Have you ever watched one of those insanely melodramatic Mexican soap operas? You know, the ones with beautiful women, beautiful men, and lots of crying and screaming and face-slapping? You may not know this, but those telenovelas have great influence. Believe it or not, they are intentionally filled with subtle, even subversive messages.
In the 1970s, Miguel Sabido, a market researcher for a Mexican television studio, developed a way to influence audiences through storytelling. He started by writing a diversity of characters into the story lines of the popular serialized shows. He branched out from the “good guy/bad guy” architypes and introduced flawed (yet beautiful) protagonists that viewers could relate to. Every story, no matter what the plot, was a tale of change. The good characters would struggle with their secret badness; the bad guys would occasionally surprise everyone by doing something good. All of this, of course, had been done before (and, to be sure, better.)
Sabido’s goal was to influence viewers in positive ways. He did so by having the characters in his soaps deal with serious real-life issues. He tackled racism. Sex. Abortion. Death. As his characters changed and grew through these challenges, his viewers changed and grew as well.
Through storytelling, Sabido engaged millions of people with his agenda. He got them talking about family planning, sexual health, and other social issues. Many people credit his efforts for the plateaued population growth in Mexico. In a way, it was propaganda; weaving social and political messages into popular media programming. In communication theory, it’s called the “Sabido Method.” No matter what you call it, stories are powerful influencers.
You might be more familiar with the Sabido Method than you think. Remember when your favorite sitcoms in the 1980s and 90s would air “Very Special Episodes?” Like when Blair from The Facts of Life was nearly raped, or when Kimberly Drummond from Diff’rent Strokes suffered from bulimia? The characters of Alex P. Keaton, Ricky Stratton, Punky Brewster, and Mike Seaver were all used to shape our social behavior and attitudes concerning everything from suicide to racism.
In life’s soap opera, God’s story, we are the characters. He uses the story arcs of our lives to incite, inform, engage, and influence. Being missional is publicly living our story instead of insisting on skipping to the moral at the end.