Many of us feel the small changes are not fast enough in saving the environment. Yet, if you want to empower people on their nature protection journey, you need to equip them with self-confidence. Individuals need to see environmentalism as part of their own identity so that these actions flow from their core. Is there a promising tool, talking to the masses in an effective way?
Scope: Master Thesis Research in Media Studies
Through my research executed with Czech and Dutch audiences, I see this tool in the corrective irony, included in popular media, namely in sitcoms. Through the corrective irony, we can avoid the common gap-making narrative of most of the documentaries and other media contributions, building their logic on the contrast between the scientific opinion and our actual, condemnable behavior.
Have you swallowed your documentary today?
Watching documentaries is probably the first thing coming to your mind when talking about environmental media. But it might be a little bit too much like taking your medicine or eating vegetables. We perceive this activity as necessary, but hard to perform. Such a movie can try to convince us via criticism of our decisions. Like that, the audience might feel being attacked by the content, leading to reactance, which may yield completely opposite results than wanted. On top of that, speaking up the facts is utterly important, nevertheless, if the concrete solutions are not given, a viewer might get into decision paralysis, deriving in the topic avoidance.
We are not here to laugh at people: include them in our efforts and jettison the taunting
At this moment, we are facing two counteractive challenges: to make the content light enough to motivate people to watch it, while making it serious and up-to-date to let people relate its content to their own life experience. How should we tackle them? Is there an art form, a possible tool, which is able to communicate the seriousness of the message, while capable of entertaining and empowering the viewers? The right balance might be found in situational comedies, thanks to their non-serious affective modes, such as irony, self-parody, and playfulness.
What’s so great about sitcoms?
Sitcoms do not change. The environment, relationships stay the same, episodes are ended with a solution to an episode’s problem every single time (also possibly offering a solution to a personal environmental crisis). We simply all know sitcoms are here to make us laugh. We do not expect a complicated plot and come to relax while watching this content. Like that, our anti-educational walls are not built up. And we are more willing to change our opinions, also within environmental topics perception. This is the great advantage of sitcoms over documentaries, effectively executed by the concept of corrective irony.
Corrective irony denies elitism and superiority, often seen in documentaries, where the audience might have a feeling of a small human, being laughed at by smart, but evil scientists for her ignorance. Such an irony allows the viewer to fulfill the entertainment and information need, so she can (even unknowingly) label herself as a person taking care of the environment.
What to keep in mind before starting using corrective irony in your next campaign?
The directness of the sitcom’s purpose (to make us laugh) is a double-edged sword. It can truly serve the best purpose and transfer the positive attitudes towards the environment when written by a skilled pen, minding the target group (e.g. national) preferences. On the other hand, it can easily backfire in the moment the educational purpose is too obvious or irony caste on the audience too harsh. Of course, there is always a danger of misusing the communicational techniques in the name of bad forces. Keeping this in mind, marketing and persuasion are powerful tools, but nothing more than that. It all depends only on us, communicational specialists, marketers, journalists, and other architects of choice how these tools will be used. Because at the end of the day, we are carving the decisions by the presence, the same as by the absence of certain attributes. Think twice when making the next ad, brand strategy, or marketing campaign. Because not talking about things might be as powerful as talking about them, while using a bad strategy might serve the complete opposite of our good intentions.