Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Final update on the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel ceremony is on Friday, and as of now 19 countries have announced that they will be boycotting the ceremony: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq , Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco.

Countries that have confirmed their ambassadors' attendance include India, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, Japan, and "all the Western countries," according to the Nobel Committee chairman, Geir Lundestad.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Participatory Educational Entertainment

Blog 12
December 3, 2010

Singhal and Rogers propose a theoretical framework in order to analyze Entertainment Education. They point out how the emotions that EE programs evoke can be far more effective than straight ahead information. They use the example of how if someone is attached to a character on a show, and that character suffers and dies from AIDS, the affect on condom usage will be more powerful than a straight ahead information ad. They also outline methods for methodology and measurements of how many people watch the shows and are affected by them.
I have heard anecdotal evidence from a person I interviewed who implemented radio education programs with the Peace Corps in Niger. He told me that one of the problems they had was in gathering data about the effectiveness of radio programs that they had made. One example was one he had helped to make about smoking. The women who was the voice actor on it told him that she was in a taxi one day and the taxi driver recognized her and told her he had stopped smoking because of the show. This kind of direct feedback is hard to gather in a comprehensive way (whether the show was heard and if it had an affect ie did it change behavior). The same can be said for EE programs. Singhal and Rogers suggest inserting “markers” into shows that are unique. This creates an independent variable that is easier to measure. However, In some areas it is hard to get surveys done because the work of getting them out requires transportation and people on the ground. There are now mobile phone applications for this kind of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of radio shows, so there are possibilities for more evaluation. And the people in the towns can be given phones in order to gather the data and become involved in the project in multiple ways.
In their conclusion, Singhal and Rogers speak about using the web to deliver more individualized messages. They also look at how some communities have used arts/crafts and participatory theater to help with education and behavior changes. I think a combination of mass media with participatory ideas can be powerful. One project I worked on in LA was with high school students in “south central”. They made documentaries about the neighborhood and video journals. We posted the work online and had film screenings. While the work was not seen by a large audience, the affects of these kinds of participatory projects are tangible. You can see how the kids gain confidence and enjoy working in a medium that is familiar to them as consumers.

The Rising Tide

Entertainment is the single most lucrative industry in the US. Wolf (1999), as quoted in Singhal and Rogers’ article, was spot-on in describing entertainment as a “rising tide” in the US. Unyielding and inevitable, entertainmentization has gripped society to such an extent a decade after the term was coined that the American public has been unwittingly consumed in the entertainment society, as much as we live in an information society. We demand entertainment in everything around us: elevators and cabs are equipped with tvs; with smart phones and ipods placing entertainment at our fingertips, there is never an idle moment. Materials meant to be informative or educational are evaluated for their entertainment value even where utterly irrelevant. The most ordinary aspects of daily life involving showcasing cakes at the local bakery, makeover shows, choosing your wedding dress, housewives, and large families are the center of reality shows for the public to feed on. Details of celebrities and other high-profile people’s lives are tabloid fodder to satiate the public’s desire for entertainment. This ties back to the idea of the paradox of plenty, where we are perhaps inundated by too many entertainment options that there is a sensory overload that makes it difficult to choose what to pay attention to, determine what is important, or what to indulge in next.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

E-E and infotainment

The Singhal and Rogers article asks whether "the educational function, if creatively incorporated, enhance[s] the entertainment function" (p. 124). In my opinion, not only is the answer yes, but people are always learning from entertainment - the question is WHAT they are learning. Even the crassest "entertainment-perversion" programming teaches you something, though that something may be of little value (anything on Jersey Shore). I think the quality of the entertainment goes up with the quality of the education. Would Jon Stewart be as popular as a comedian if his content wasn't of such high quality? Is there really a difference between E-E and "infotainment"? Infotainment is often decried for dumbing down current events, and throughout college I listened to my professors freak out that my age group was (allegedly) getting most of its news from The Daily Show. But I am not convinced that having Jon Stewart keep me updated on politics is fundamentally different from Big Bird teaching my little cousin the alphabet. What does everyone else think?

Confucius Institutes, Soft Power, Communism?

There has been a lot of talk recently about Beijing’s “soft power”, one initiative of which is the many Confucius Institutes (272 in total) around the world. Some people in Hacienda Heights, a pretty darn Asian neighborhood to begin with – don’t take too kindly to them teaching Chinese to their children. To this phenomenon, Daily Show correspondent Aadif Mandvi was there to talk about it.

Here is a funny and absurd video about people there’s attitude towards the teaching of Chinese there. Here is the link:


The reality is that the people opposed China brainwashing scheme are not just someone like the old lady in the video, but also including those most prominent protesters of PRC influence on the educational sphere used to be part of the Red Army.

I am not saying that Kai Chen the old lady in the video aren’t extremely paranoid, but considering the very filtered view of the world people get in China which due to the Chinese government’s heavy hand on information, it is not strange to wonder if the Chinese lessons from Confucius Institutes may be washed out too.

