The Sabido Method

Mexican TelenovelaHave 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.

Silver SpoonsYou 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.

5 thoughts on “The Sabido Method

  1. In his book The Last Word N.T. Wright talks about the Bible in five acts. The fourth act was the book of Acts. The fifth act is the one we are living and writing ourselves. I think that’s what I hear in this post as well.

    I really like N.T. Wright. I also really like this post.

  2. Paul,
    Thanks for the kind words. One of these days, I’m going to have to delve into the world of N.T. Wright. I guess he’s influenced me indirectly somehow already. If you like him, how bad could he be?

    I really do think that part of the gospel is it’s influence on our lives. I read some comments on the Outpost where people were saying something like, “People shouldn’t care about the environment, they should care about the gospel.” I don’t get that sort of thinking.

    If those of us who claim to be radically affected by our relationship with Jesus can compartmentalize it’s influence on our attitudes, politics, priorities, and behavior, what does that say about the gospel?

    I like the idea of living our faith, struggles and all, openly and honestly. If we say that something is important to us, that says something about our God. I believe that He continues to use the lives of believers to personally interact with humanity on a daily basis.

    Thanks again.

  3. Ron Martoia has a great book called Static. In it, he talks about the reality that Jesus never tried to get anyone into heaven or keep anyone out of hell. He also never tried to make people feel guilty. When he “shared the gospel” (our language), he talked about a complete and utter restoration, a return to life in the garden, that had eternal impact.

    I noted that in my doctoral class and was told that the Pastristic Fathers spoke of that quite a bit.

    Anyway, it has helped me reframe the discussion of the gospel from the get out of hell free card or get your insurance policy to God wants to restore our lives totally and completely. It may take a lifetime to happen, but he wants to place us back into the garden where there complete openness, hope, transparency, and intimacy in our relationship (spiritual restoration) as well as a complete physical restoration.

  4. People might think stories of the Bible have little or no relevance today but those stories can be told using modern names and ideas … keeping the truth of the stories but making them sound like modern television sitcoms or dramas. Many of those stories will keep people on the edge of their seats, wanting to know more and waiting to hear what happened in the end. Stories are great ways to share with any age and generation.

  5. Pingback: Stories worth telling « the upstream collective blog

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