Soap Operas for Peace

Since I’m on the road this week, I thought I’d (try to) keep this post a little shorter (really, it’s so you can go back to last week and catch up) and use this opportunity as another explanation post. Again, I’m going to talk about media, but in a slightly different context and introduce the idea of “peace media.”

What made me think to post about peace media, was, well the fact that I’ve talked about it without actually talking about it, but also an article about a new soap opera in Turkey. As explained here, Magnificent Century, which portrays the Ottoman Empire, takes liberties in a way that allows younger generations to reconcile their desires to be modern and Muslim. Naturally, the show isn’t for everyone, and more conservative groups have come out against the show (sound familiar?), but since I’ve been talking about the ways in which media criticizes social norms and, in a sense, promotes social evolution, I thought I would go ahead and start introducing the theories behind all of this talk.

I’ve written and worked on peace media before, and although the title is somewhat self-explanatory, it’s somewhat deceptively simple. At first you think, “Oh, it’s media to promote peace, simple enough.” But then, you realize that neither peace, nor media, are static concepts. And, once you lose these comforts, it’s anyone’s guess. For now, I’m going to take a little piece at a time and begin with some of the different ways media can be used to promote peace, starting with entertainment media.

Although the idea of a soap opera as a tool for peacebuilding may seem a little absurd, there are actually a lot of benefits to this approach. On one hand, through entertainment media, organizations such as Search for Common Ground, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Radio La Benevolencija, etc., gain access to a wider audience. People who would otherwise be missed by news broadcasts or print media (which may not even be that reliable), might be more likely to tune in for their favorite soap. Still, while a greater reach is an obvious advantage of this type of media, the format of these programs offers another important benefit.

Essentially, soap operas and other forms of entertainment (e.g. theatre), offer the audience a chance to escape from reality. As Siri Lange explains, the experience of watching these performances—or in some cases participating in local theatre groups—allows people to “deal with the problematic sides of the society in a time (and often place) which is clearly distinguished from ‘normal’ time… allowing reflexivity.” Not only does this create a neutral space for the identification of societal problems–watching and engaging with these performances becomes a learning experience. And ultimately, as people watch (or participate in), society being performed on the stage, they can then recreate and react to their changing roles, and relationships, in society

[Image via The Guardian]

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