After tramping around northern Oxford and St Anthony’s on Friday, I finally found my way to St Anne’s College and the ‘Brazilian Culture Abroad’ conference. The travails I have to put myself through, so you, dear reader, can be kept abreast of all things Brazilian!
Although the conference had virtually no relevance to my main topic and subject of study – politics – it was interesting in its own right and added to my general store of knowledge. I also went with the secret hope that readers – who find talk of Brazilian politics about as interesting as watching paint dry in tropical heat, might find something more appealing in cultural matters.
So to give a brief run through, here are the highlights (recorded earlier): I arrived midway through New York University’s Robert Stam emphasising the ‘cannibalistic’ nature of aspects of Brazilian music and film, especially since the 1960s. He stressed the comparability of social and cultural experience in Brazil and the US, including slavery, the treatment of the indigenous and borrowing of musical types (e.g. jazz and bossa nova). To illustrate his points he showed a series of music videos, including Caetano Veloso’s ‘Haiti’ (not easy to listen too, but a three-minute discourse on black oppression in Brazil), and ‘Mão de Limpeza’ performed by Gilberto Gil and Chico Buarque, to highlight racial differences.
Lucia Nagib has the job I should have. She’s professor of cinema at Leeds University and used her presentation to introduce a new article she’s working on regarding world cinema. In particular she’s identified four main features of world cinema: local colour, realism, a private (i.e. identifiable) hero and a chain of improbable but convincing events as part of the script. These common themes crop up time and again, owing to the need to appeal to wider, trans-national audiences and funding. Nagib stressed the importance of ‘vertical integration’ in world cinema, with scripts being taken up by groups like the Sundance foundation who puts aspiring world cinema makers in touch with foreign sources of funding and distribution links – factors which are necessary if the films are to be successful abroad which will also help recoup costs.
The LA County Museum of Art’s curator, Lynn Zelevansky, discussed the Brazilian contribution to an exhibition, ‘Geometry’, last year. She argued the work was good enough in its own right to be displayed and didn’t need to be presented in a specific Latin American category. In particular she suggested that Brazilian modern art was developing simultaneously with that in other countries; and from what I could glean, it was uncompromising in that unlike the world cinema case, it wasn’t being tailored for foreign audiences. With high art it was more a case of Brazilian modern art: take it or leave it.
José Geraldo Couto from the Folha de São Paulo then talked about the role of football as a cultural export. In particular he argued the traditional stereotypes of Brazil (and its football), of a lazy, happy people, was being broken down. The success of the 1994 and 2002 World Cup teams was achieved through discipline and efficiency, contradicting the 1970 vision of exuberant, joyful playing. Good, prominent coaches abroad, like Scolari, Zico and Vanderlei Luxemburgo, was also emphasising this sense of order and discipline. Finally, the chaotic nature of Brazilian clubs’ financial situation was noted, as shown by the flood of Brazilian players plying their trade abroad. The result of these trends was to present a paradox according to Couto: ‘rich’ football on the pitch, and ‘poor’ off it.
Finally Nelson Motta, a music producer and radio presenter, gave a good overview of Brazilian popular music, from Pixinguinha and Carmen Miranda to Mr Bongo, Favela Chic and D2 today. There weren’t any discernable themes in his lecture, but as I said to the Brazil Centre’s Leslie Bethell afterwards, it would be really useful to have Motta’s words kept for those looking for an introduction into the subject.
I also made a contribution by asking Motta if he felt that the resentment and jealousy accorded to Carmen Miranda by the Brazilian public in the 1940s and 1950s had gone away. Motta had stressed that Miranda had been repackaged for a different audience, made exotic and sexy to Americans when she tried to break the Northern market. In response Motta suggested that no, little had changed. He cited the case of Bebel Gilberto, with a strong musical pedigree and great songs, who remains unknown by Brazilians at best, and the subject of contempt in much the same way as Miranda – even if she didn’t have to be re-branded in quite the same way. But then, did she need to be? Brazilian stereotypes, whatever Couto claims, still remain.