Saturday, February 13, 2010

Carnaval in Brazil 2010 (II) - Racism and Class Warfare, in Rio and Beyond

So, Caranaval in Brazil has begun, even while Rio endures one of its most brutal heat-waves in decades (though Rio's most famous parades, which serve as the images and symbols of Carnaval worldwide, will not begin until tomorrow night, carrying on Monday night). It should be interesting to watch both during and after, for many reasons (including the fact that a judge this week OK'd 7-year-old Julia Lira serving as Rainha for the Viradouro samba school).

Of course, some are trying to denude Carnaval of some of the popular forms of expression and fun. Last year, I mentioned how Eduardo Paes was effectively launching class warfare in his efforts to limit beer sales during Carnaval (as part of his broader effort to strip Rio of much of its informal sector and street-life). Well, Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes is at it again this year. While I have absolutely no problem in prohibiting people from pissing in the gutter or seeing the transformation of a brothel into a museum, I still believe the absolutist effort to clamp down on items like sales of snacks on the beach and prohibiting playing soccer before 5PM is not only ridiculous; it strips Rio not just of some of its vivacity, but also is directly trying to clamp down on popular forms of culture, expression, and leisure. The snacks and the soccer on the beach hurt absolutely nobody; they're simply ways for people to enjoy themselves in what is a public space. Paes's efforts to limit those legitimate and harmless forms of popular expression (which I dealt with in greater detail here) are appalling and ridiculous at all times of the year, but especially at Carnaval.

Nor is Paes alone this year on trying to counter cultural forms of expression. A mayor of a town in Minas Gerais has banned Brazilian funk and hip-hop from being played during Carnaval. Of course, this measure is offensively authoritarian - it's not just that you can't listen to it in public places, but that people caught listening to it anywhere "during the Carnival period would have to turn it off or face arrest and up to six months in prison." However, I know that some in Brazil, especially from the upper- and middle-classes, probably support this measure, as they believe it to be "noise" and "crass." Certainly, the lyrics are often offensive, but funk and hip-hop both come from the favelas of Rio and Sao Paulo, and are closely associated with the culture, social life, and struggles of the poor in Brazil (not coincidentally, they are also seen as music that reflects the "darker brown" segment of society). So any ban on these types of music is not only classist in trying to impose more-elite forms of popular culture on the ceremonies; it is also racist. And blaming the music for "inciting violence," rather than blaming more deep-seated problems like racism and the enormous gap between rich and poor in Brazil, only further reifies the mayor's authoritarianism, ignorance, classism, and racism.