama to air in Vietnam, for example. The plot follows a character named Suu, her daughter Mo, and husband Tuat. According to PMC, it goes something like this:
Tuat has three daughters already, but he desperately wants a son. He throws Suu and Mo out into the streets and takes an "illegal wife." But Tuat does not stop there -- he tries to force his daughter into prostitution. Destitute and with no way out of their misery, Suu and Mo set fire to their living quarters in a double suicide attempt. With the stage set, the show will now evolve over two years to positively address HIV/AIDS prevention, stigma and discrimination; gender equality; family planning; and communication between parents and children.
But will it Work?
Just maybe. Miguel Sabido was the Vice President of Research at Televisa when he developed his now-famous method. The results of Miguel Sabido's first telenovella, Acompaname ("Accompany Me"), had encouraging results:
• Phone calls to the CONAPO requesting family planning information increased from zero to an average of 500 a month. Many people calling mentioned that they were encouraged to do so by the telenovela.
• More than 2,000 women registered as voluntary workers in the national program of family planning. This was an idea suggested in the telenovela.
• Contraceptive sales increased 23% in one year, compared to a seven percent increase the preceding year.
• More than 560,000 women enrolled in family planning clinics, an increase of 33% (compared to a 1% decrease the previous year).
• During the decade 1977 to 1986, when these Mexican soap operas were on the air, the country experienced a 34% decline in its population growth rate. As a result, in May 1986, the United Nations Population Prize was presented to Mexico as the foremost population success story in the world.
If the current programs achieve similar results, we could be looking at a strangely profound method of affecting positive social change worldwide. And as PMC notes, the time for change is urgent—380 women become pregnant every minute, and half didn't plan or want the pregnancy. By 2050, the United Nations projects that the world population will exceed 9.2 billion people—which will lead to severe water and resource shortages and environmental destruction.
And maybe, just maybe, soap operas, of all things, will be instrumental in preventing such a scenario.