August 15, 2020

Media and Citizenship

Mellon Project Focus Area

Sailors, Singers and being Sick of Aids

Popeye Spinach or Popeye the Sailor Man the much loved cartoon character is actually a very creative invention to sell spinach.

Popeye did so much for spinach industry in the USA that a statue of the muscular sailor was erected in Texas in 1937.

The statue was in honour of Popeye and his creator, E.C Segar’s contribution to the sale of the leafy vegetable. Spinach Sales went up 33% in the years around the Great Depression.

“The marketing of spinach via Popeye’s spinach-eating had worked. But more than a commercial success, Popeye had become a role model for many children in the US who had changed eating habits and began eating more vegetables, spinach in particular”, (Tufte, 2005; 159).

A study conducted in 2010 further entrenched that Popeye had an incredible knack to sell his power inducing vegetable. Canadian children ate more spinach after watching episodes of Popeye on TV (The Globe and Mail).

Although Popeye remains a cultural icon, the cartoon is effectively an early example of an area of study that has become known as entertainment-education.

Entertainment-education refers to “the process of purposely designing and implementing a media message to both entertain and educate, in order to increase audience knowledge about an educational issue, create favorable attitudes, and change overt behavior” (Singhal and Rogers 1999, xii).

An interesting example of EE is the Harvard Alcohol Project’s Designated Driver Campaign which is credited as one of the first successful partnerships between health educators and Hollywood. During the 1988 to1992 TV seasons, more than 160 prime time shows, such as The Cosby Show, and Cheers, included health messages in plots and devoted episodes to the campaign theme.

“By 1990, public opinion polls indicated that 9 in 10 adults (89%), and virtually all (97%) young adults 18–24 were familiar with the designated driver concept and rated it favorably” (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2004). In 1991, the term “designated driver” was included in the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.

The Media Project, a health advocacy project that works with television producers to incorporate teenage sexual health issues into the story lines has been around since 1980.

Many other campaigns have worked with shows such as Dawson’s Creek, Judging Amy, 7th Heaven, Law and Order, 24, The Shield,7th Heaven, All My Children, and Days of Our Lives (to  name just a few), to educate people about a range of issues.

These initiatives have recorded remarkable achievements. In 2003 alone, more than 58 million viewers tuned in to campaign-related entertainment programming, and more than seven million visited the KNOW HIV/AIDS campaign website (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2004).

A survey of prime time television viewers in the US found that 52% of viewers reported picking up health information they trust from television shows. 90% of viewers admitted to learning about diseases from prime time television. 48% of viewers said that they took some kind of action after watching a health related programme. Black women are more likely to cite soapies as a source of health information compared to 48% of white women (Kaiser Kamily Foundation, 2004).

Entertainment education scholars Singhal, Rogers and Brown (1993) pin the historical roots of the theory to a popular Peruvian telenova, Simplemente Marfa. The show told the rags-to-riches story of how migrant girl, Marfa who changed her life by going to night school and making clothes using a Singer sewing machine.

The telenova was exported to other Latin American countries and wherever it was broadcast, there was a rise in the sales of Singer sewing machines, young ladies showed an interest in sewing and a rise in adult literacy classes.

This unintentional and unintended effect of Simplemente Marfa demonstrated that entertainment could carry an educational message. The realisation inspired Mexican producer Miguel Sabido to create popular telenovas designed to teach Mexicans about their history.

South Africa has a few examples of EE programmes. The most recent example of entertainment education in the country has been a major hit. The 2010 first season of the drama series Intersexions won 11 out 13 SAFTA’s (television awards). Season two, which is currently running, has a weekly viewership of just over 5 million people. It is the second most popular television programme in the country behind Generations (

The drama series about individuals interconnected by their sexual relationships has buckled the trend of unpopular AIDS related education (Mitchell and Smith, 2009). The strides made by EE programming in South Africa is very interesting to note.


Tufte, T. 2001. Entertainment-Education and Participation. Assessing the Communication Strategy of Soul City. Journal of International Communication. Vol.7:2

Storey, D and Sood, S. 2013. Increasing equity, affirming the power of narrative and expanding dialogue: the evolution of entertainment education over two decades. Critical Arts 27:1.

Tufte, T. 2005. Media and Glocal Change. Rethinking Communication for Development. Malmo University

Entertainment Education and Heath in the United States. Issue Brief. Retrieved from Kaiser Family Foundation.

Singhal, A. Rogers, M and Brown, W. 1993. Harnessing the potential of entertainment-education telenova’s.Gazene 51:1. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Prime time TV viewing figures. Retrieved on 14 March 2013 at