Lula de Novo Com a Forca do Povo

Last night we went to Marco Zero to watch the election results and party. I guess it would be fair to say that we went to watch the party...All of Recife Antiguo was filled with people wearing red and yellow with flags everywhere. There were some small Carnival blocks, percussions groups, a big stage, and lots of frevo. Frevo is the beat that moves Pernambuco. Everyone knows all of the songs and the rhythm makes you want to jump around. It gave Sam a taste of what Carnival is like here...I am not sure if he is going to like it. The amount of venders that show up for the events is quite impressive--any kind of food and drink possible. My favorite was the guy walking through the crowd with a vodka bottle taped to an orange fanta bottle with the cups over the bottleneck and the bag of ice tied onto the end. The perfect party kit. There was another guy dressed up quite nicely walking around with a tray of cups of ice selling whiskey--very chique. Amazingly, enough we actually found some friends in the crowd and had a couple of caipiroskas.

Oh yeah, and the politics. Can't forget the whole reason for the party. Lula was reelected last night as president of Brazil (with more than 60% of the vote) and here in Pernambuco Eduardo was elected governor (I swear I don't know his last name! All of the campaign information just said "Eduardo." I wonder if it has to do with that scandal a couple of years ago...). This was the run-off election because Brazil being a civilized country (unlike another country that shall remain nameless) has a run-off election if the candidate did not win by more than 50% of the vote. Both of these candidates are PT (workers party). Lula is actually from the interior of Pernambuco so he has a lot of support in the Northeast. It is interesting to look at the map of Brazil for the October 1st election-- it is completely divided in half (Blue=Alckmin, Red=Lula) . A country divided?

The north voted for Lula and the south voted for Alckmin. I heard some people say that they were voting for Lula because at least he will think about development for the Northeast. Good point there. The north and northeast of Brazil are the poor neglected cousins of the rich south. The economy of the country is driven by southern industry while the northeast languishes in giant sugar plantations owned by the sugar barons of the past or giant companies. You drive through the countryside here and all you see is sugar cane. No houses, no agriculture, no food being produced, just sugar. The Movimento Sem Terra (landless farmers movement) has some shacks built alongside the sugar cane, but there is only work cutting cane for about half the year. The land reform movement never happened here and land ownership is still colonial with the plantation owners from the days of slavery still controlling giant tracts of land in Brazil.

I would also like to throw in a little theory of mine regarding the desserts here. I think that from the colonial days sugar = wealth and so that is why the desserts are so unbelievably sweet. Showing off your sugar, so to speak.

Sorry--agricultural and dessert side track

Lula has had some corruption scandals during his administration (nothing new in Latin America), but people really believed that the PT would change things. They promised a new Brazil, and so far, it hasn't happened. To be fair, 4 years is a short time to change such a messed up system. Lula has instituted some social programs like the bolsa familia and the cesta basica (basic food basket) that have helped many people get out of complete poverty, but without jobs they have no where to go. None of the corruption scandals has traced to Lula, but pretty much everyone else in his cabinet is dirty. Anyone remember the guy caught at the airport with literally $100,000 in his underwear? Small change. Also, apparently Eduardo had some sort of corruption scandal in the past. That happens all the time. Steal some money, let some time pass, run for election again. How frustrating.

Hopefully the next four years will bring better things for Brazil. The energy of the people working for change is amazing. That energy is moving all over Latin America...


The surfista

I just can't let this go by without a comment. About a month ago Sam needed a haircut, and instead of old reliable we ventured one street over to the place especially "For men." There were quite a few clues that should have sent us straight out the door, but you know how it is--once you are in, it is hard to leave. We are sitting there waiting and I notice a sign on the wall that says, "One free shot of whiskey with every haircut." Then the tiny haircutter man looks over and asks, "Are you here for a manicure or a massage?" We explain that no, he justs wants a haircut. The haircutter man then whips out the book and starts asking which haircut does Sam want, "The americano? The desperado? Executivo? None of the established haircuts seemed quite right, and after pushing the americano quite hard he remembered that the surfista was missing from the book. He quickly decided it was the surfista that we wanted and proceeded to get to work. I made sure everything was clear and then left for other beautification rituals at my salon (yes, the bikini wax). Later that day Sam came home with shorter hair. It wasn't quite what he wanted but it seemed okay. It wasn't until the next day that the awful truth was revealed.

The surfista is the haircut that your brother had in middle school. The one that is long all around the top until it gets below the ears. The rest is shaved really close. A mushroom might be the best image. Sam has been suffering the surfista until yesterday when we went to old reliable and begged him to fix the damage. I really wanted to post a picture but our camera is broken. The surfista will only live on in memory.


The Media Project

Last week during the Semana Nacional de Democratização de Comunicação Anderson and I presented our first media literacy workshop on critically analyzing advertising and propaganda. Anderson works with an organization called Ventilador Cultural (cultural fan) that works in the social communication movements training people in communication techniques, production, and now MEDIA LITERACY!! We did not have a big turnout (6 total), but it was a start. The whole format went well and with some minor adjustments, we will be ready to do it again. Of course after the workshop was over everyone said how interested they are and that we should give the workshop at their organization, blah, blah. Interested? Yes. Enough to come on a Wednesday evening after work? Not a chance. Some people have even asked to use our material in their own presentations (who didn't bother to come...) hmmm. Not sure how I feel about that.

