FRONT PAGE / POSTS
Brazil Mash-Up: UK Notes
by Malcolm Evans| Brighton, UK
Friday, 28 January 2011
tags: americas, culture, emergence, global/local, making sense, semiotics, uncategorized
Part of Semionaut's wiki experiment to identify emergent cross-cultural codes of Brazilianness, these notes follow the format in the project briefing. The aim of these (and any other national inputs to follow) is not to be exhaustive or even provoke debate but to start the ball rolling and stimulate further observations and insights, particularly in the Emergent area. Please add your builds below or send your own post for the Brazil mash-up to firstname.lastname@example.org .
From a UK perspective the potential trajectory towards the ‘Brazilian Dream’ (see our briefing) is based on a deep underlying affinity for Brazilian-ness – delight in a perceived spontaneous & light-hearted grace, sensuality and creative accomplishment . Ways ahead will maintain and develop on these historically rooted positives.
Underlying cultural archetypes:
Portuguese exploration & colonies, paralleling British maritime/colonial history – the Spanish were the enemy with popular historical narrative around that (Drake, the Armada), while the Portuguese heritage is not marked as oppositional/Other in that way
the brazil nut – traditional British favourite (alongside hazelnut, walnut, almond), association with Christmas when the nut cracker comes out
Leisure class travel and high life; pre- and immediate post-World War II era US film and music, a generalized Latin code with seductive brown-skinned women and men, dance, romance; Flying Down to Rio movie (1933); something culturally not quite serious – exotica and novelty, “There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil” (Sinatra era swing now refurbished by people like Harry Connick Jr., Robbie Williams, Michael Bublé). Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacabana’ – squarely in this tradition. In 1960s this goes to cool jazz, something slinkier – Getz & Gilberto, Girl From Ipanema
Brazil & South American countries as off the map, haven for war criminals (Boys from Brazil novel and film); adventure, the extreme, a European not on the run goes here at his peril. Werner Herzog’s film Ftizcarraldo (1982). The Amazon – vast challenging nature. Then becoming idealized pastoral – authentic primitive culture and nature; pop star Sting posing with Amazon tribal chief.
Football the most prominent Brazilian theme (alongside the Rio carnival) for Brits. In the Residual Brazilians represented flair and silky samba skills (versus the punishing machine-like efficiency of the Germans). Good-natured poor boys learning their football barefoot on the beach and still known in adulthood and as celebrities by their nicknames. Flair and attack rather than organization and defence.
The favela code – pioneered in City of God (2002). Violence, extreme urban deprivation, massive gulf between rich and poor. Connecting to cultural energy, authenticity, roots, soul, affirmation – e.g. Seu Jorge
Football in the Dominant now more organized, not only associated with attacking flair. Brazil less clearly the greatest footballing nation. UK Premier League Brazilians not the best or most expensive players – Robinho didn’t deliver on his promise.
Perceived vibrancy, sexiness and preoccupation with the body – many stories around popularity of cosmetic surgery in Brazil. ‘Having a Brazilian’ = waxing to remove hair from pubic region.
Emerging powerful BRIC economy. (THE most vibrant and dynamic is more recent and still has some Emergent edge). Lula initially heralding swing to the left since echoed elsewhere in South America. Context of callapse of post-Thatcher economic and political agendas in UK leaving a vacuum in ideology and political philosophy. New alternatives to evolve in Latin America as in East Asia?
Ongoing thread of Carnival culture, joy. Enviable Brazilian ability to let go, be happy, enjoy life.
Brazilian embodied knowledge, combined with physical grace and a hint of spirituality – Capoeira. Also connoting rich cultural diversity, synergies.
Crossing the borderline into the emergent codes
More widespread exposure for more Brits to Brazilians living in UK. Effectively part of the new immigrant or transient working class (with other Latin Americans, East Europeans, people from the Middle East). Nothing challenges the stereotypes more than meeting real Brazilians (the cleaner who’s better educated than you are, the thoroughness and work ethic that sits beside a relaxed attitude towards life – an unfamiliar combination for North Europeans). Our picture is of tribute artwork to Brazilian plumber Jean Charles Menezes, shot seven times in the head by London Metropolitan police on 22nd July 2005 under the misapprehension that he was a Muslim terrorist.
Brazil as the economic star currently of the BRICs and on a morale and cultural upsurge with World Cup and Olympics coming. Important context here is that Brazil is perceived to be deserving of both these awards. Especially in the comparative context – UK media orthodoxy on the 2018 World Cup is that England deserved it but Russia got it. Qatar getting the 2022 World Cup perceived as an outrageous (FIFA corruption) cultural anomaly. So Brazil’s success is in some way the last gasp of normality. UK cultural is configured to like Brazilians – it’s difficult at a discursive level in UK to NOT like Brazilians. Quite patronizing in some ways (viewing Brazilians as child-like e.g. Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Brazilian pronunciation of ‘Brazil’ with final consonant like an English ‘w’ could have a charming child-like ring for an English ear.
There are gaps where UK could be receptive to new emergent codes from Brazil. Consistent with trajectories of change would be:
• a Brazil-specific manifestation of something which has the groundedness and versatility of hip-hop but is clearly local, coming from another place – not imitating U.S.
• a creative favela culture – City of God energy 10 years on expressed in craft, dance, music, literature, film
• a positive ethic of social responsibility and community which is non-PC, active, progressive and enlists widespread popular support (reconciling the opposition between a discredited hands-off market fundamentalism on one the hand and ongoing concerns about, say, the Chinese model of centralized state power and responsibility on the other).
Future opportunities will be about building from the positive base noted above in the introduction. In terms of economic, environmental, social and intellectual vision – expressed not so much in abstract as in in concrete forms (e.g. cultural platforms as potentially rich, cross-media and transforming as something like hip-hop) or new forms of governance and organization, e.g. at the level of cities, that engage innovatively with environmental degradation and social inequality. And help restore some joy and optimism to the poor, put-upon non-elite majority of Brits.
With many thanks to Gareth Lewis and Chris Arning.
© Malcolm Evans 2011