Friday, February 01, 2008

Viradouro's Controversial Carnaval Float

As is probably clear given the ornateness and complexities of the event, Carnaval in Rio is not some thrown-together event. It takes months of preparation in deciding a theme, getting the costumes ready, composing your samba school's song, choreographing everything, and of course, making the floats. Given these complexities and the fact that Carnaval in Rio is an extremely commercial event (not in the perjorative sense), there is a Carnaval comittee that oversees the themes and makes sure everything is OK for public presentation. Sometimes it has to veto certain items, such as in 1980, when one school had the Christ statue dressed as a homeless man (a ridiculous rejection that refused to face the poverty of Rio).

However, this year, the committee rightly rejected a float based on the Holocaust. Viradouro, a samba school in Niteroi (across the bay from Rio de Janeiro) had planned on using a float that showed emaciated, contorted bodies and clothing similar to that of the victims of concentration camps, all under the banner "It's horrifying." While designer Raul Barros is correct that Carnaval is often used to remind people what's going on in the world (samba songs and themes have often had political messages), I didn't quite understand how portraying the Jewish holocaust was going to reveal what is (and not what was) going on in the world. I agree more with Israelite Federation of Rio de Janeiro's head, Sérgio Niskier, who comments in the article that ""Really, it makes no sense to highlight this issue with drums and dancing girls when there are still survivors of that horror and many of their descendants who carry the mark of that tragedy in their skin."

I think he's right on this. I don't think Barros or Viradouro meant any harm or offense, and maybe breaking up the generally-festive nature of Carnaval with a reminder of atrocities in the world isn't such a bad idea, but this just doesn't seem to be the appropriate float to do that (not that I know what the appropriate float to do that would look like).

And the Carnaval committee agreed, threatening Viradouro with a 250,000 real fine if they went through with the float and a person dressed in a costume that looked like Hitler. In response, Viradouro agreed to undo the float, and is now replacing it (quickly, given that the parade lasts 2 nights in the next 3 days) with a float titled "Freedom of Expression". This is a not-too-subtle commentary on how Viradouro feels about the ruling, and that's fine. I still feel OK with the ruling, though. Just because one has "freedom of expression" doesn't mean you shouldn't try to be a little more respectful. Additionally, Viradouro's "freedom of expression" hasn't exactly been removed; if it were, they wouldn't have any say in what their floats would portray. I think the Carnaval committee has simply exercised its control over the conversation that Carnaval is having, and I think in this case, the ruling was correct. Still, I'm eager to see Viradouro's parade this weekend.