Brazil Mash-Up: Australasia

by | Auckland, New Zealand

Monday, 31 January 2011

tags: australasia, culture, making sense, network, semiotics


Outside Brazil, we must remember, Brazilianness always exists in relation to the identity or identities people live out in the host culture. Comparisons and contrasts, mirroring or symbolizing something we lack – and aspire to or not, as the case may be.  For a third party national, the words Bondi and Copacabana may both conjure up images of sun, play, lifestyle and youthful vitality that suggest a good deal of common ground between Brazil and Australasia. Jake Pearce, a UK national with many years’ experience living and working down under, suggests we might want to think differently…    

From an Antipodean perspective there is a sense that emotion and passion are dangerous. Their place is on the sports field and leakage into mainstream life is implicitly dangerous. Now in a global context, this viewpoint is anachronistic but it is no accident that Russell Crowe has been parodied by Homer Simpson et al as being such a bruiser. He was brilliant at the part, something which a metrosexual Brad Pitt in Troy might learn from.

Why is this relevant? The reason is largely because the idea of Brazilianness is so far inside a bubble marked ‘Latin’ that it is hard to tear the two apart – this needs some qualification.

The most aspiring place to go on holiday from here (Australia/New Zealand) is either France or Italy. Having lived here so long, I can see why. From a European perspective, the stereotypical Antipodean runs off to get some European ‘culture’. Of course there is an element of that, however Antipodean design, taste and ‘sophistication’ has moved from halting adolescence to early young adulthood. Antipodeans now go to France and Italy to marvel at the differences rather than wishing to be a derivative form of something they cannot be. At one time there was a certain elite, liberal intellectual class that bastioned itself in a castle marked ‘we are not like our fellow Australians and New Zealanders’ and worked hard at being more European than European. That was the 1960s and '70s.

For Antipodeans it is the behaviour that ultimately is intoxicating more than the manifest culture. How do men freely be men wearing handbags and kissing? To a European – going to Africa or having a long spell in the bush over here in Australasia is a safari. To Antipodeans – ‘we’ (and I include myself in that as I can use their lens) go on safari to marvel at the European zoo of human behaviours marked – hugging, talking rather than doing, using long language to describe the importance of friendship(s) rather than simply helping them repaint their garage.

At a fundamental level passion here is earmarked with suspicion. The pioneering male of New Zealand or tough man of the past is still very much in the latent culture – why else does sport play such a big role. And to be frank – being emotional in a new pioneering culture can be damaging. Psychologists here talk about the generation who went to both the first and second wars – it is and was ‘well accepted that they were tough soldiers and they were sent to the worse spots by Churchill’. This typifies the relationship between Antipodean countries and the UK – yes they are proud that they were tough but ultimately suspect they were used.

The suppression of emotions is known to be an adaptive state now – the ‘wooden male’ stereotype is in fact an adaptation to deal with hardship.  This ‘syndrome” (it has a name but I have forgotten it) is often cited by psychologists that in the post war period men here could not be fathers because they did not know how to. The ‘wooden’ male was carried and passed on to the Boomers as a role model and it is only now, in fact, that we see metrosexuality blossoming here. However all things are relative.

What has all this to do with Brazil?

The perception of Brazil here is very superficial. There are very few obvious signifiers and signs. It is rarely in the news or our magazines. Nor is Brazil a big tourist destination for this part of the world.

At a superficial latent level there are many similarities much more in Australia than New Zealand primarily based around the beach, being laid back, looking beautiful – and implicit beach sexuality. (Toplessness in Australian beaches as you know is common.) There are Brazilians here working – in ski resorts and on Opportunity Enterprises – but beyond that the imagery and semiotic depth is minimal. In Australia and New Zealand Brazil is known for its love of football – and there is a superficial parallel with New Zealand being the ‘Brazil of Rugby’. At a rational level the ‘love of sport’ might be seen as a parallel if people thought about it but football vs the dominance of rugby, in many respects, typifies the difference(s) between this side of the world and Europe.

Brazil is part of a ‘common and alien’  language of passion – perceived to connect with ‘Latin’ European countries. Here this is best typified by the carnivals which Brazil is famous for. In Victorian England – frivolity and play were confined and tamed in the many parks where the ‘common classes could pursue leisurely activity in an orderly way.’ The same is true here – the kind of spontaneous, combustible passion which Brazil is famous for is confined to a few moments in the Sydney Mardi Gras and Melbourne’s ‘Big Day OUT’ annual music festival.

In New Zealand, with its Presbetyrian/Scottish heritage, and certainly in ‘middle New Zealand’ Brazil is regarded as being so different it is not threatening.

In summary I would say Antipodeans find Brazil fundamentally puzzling. I should add with alacrity that this is largely unspoken. It is demonstrated in behaviours towards Latin culture in general. From a European perspective I would describe it as follows. It is like going to a live theme park, where you are trying to understand how it came to be like this and how you are connected to it. Consider finding a fragment of an alien spaceship with the words “Graham Norton”* on the side, Brazil is something like that. How did that get there and how come I can recognise something about it?

© Jake Pearce 2011

* An Irish comedian enormously popular in UK whose style of comedy (ironically exaggerated gay naughtiness) would probably not travel well outside emotionally repressed Anglo-Saxon cultures. For the aficionado of pedantic homoerotic aesthetic segmentations Graham Norton would be like the Russell Crowe of low camp.

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