However, on the other hand, as the nature of language, culture is an important part of it which can never be separated. As a tool of government’s soft power, those Confucius Institutes are used to spread Chinese culture for sure; however, saying that teaching Chinese language equals spreading Communist concept may be not appropriate. In the first place, Chinese culture is not Communism; the former has existed for thousands of years while the latter was a product after the WWI.

Secondly, people have their own choice to learn Chinese or not; demand always comes before supply. In other words, people choose to learn language based on their needs and interest. They choose to accept and expose themselves under the influence.
In my point of view, Chinese is just like other thousands of languages in the world. It is a little bit of paranoid to think that people are using language as a tool to get to some political aims.

Edutainment Shows, What Kids Learn from Them

After listening to last week’s presentation about Sesame Street’s different versions in different parts of the world especially in China, how they succeed and fail, there are some points I want to make.

Edutainment is a form of entertainment designed to educate as well as to amuse. For those entertainment TV programs designed for kids, the culture implication matters a lot because it has influence on whether they can accept them, what they learn from them and how they precept the world. In my point of view, the attention and endeavor given to those TV shows can never to be enough.

In the case of Sesame Street, I think the main reason for its failure does not lie in the image of the Big Bird and other Muppets; although it is totally new to Chinese kids, it is still within the scope of “acceptance”. The main reason for the failure should be the content it tried to present to Chinese kids and the way it present it.
Here I would like to mention another TV program which was introduced in China from the States in late 90s – Beakman’s World. Beakman is a crazy scientist who is doing different scientific experiments using materials and facilities people can find at home with a crazy girl and a giant mouse with funny ears. The image of Beakman is scarier and crazier (dirty face and weird hairstyle like he was survived from the exploration) than the Big Bird. However, after Beakman’s World was on show in China, a lot of kids loved it and they started to follow Beakman’s instruction to do experiments by themselves. So why kids in Chinese can accept the crazy and weird scientist Beakman rather than the Big Bird?
In the first place, it is because of the content of the show. The content of Beakman’s World covers a larger age rank of kids (from preschool to high school). It is more challenging and interesting. It is something related to the knowledge from school about also different. Also, Beakman’s world gives kids a choice to participate, interact or not. Most Chinese kids do not like or get used to those shows require a high interaction. However, Beakman’s World gives them choice and if they want, they can create their own experiment and be more creative.

The second point comes to the way Beakman’s World presents the content. As I mentioned before, some of the experiments in this show are relevant to the knowledge from Science class at school. But the “lecture” format of science class can never satisfy kids’ curiosity and their eager to participate. In Beakman’s World, kids can do experiment by their own, they can be more creative which gives them a sense of achievement, also, it cultivate their ability of individual thinking and organizing.

Another very important point for the failure of Sesame Street and the success of Beakman’s World is the time when they were introduced in China. The Big Bird was introduced into China in 1983, less than 5 year after the Opening up Policy, when people in China were still wearing the clothes of the same color; when people did not know what pop music was; when kids were taught in school that the aim for studying was to contribute to the society and the Communist Party ; however, personally, I do not think it is the right time to let kids accept and like Sesame Street and actually it was beyond their ability to understand and enjoy it. Nevertheless, about 15 years later, when Beakman’s World came to China, everything was different. Kids are ready to expose themselves to something new something completely different from before.

Today, there are lots and lots of edutainment TV shows for kids, helping them learn knowledge and train their living abilities. But there should be another mission for those edutainment shows which is to cultivate their ability to accept something new, something different.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Two-Way Communication and power

I was interested to read Power’s and Gilboa's chapter on Al-Jazeera's success in becoming a transnational political actor, not that that was its original goal. The fact that so many governments, in both the Middle East and Western countries have targeted Al-Jazeera, has actually given them more power.
One idea that struck me was about how Al-Jazeera views itself as creating two-way communication. I actually think it is more complicated than that. I think that they are allowing multiple voices to be represented because of both their internal and external agendas (giving a pan-Arab viewpoint, promoting democracy). I don't see the media in such polarized terms and reading their website doesn't give me the impression of a polar opposite view from western media. I understand that there is the symbolism in the idea of western/eastern ideas getting equal representation, beyond what the actual realities of daily reporting may contain. And I think that the work Al-Jazeera has been able to do on the ground in terms of access to images that western media does not get is important to expanding the dialogue in the public sphere.
I agree that the way that the Bush administration handled Al-Jazeera’s coverage of Iraq was very polarizing and alienating. It eroded the soft power of the US as well. As Nye discusses in his book “Soft Power”, the US public diplomacy efforts were very weak during the 2003 Iraq invasion, which was a mistake. Al-Jazeera gained its strength through its interactivity and innovation (p. 72, Powers and Gilboa) and was able to become a powerful influence in the public sphere. I’m not sure that I agree that this means it is actually setting the agenda. I think this is hard to trace and prove. I think they can definitely influence outcomes in policy because of their broad reach. And this is a form of soft power, where they can decide to pursue framing an issue in a way that will shift public sphere opinion and put pressure on political leaders to make changes. Of course, this is why political leaders across the spectrum have tried to shut them down.