Recently, an online correspondent I was chatting with about cinema genres told me about an academic field of study dubbed “Entertainment-Education,” EE for short.
I had never heard of the EE term before last week, so of course, I Googled ”EE” and then found an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the term. I also found Tobias Deml, a filmmaker from Austria now living in the United States, and I asked him a few questions about how the term came to be, originally, who coined it and when, and how he came to create the Wikipedia page for it.
“In late 2017, I reached out to Albert Bandura for an interview about the social impact of mainstream entertainment; we had a wonderful discussion at his home at Stanford University in California,” Deml told me by email. ”He then connected me to Miguel Sabido, his long-time collaborator and a famed TV producer in Mexico who is widely seen as the “Grandfather of Entertainment-Education”; he’s basically the guy that invented this whole field in the 1970s. I went down to Mexico City with my co-founder at Cinema of Change, Robert Rippberger, and we interviewed Miguel for 10 hours straight at his home.”
“You can imagine that I was immensely passionate about the topic and Miguel’s groundbreaking contributions to it over so many decades,” Deml added. “He then told me I needed to go to an upcoming conference in Bali, Indonesia. I had never been to Asia, but with the top-of-the-world level knowledge that Albert and Miguel confronted me with it was pretty clear I had to go and invest a bunch of my money in this trip. The conference was the SBCC (Social Behavioral Change Communications) Summit in mid-2018, where I reunited with Miguel and met many of the leading thinkers in Entertainment-Education.”
Then came the important quote from Toby: “Surrounded by so many communication experts and leaders, I wanted to find something useful I could contribute — and then I realized that, ironically, a large group of 1,200 communication professionals were meeting on a topic that didn’t have its own dedicated page on Wikipedia.”
“To make a long story short — I was introduced to ‘EE’ by the guy who created it 50 years ago and saw the creation of a Wikipedia page as a long overdue duty I gladly took on,” he added.
So, you ask: what is Entertainment-Education?
EE is basically the use of serial dramas — narrative TV shows — for the primary purpose of entertainment that inspires and educates people through role modeling. We all learn various life lessons from the movies and shows that we watch, and Entertainment-Education is very aware of this effect, and has a set of methods to utilize the media for maximum effectiveness. The primary method of EE is the Sabido Method, named after Miguel Sabido. He initially called it “Entertainment for a Proven Social Benefit,” which Patrick Coleman later renamed as Entertainment-Education.
It’s primarily an academic and professional field, a way to look at entertainment. It can be applied to many genres. Think of it as “the school of being aware of the impact you’re creating with your shows and movies.”
For my last question, I asked Director Deml if many, or any, Hollywood movie or TV producers have woken up to the EE term and its possible usefulness in Tinseltown?
Toby was not so euphoric here, telling me point blank: “Only marginally so. There was a big wave of EE in the 1970s and 1980s that went as far as Sonny Fox, back then president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, teaming up with David Poindexter, Miguel Sabido, and Albert Bandura to basically turn the industry’s attention to teaching people about health issues and family planning through mainstream TV. They got involved with Everett Rogers and the three biggest TV networks in the U.S. to do this together with the Center for Disease Control; their effort is still survived today by the organization Hollywood Health & Society which has a powerful advisory position to the Writer’s Guild of America.”
“But to be honest, today in 2018, ‘Entertainment-Education’ is basically a forgotten treasure in Hollywood; only very few people know of it, and nobody properly capitalizes on its immense power — both commercially and impact-wise,” Deml said.
“But if you ask me, ‘Entertainment-Education’ is the biggest forgotten treasure chest of modern media,” he quickly added. “It’s a shame that not more people know about it. I’ve traveled to the other end of the globe to understand it better. Miguel is still alive and well in Mexico City, and a lot more journalists should fly down there to take a deep dive into his under-utilized genius.”