Sunday, February 07, 2010

Carnaval in Brazil 2010 (I) - Pre-Carnaval

Next week marks the official start of Carnaval, though informal street celebrations began this weekend in Rio, as well as in other parts of Brazil. As always, even the informal blocos (street parades and musical groups) had a "theme," and this year, they apparently were promoting keeping Rio clean (text is Portuguese only, though the pictures are universal).

While the official Carnaval events haven't begun yet, there are always controversies leading up to and during the celebration, and this year is no different. The government is gearing up to hand out 55 million free condoms to citizens throughout the country as part of its ongoing campaign to promote safe sex and combat the spread of AIDS. Though the Catholic Church has condemned the government in the past for this program, the Church has remained fairly quiet this year.

Additionally, judges have eliminated a ban on religious symbols during the events of Carnaval, ruling that the ban impinged upon free speech. Officials originally established the ban in 2007, believing it to be "imprudent" to have crosses and saints alongside the, shall we say, not-so-saintly clad women and men in the parades. This story is amusing not only because it features people being uptight about the religious implications of having scantily-clad individuals in the vicinity of crosses and saints (rather than being uptight about the scantily-clad individuals); there's also the fact that, well, Carnaval is (nominally) a religious event, celebrating debauchery and gluttony in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, which begins the religious season of Lent and the accompanying sacrifices many make in that season. So the fact that religious symbols had been banned from an ostensibly religious commemoration is more than a little amusing.

On a far more serious note, the Viradouro samba school (they of the banned Holocaust float a few years ago) is stirring up a much different kind of controversy by picking Julia Lira, a 7-year-old girl, to serve as its Queen of the Drum Corps (Rainha). As the article points out, the role is usually reserved for women in their early-20s due to the fact that the Rainhas are often among the most scantily-clad (and, subsequently, most famous) participants in Carnaval. The symbol of the Rainha has come to be equated with the sexuality and beauty that many associate with Carnaval. Thus, the selection of a Lira for a position that is usually associated with sex and nudity is causing quite a stir, and a judge is considering even blocking the girl's participation. While I agree with the girl's father (who is also president of the samba school) that anybody thinking sex when they look at a 7-year-old has a real problem, that doesn't stop some people from looking at 7-year-olds and "feeling excitment," as Lira's father puts it, and I think the concern over the fallout of viewing children as sexual objects in a country that has struggled with childhood prostitution is a legitimate concern. Ultimately, while it is completely in Viradouro's rights to pick who they want for their Rainha, it's pretty clear that they like to make controversial decisions. It's not that they couldn't have gotten some young model or starlet; it's that they deliberately chose not to do so. In the end, I think it will actually be disappointing if Lira walks as a Rainha; after all, there are real, negative effects that her participation in this particular role could have on cultural and social attitudes. I think it would be preferable if Lira waited until she actually was in her late-teens/early-twenties to serve as Rainha; she can still participate in the samba parades before then, in a less sexualized-role. We'll just have to wait until later this week, though, to see just what happens.