Entertainment-Education Versus Extremism: Examining Parasocial Interaction among Arab Viewers of Anti-ISIS TV Drama
Keywords:Entertainment-Education, Parasocial Interaction, Countering Violent Extremism, Radicalization, Narration Persuasion
Radicalization amongst youth is a challenge facing the Arab world. Recent reports indicate that over 20,000 Arab fighters traveled to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria and another 5-15 percent of millennials across seven Arab countries consider some violent extremist groups to be on the right path. In response, Arab countries have experimented with entertainment-education (E-E) by using anti-extremism narratives in popular culture to address radicalization at the societal level. This study explores whether those narratives can elicit viewers’ parasocial interaction (PSI)—pseudo friendships with or animosity toward mediated personas that can catalyze persuasion—with fictional characters. Using qualitative and quantitative content analyses of more than 8,600 YouTube comments, this study explores Arab viewers’ responses to a recent E-E project, al-Siham al-Marika (The Piercing Arrows) drama series, that portrays life under ISIS’s control. The findings identify recurrent themes in the pool of comments, such as show debates, religious contestations, political disputes, empathy for victims, and engagement with plotline/characters. More importantly, they reveal at least one out of six comments (n=1477) exhibits PSI with fictional characters, addressing them as part of their social milieu. The study further traces the variations in the nature of PSI in relation to mediated positive role models, negative role models, and transitional characters in the narrative. It concludes with a discussion of E-E’s potentials as an anti-extremism messaging strategy and PSI’s role as a useful metric in assessing such narratives.
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