On the other hand, we did get some more publicity by doing an interview on "Sopa Diario" on the University TV station. I have to say I was really nervous--not really about being on TV, but about being on TV in PORTUGUESE. How am I going to explain what media literacy is, the purpose of our project, what the workshop was like in Portuguese? Other than one obvious blank out moment, things went okay. Most of the feedback from people was that they were able to understand me...whew. We actually have received a few emails from people interested in what we are doing and collaborating on workshops. This feels like an important first step for getting things moving. The plan is to create a series of workshops on media literacy for the community and release the material as PDF's under creative commons. At that stage we would like to begin working more with teachers and NGO leaders to do some intense trainings with the eventual plan of creating a media literacy curriculum for the public schools. This is a seriously long-term goal that is going to require grant money as some point (so I can quit teaching English!). We are starting to make some connections, and the money is out there--we just have to find it.

The media in this country is so tightly controlled and controlling. The Brazilian world revolves around Globo and the 8 pm soap opera. Interestingly, Globo was started with the help of the US during the Brazilian dictatorship...there are still questions of US involvement. There was a British documentary made about Globo called something like "More than Citizen Kane" about the owner of Globo, but it was censored and the production was never finished. I downloaded it off of the amazing site www.midiaindependente.org/ which is a spin-off of the Indy media center http://www.indymedia.org/pt/. These site allow people to upload their own media. A lot of the videos about the social movements here in Recife are on this site. I saw a great shirt during the communication week that said (in Portuguese) "Hate the media? Make media!" Such an incredible movement of people. Is this happening in the US? I can think of a few groups in Albuquerque interested in the alternative communication movement, but it doesn't seem to be one of the major discussions around the water cooler. I guess it is not a big discussion around the water cooler at my job either--except for the 2 teachers that saw me on TV. But that was more shock than anything else.

There is another amazing movement called "Quem financia a Baixaria é Contra a Cidadania" This group targets how people are being represented on TV shows in regards to human rights. There is a strong tradition of local programs that display violence and poverty as entertainment while violating the rights of many of the people they show. In many of the poor neighborhoods, the need to be seen (acknowledged) is manipulated by these programs. The campaign targets the companies that finance these programs through advertising. They have been very successful at bringing this to the attention of the government and starting to create regulations (and consequences) for violating human rights on television. Their site is: http://www.eticanatv.org.br/


Public Space Invaders

Public space. The visual environment that urban dwellers share and exchange information with on a daily basis. It is the foundation of our environment, where we receive information about ourselves and others, the intersection of place and self, and it is dominated by advertisements and messages of consumer culture. A space that should be dedicated to who we are as a people, how to work together as communities, and understanding cultural differences is dominated by private enterprise always thinking of new ways to sell you something. Why is public art illegal but a corporation can put its mark anyway with complete disregard of a person's choice of what to see and not see. They are deciding my visual environment for me. This domination of space is affecting me more and more as I venture into the world of public art/graffiti and critical media education.

We have a local park, Jaqueira, that is a lovely retreat from the chaos of the city. There is a walking path, a bike path, numerous playgrounds for children, enormous trees, a place for different types of classes, a tiny church, and a BMX bike track with jumps. As of last week it is now "Nestle Park" with giant Nestle signs everywhere. There are different Nestle products painted at every 100 meter mark, all of the equipment was repainted Nestle blue and white, there are ice cream signs with misters along the paths,nestle stuff all over the children's play equipment, and two kiosks where you can buy Nestle products and drink Nescafe. Is the government incapable of maintaining this park so it turned it into a corporate-sponsored amusement park? Was it just easier to turn it over without asking people if they want to see advertising in one of the few "ad-free" zones? Is that the trend of public spaces?

Boston Gardens has changed its name numerous time to fit its latest sponsors name. We see shows at the Journal Pavillion in Albuquerque, the convention center in Recife is Chevrolet Hall. What about the integrity of the place? The history of what it is and where it is going? Where do we make meaning from our surroundings if the only meaning is created by branding?
I just keep thinking of what society could be. What if our public spaces really were public? What if the visual images surrounding us were not based on consumption but on a desire for creation? We have followed this model without questioning why and now it is so far gone we don't even notice. How did it get so out of control? How did it become so ingrained in our mental environment?

Adbusting and culture jammers remind us that these displays are not fixed and are not permanent. They are created just like everything else in our urban landscape. Our urban environment perpetuates the cycle of consumerism and unsustainable use--culture selling culture back to itself.

Graffiti long disparaged by the official rule makers of our society is an expression that is unwilling to accept what the urban landscape is supposed to look like. While I have definite beliefs about the difference between tagging and graffiti, it is all attempting to make your voice heard in a society that has silenced everyone but the corporation. When the corporation gained its right to be "a person" it became the great censure of all of its fellow "human beings." Mass communication is not communication at all. It is corporations giving information and people receiving. Communication implies an exchange of information between both parties. Where is the exchange? How did I become relished to being a receiver with no outlet for my voice to be heard? Who makes those decisions? Why are we so afraid of taking back that space? Why are we not insisting that we have some right to decide what we see?

I think that for every "bought" space that a company occupies it should provide the equal amount of space to the community. Imagine a city where the community decides what its public space should look like. It would be varied, strange, and possibly offensive, but it would be real expression and not constant messages of culture bought and sold. Or better yet, the company should leave that equal space for trees.