Read on, if you think so– even if you got here by Googling for sexy photos
After the devastating events of the last few weeks in Rio de Janeiro, many Cariocas and foreign observers have fallen into a perfidious mind-trap: the city’s transformation is either real, or false. And, if you believe it’s real, you’re either a sucker or an exploiter.
This interview in the O Estado de São Paulo newspaper, widely circulated, expresses the thoughts of a growing number of cynics. “There’s a generalized feeling that everything being done in Brazil today is just a facade. It’s very discouraging,” says André Martins Vilar de Carvalho, a psychologist and philosopher living in Rio.
Much of what Vilar de Carvalho says goes beyond his initial observation, is true, and needs to be said– over and over again:
- Brazilian developmental capitalism is savage, ultimately has no interest in spending on social needs and is solely interested in profit at any cost.
- What needs to be questioned is the “pacifying dream”, the local policy of transforming a successful initiative into a huge ad campaign of a pacified Rio de Janeiro …the thing is presented as if Rio had no more problems, it’s now an organized city, with more value… then we run the risk of a stadium built five years ago falling on our heads. We find that it was poorly constructed, obviously due to some kind of over-invoicing.
- We have no social pact, no one is talking about truly building a country for everyone. What we do have, sadly, and quite widely accepted, are individual or narrow small-group interests, but no chance to think about the greater good. The idea of “everyone looking out for himself” is socially legitimated in Brazil.
- The legacy of slavery is particularly perverse, creating a sense of unquestioned social inequality in Brazil. There is also perversity in relation to power, the idea that an elite must inevitably exist, that this abyss of income distribution is just how things are. This is a very bad feeling, very harmful for the collective approach that we need.
If you, like the Estadão interviewee, do your part for Rio by raising issues, demonstrating, and pressuring government officials, read no further.
But if you depend on the idea that all is false to turn your back on the greater good, please read on (most probably these people aren’t reading the blog, but who knows, maybe they stumbled onto it when looking for pictures of sexy funk dancers, as some do, according to RioRealblog’s WordPress statistics). Giving up on society to focus on one’s individual concerns is in itself a vote for those who would over-invoice, put poorly trained bus drivers behind the wheel, or fail to address a Brazilian woman’s rape report.
What’s more, the scenario is not a simple battle between idealists and cynics. We live and work in a context of undeniable change, not a static society. Brazil’s socioeconomic pyramid is flattening out. Despite slowed economic growth and even in the face of possible reverses — as seen in Spain and Portugal, for example– the millions who made it into the formal economy in the last five years have had a taste of new behaviors, ideas, values and possibilities– not just new flat screen televisions.
The intangibles are here to stay, and advances such as the new law requiring overtime pay and other benefits for maids will surely reinforce them. This is at the heart of what’s really going on in Rio, even if the mayor and the governor and the city housing secretary don’t quite realize the scope of what they’ve begun. The invisible are becoming visible.
The new arrivals stir concern among the traditional upper classes, whose children face increasing competition for education and jobs, as well as diaper changes and sinksful of dirty dishes. They recoil from the onslaught of mass culture that comes with a broad-based economy and democracy.
Some cariocas do perceive the larger panorama. Regina Casé, on her popular Esquenta program last Sunday, asked participating children what favelas they were from, and then discussed the definition and mapping of favelas in Rio with IETS researcher José Marcelo Zacchi. Maybe only two years ago, the idea of asking someone what favela they were from, on national television, was unthinkable.
Writer Julio Ludemir and others have raised self-esteem and helped young dancers to connect with each other and with the city at large, by way of the ongoing Batalha do Passinho, which is also chronicled in a fabulous documentary about to hit Rio theaters.
Theater director Marcus Faustini has expanded his Agência Redes para Juventude youth projects’ incubation methodology in Rio itself and beyond, to Miami, London, Manchester and Paris; he’s also working to integrate the Rio with the innovative Home Theater Festival, creating performances in homes across the city. Agência “graduates” are busy developing their projects in favelas, with a street dance workshop and performances and jazz, in Cantagalo; and a rap party in Chapéu Mangueira, among others.
The OsteRio debate series has returned, with new energy. Discussion this coming Monday will be on whether cariocas are malandros (scoundrels) or particularly creative, featuring O Globo newspaper columnist Zuenir Ventura and Rio editor Gilberto Scofield. Columbia University’s Studio X hosts useful discussions as well, which clarify aspects of Rio’s transformation such as the port revitalization process.
The 2014 gubernatorial election now looms, and will spur healthy debate about what’s been accomplished and what remains to be done, as the likely PMDB candidate, stodgy vice-governor “Pezão” Luiz Fernando de Souza, tries to maintain his party’s hold on the state, to which the likely Workers’ Party candidate, the charismatic senator Lindbergh Farias, aspires.
And, last but not least, activists, designers, journalists, researchers and thinkers from metropolitan Rio are building a new think-tank and news site: Casa Fluminense— focused above all on the year 2017.
Yes, the city is still far too violent and unjust, and we must work to change this. But observers and locals should be suspicious of those who say Brazil is the same as always. Though Vilar de Carvalho is a psychologist, he failed to point out that cynicism can disguise a wish. Some skeptics may in fact hope that Rio isn’t changing– so they won’t have to change themselves.