Sesame Street Diplomacy — Wrapping Up at the Peacebuilding Summit

Posted on May 12, 2010

ITVS Staff writer Eric Martin posted to 'Beyond the Box' live from the Newseum during the day's proceedings: 

The afternoon session kicked off with clips from two films: The World According to Sesame Street, a look at the making of “muppet diplomacy” through versions of the iconic children’s show produced by local producers in other countries; and The Team, a documentary look at the Kenyan soap opera of the same title that marries conflict resolution with popular storytelling. Moderator Gary Knell, CEO of the Sesame Workshop, carried the theme of the clips into the discussion, highlighting the importance of “indigenous” partnerships to achieve local impact.  Mburugu Gikunda, executive producer of The Team in Kenya, reinforced that idea with his story of how his work combines television, radio and local screenings as equally important to getting people to act.  “When people see it in their living rooms, they are very passive,” he said.  “When they watch it in a group, there is encouragement to one another to take some action with it.”  New media, he continued, represent new opportunities.

But what do people do with these opportunities?  Jared Cohen of the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff contrasted the stories of twitter in Iran and Moldova with an awareness of the “dark side” of technology, emphasizing how people looking for social impact innovate using whatever tools at their disposal.  For David Kleeman, Executive Director for the American Center for Children and Media, that’s why one of the most important missions should be creating platforms that extend the digital reach to people and places where it hasn’t yet reached.  Peace building also needs to start earlier and be more fully integrated into education and media literacy efforts.  Why do we teach kids how to read critically but not watch video critically?

Good question, agreed Shamil Idriss.  But impact goals and an open source model have contradictions, he warned.  “You have to be ready to hear things that are really hard for you to hear” and to allow for contrasting narrative to find new ways to get to more people in more places than ever before. And don’t give up on traditional media, added Sandra de Castro Buffington, director of Hollywood, Health and Society at USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center.  Transmedia means working across all available platforms, with each platform adding essential information.  

The key is making sure the information is accurate—we already advise Hollywood screenwriters on getting their medical information right, so why not global economic development, poverty and other topics of interest to peace building stakeholders?

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