Sunday, February 14, 2010

Carnaval in Brazil 2010 (III) - Stereotypes in Narratives of Brazil

Certainly, Carnaval is renowned for its sexualized atmosphere and the sense of partying going on, something that reflects more the puritanical attitudes of much of the English-speaking media than it does Brazilian society. Each year, reports on Carnaval manage to fall to base stereotypes of Brazil, as if this is the only time the country matters and it is simply as a land of sexual abandon. It happened last year, and probably every other year, and this year is no exception.

There is, of course, the understanding of Brazilians as only being serious about partying. Economics, social policy, education...none of that matters to Brazilians like partying.

Even stories that begin to delve into the very-real negative economic and social effects of Paes's policies can't help but close on the trope of Rio as site of forbidden sexual activity and sexual tourism. You do occasionally get decent stories that focus simply on Paes's policies and how they aren't as easily enforced as he would like, but these stories of what is effectively grassroots resistance are the exception that prove the rule on journalism during Carnaval.

Then there are stories that don't even bother to pretend to be serious, instead chronicling how many people kiss on the streets. Because really, that's what matters to all Brazilians.

Of course, some of the reports don't actually focus strictly on sexuality. This report on Eduardo Paes' obviously wrong-headed policies decided it would be nice to throw in a random, uncontextualized murder statistic, relating that "there were 4694 murders in Rio in the 10 months to October 2008." Of course, nothing in the report had been even remotely related to violent crimes; plus, while 4694 deaths is depressing no matter what, there's absolutely no mention of police violence, or even the fact that a majority of those murders are concentrated in the favelas. And nevermind the fact that the one incident of violence against a tourist this year didn't even result in his death, and that officials are worried about it. Nope - Rio is just a a den of sexualized sin and murder, and is to be portrayed as such.

Sure, some of these images reflect some aspects of Carnaval, but they're problematic for so many reasons. They rely on a very stereotypical exoticism of one city to equate it to all Brazilians (when there is Carnaval throughout the country, often with major regional differences). It treats Brazil as if this is the atmosphere all the time, rather than for one week a year. And by focusing on the party/sex/murder meme, it doesn't even begin to delve into the positive aspects of Brazil, nor the complexities of the society.

Why do research, when stereotypes are so easy?