Brazil Cleans Up, and Carnival Backlash Sets In: Dom Phillips

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On the face of it, Brazil’s annual Carnival, which ended last week, was a success. The two-day national holiday is always a high-point of the year: Samba street parties unfold all over the country, tourists flock in, beer is drunk and a good time is had by all.

But not every Brazilian loves it. The phrase "I hate Carnival" is increasingly rebounding on blogs all over the country, as Brazilians post videos explaining why they don’t like the chaos, the drunkenness, the promiscuity and the sight of people urinating in the street.

Comedian and TV presenter Danilo Gentili struck a chord with a recent Facebook post, in which he advocated banning the holiday:

I wish I could be president for a day … I would make a law that would abolish Carnival for the sake of the nation. I don’t lack logical arguments: reduction of accidents; lower HIV positive rate; improve the image of the country abroad, cutting an idle week to increase our productivity; enhance the image of Brazilian women; invest the R$2 billion a year in education instead, reduce drug consumption during the Carnival period.

The Mamatracas blog -- which presents video commentaries from five well-to-do Sao Paulo mothers -- launched an anti-Carnival broadside last week.

“This is my plan for Carnival,” Priscilla Perlatti, one of its bloggers said, holding up a book. “A good book, some quiet time, away from the chaos, just me and my family.”

Interior designer Anne Rammi was next on camera, who expressed some mixed feelings about the festival:

When I was a child, I loved it. I went to all the parties, my mom would dress us up in cute costumes, we took part in costume contests, and I felt that I would be a Carnival type. That was until I became a teenager and everything became irritating. I hate samba. I hate the traffic. I hate confetti. I hate everything about carnival -- but I really want my children to have the same experience I had as a child.

The Observador Politico site took issue with the argument that Carnival is an unmitigated boon to the country's economy, in a piece headlined “Does Brazil lose or win with Carnival” by Claudia Batista. Carnival is just one of the many public holidays in Brazil, Batista noted. How much, exactly, does it cost the country in lost productivity? She wrote:

A study by the Federation of Industries of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Firjan) pointed out that the country’s industry will lose R$45 billion ($26 billion) in 2012 from the holidays. The value could represent up to 4.4 percent of industrial GDP this year.

For many Brazilians, it is perhaps the sense of amiable tropical chaos inherent in the festival that is most galling. And one event in particular in this year's Carnival seemed to sum up these frustrations. On Feb. 21 the judges' committee in Sao Paulo, meeting to decide who had won the city’s parade, was invaded by irate members of samba schools.

Tiago Faria, from the Imperio da Casa Verde samba school, led the charge, seizing the ballots and ripping them up. Outside a mini-riot took place for hours as members of the Gavioes da Fiel, a samba school that is also an organization of fans of the Corinthians soccer club, torched one of the floats. The incident, captured on television, made headlines all over Brazil.

Marcelo Duarte, a blogger for the Estado do Sao Paulo newspaper, said Feb. 22 that Faria’s action probably would not be well received by his samba school’s sponsors, the optical brand Transitions -- whose name was clearly visible on his shirt as he wreaked havoc in the judges' box.

“It was the first time Transitions had sponsored a samba school, and apparently the last as well,” Duarte wrote.

Still, despite the rising voices of naysayers, no Brazilian politician is going to be foolhardy enough to mess with Carnival -- an event that culturally, economically and, most importantly, emotionally says more about Brazil than any other. It's a ritual in which Brazilians find escape from the grind of everyday life to live out a Carnival fantasy.

As Gentili observed:

We have already had presidents who sank education, housing, agrarian reform, inflation, family income, jobs, and even a president who stole our savings. Nobody complained. But if I were to end Carnival, they would certainly kill me … Even knowing the risk that I face, I would accept this suicide mission. After all, it’s better to die in the country of Carnival than to live in the Carnival of this country.

(Dom Phillips is the Sao Paulo correspondent for World View. The opinions expressed are his own.)


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