How Soap Operas May Save the World

When I was at the airport getting ready to board my flight to London back in September, I bought the then current issue of National Geographic, as I have always found that magazine to contain some of the most engrossing material for the purpose of distracting one’s self during take-off. Not to mention that it’s just chock-full of quality stories and photo journalism. To get to the point, one particular article caught my eye – Machisma (you can read it here). The subheading reads, “How a mix of female empowerment and steamy soap operas helped bring down Brazil’s fertility rate and stoke its vibrant economy.” As I was on a plane headed to my new home where I would be studying media and communications, it felt like a sign from the media gods. This story focuses on the impact of media in our everyday lives, even if we may not realize it as it is happening. But if we pull back and look at the bigger picture we can see the trends over time – as access to electricity spread to more Brazilian communities, the more people were exposed to television, the telenovela audience grew, more women were taken by the nature of the independent business-savvy female protagonists (sans families), and fertility rates dropped. A lot. I encourage you to read the article (NPR wrote a similar article this month – read it here) to get a better sense of the impact by what many people deem a trivial and overly melodramatic genre. When the world’s population has now surpassed seven billion, now might be the best time to look at how these shows affect their audiences. Of course, the content of these soaps can vary drastically from country to country (US soaps seem to glamorize rich lifestyles, while UK soaps focus on class differences), which will likely lead to very different trends. It’s just a matter of time to see what impact they have on the bigger picture.


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