Cup and Culture

ArgentineColorsPiaui

Source:Altivo Neto,  http://www.180graus.com

The World Cup is underway and Brazilians have painted their neighborhoods in the national colors.  However, as the Folha de Sao Paulo reports, residents have used Argentina’s sky blue and white instead of Brazil’s green and yellow.  Although perhaps partially in jest, the paint job reflects Brazil’s perplexing and difficult moment. Indeed, Brazil played a disappointing 1 x1 tie in its opener against Switzerland and President Temer is officially Brazil’s least popular President with a rejection rating above 80%.  So not much room for optimism.   The electoral campaign for the general elections in October will not officially start until after the end of the Cup but the field of candidates, if one can believe the polls, comes down to right wing former military captain Jair Bolsonaro, leftist former governor Ciro Gomes, environmentalist and former candidate in 2014, Marina Silva and Sao Paulo’s former governor and perennial presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB.

Former President Lula has watched from jail in Curitiba over the last 2 months but continues to insist he is candidate although his corruption conviction excludes his running.  If he is included in the polling, he leads all candidates by a good margin.  Lula also has an appeal pending and it is being judged on June 26 in Brazil’s Supreme Court.  A favorable ruling could lead to his release but he would still be forbidden from running according to election rules.

While the Cup and Carnaval usually bring out Brazil’s well known creativity and light hearted improvisation, things seem to be different this time around as the blue and white paint job in Teresina seems to show.  The economy has barely pulled out of the two-year recession which started in earnest in 2015 and the current estimates for growth will perhaps, at best, keep up with Brazil’s demographics at 1.7 percent per year.  The Temer administration adopted a slogan that Brazil had come back 20 years in 2”.  The population, of course, understood this to mean that Brazil had gone back 20 years in the 2 years since Temer replaced impeached President Dilma Rousseff.

Brazilians are upset.  They have rejected the entrenched politicians and their support of populists to the right (Bolsonaro) or to the left (Ciro) indicate not so much their love of the candidates but mainly the despair of the old political system and the corruption.  Faith and favor in democracy is at an all-time low as Brazilians perceive that politicians have manipulated the system to their exclusive benefit.  While the vote is mandatory, close to 40% of the electorate are likely to null their ballots showing their revolt and consternation.

The foul mood correlates closely with the economic stagnation.  Those with resources are seeking opportunities in Portugal, other European countries and the US even in the face of Trump’s anti-immigration policy.  Brazilians love traveling abroad but only leave definitively when they feel the doors of opportunity have closed and they need to find hope (a defining characteristic of the Brazilian personality) outside the country.  Veja, one of Brazil’s leading news weeklies, reports that some 62% of Brazil’s young people would abandon the country if they could.

Brazilian essayist and play write Nelson Rodrigues during the World Cup of 1958 identified Brazil’s “stray dog” complex as a result of the monumental Maracanazo loss to Uruguay in the World Cup Final of 1950.  He also noted Brazil’s countervailing extreme in the feeling that with Brazil’s first Cup win in 1958, no other country can match skill and innate creativity of the Selecao as evidenced by its unmatched 5 Cup trophies.  Still, moods swing to extremes.   When the national team performs well, everyone takes part with exuberance and solidarity.  When things go poorly, people lament, complain and cry collectively.

Fernando Lanzer and Jussara P. Souza, in their recent book Para Entender a Cultura Brasileira, use Gerd Hofstede’s cultural dimension methodology to interpret.  Indeed, Brazilians score high on Hofstede’s collectivism measure where individuals define themselves as members of a collective group.  They also score high the “power distance” or acceptance of authority and authoritarian aspects of society which affect the individual.  A third dimension deals with “uncertainty avoidance” and here Brazilians also score relatively high demonstrating a desire for predictable and stable situations.  The combination of these measures might help explain the popularity of Bolsonaro or Ciro Gomes or even Lula’s popularity as a benevolent, yet strong, paternalistic figure.

Of course, culture challenges sociological measures and even using all 5 of Hofstede’s dimension in combination, it is still impossible to accurately predict what factors will lead to mass protests or even lasting celebrations.  Everyone knows that carnival lasts less than a week but Brazil’s skepticism regarding the national team will only be alleviated if Marcelo and his companions can kiss the trophy again and even such a victory is pyrrhic  Certainly more is needed to cure and mature the national psyche.

Brazil’s needs are clear and they go beyond the Cup, futbol and partying.  These are diversions and the real demands are for economic growth with less inequality, better basic education, more individual responsibility and respect for others.  While simple, their achievement requires consistent investments in the basics (education, health, water and sewage).  However as long as there is no consensus and polarization continues, Brazil relegates itself to stray dog status, a country with potential but without success.  On the other hand, as Brazilians leave the country, and get increased exposure to the rest of the world, there is also the possibility of broadening participation, greater access to mobility through individual initiative and a recognition of the good readily available in the Brazilian mind, heart and soul.  Mexico’s great educator, Jose Vasconcellos, called Brazil’s mixture the great universal race and It is still possible that this great mestizo country may yet find a way out its quandary.

 

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