Radio and Brazilian identity

Brazil is a large country, composed of a number of ethnic and racial groups, with very' different regional cultures and with a decentralized regional political structure.

For centuries, indigenous languages likeTupi or Guarani were the most widely used in many parts of Brazil, and Portuguese only gradually came to dominate. From Vargas onwards, at least, Brazilian governments have pushed hard to promote the use of Portuguese, making media in it available to all the remote and border areas of Brazil. The integration of Brazil through culture and language, and the promotion of a strong national identity have been major priorities, especially for broadcasting, which reaches literate and illiterate alike. In this way Brazil was like most developing countries (Katz and Wedell, 1976) but it pursued these goals particularly strongly in the 1930s—1940s and again under the military regimes of 1964-1985.The government still operates radio stations in remote areas, like the Amazon, to make sure they have Portuguese-language, Brazilian-oriented radio programmes to listen to.

Vargas saw the need both for radio, as a vehicle, and for music, e.g., samba and events like soccer, etc. as content to help create a strong national identity (McCann, 2004). Even before Vargas took over Radio National, its directors and programmers were already thinking about how to create a national popular culture:

These producers had already dedicated their talents to a patriotic treatment of Brazilian popular culture before the takeover, and the tone of their programming did not change after 1940 ... Most presciently, before any affiliation with the Estado Novo (New State), they endorsed Afro-Brazilian popular music as the ‘cultural essence of the nation’.

(McCann, 2004: 38)

Radio National also played a more explicitly political role in producing the ‘Hour of Brazil’ (‘Hora do Brazil1), which was mandatory for all stations to broadcast from the 1940s through the 2000s, but it was widely considered to be ineffective and unpopular, compared to the impact of popular music (de Lima Perosa, 1995). This popular music was also broadcast over an international shortwave system, aimed at North America and Europe by Vargas’ Department of Information and Propaganda in 1942, announcing, in relation to Brazilian music,‘It is the voice of Brazil that will speak to the world, to tell civilized peoples of the universe what is being done here for the benefit of civilization ... exhibiting all its beauty and splendor’ (Perrone and Dunn, 2002).

'Tropical Modernism'

In the 1950s, Brazil had increasing interactions with the outside world, taking in influences, hybridizing them, working with international partners, and projecting new ideas, developments and media out into the world. One of the most visible and lasting was still in the area of music, bossa nova, which had an even bigger impact in the US and elsewhere than samba, with major US hits like The Girl front Ipanema (1963) and major interactions with US jazz musicians like Stan Getz. This music reflects the confidence of the presidency of Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1960), ‘who had promised “fifty years of progress in five” and then undertook to build the utopian, futuristic capital of Brasilia on the high plains of central Brazil’ (Perrone and Dunn, 2002).

The new capital, Brasilia, was another dramatic expression of the optimistic era of national growth following World War II, developed by radical new Brazilian architects and city planners (DeVries et al., 2012). In some ways, the soft power of Brazil in this era reflected the fact that Brazil seemed to be doing well within the then-widely accepted paradigm of developmentalism, not only achieving rapid economic growth but showing an ability to innovate within a modern and modernist paradigm, through things such as a cool music that blended well with the global avant-garde jazz and architecture.

The Brazilian cinema of that era was also the first to have international impact. Cinema Novo echoed and adapted the patterns of French New Wave and Italian Neo-Realism, but, in the tradition of Brazilian hybridity, also created its own version of genres. Several major Brazilian auteurs rose to some international prominence, for example Glauber Rocha with films like Black God, White Devil (1964), which echoed popular themes of messianic movements and folk bandits from the less developed northeast of Brazil, but also used them to create a political critique of the conditions of the poor in Brazil (Johnson and Stam, 1982). The goal was to create a political intervention in Brazilian politics but this film and others may well have been more popular outside Brazil than inside, creating soft power abroad more than revolution at home.

If we want to generalize about this era of Brazilian soft power, it built on the existing paradigm of industrialized cultural hybridity created by the music industry in interaction with both government and the global cultural industry. Bossa nova gained Brazil much soft power by succeeding and innovating within the global artistic hierarchy of jazz and within the global music industry, without much government intervention required.The creation of Brasilia on the other hand was both a national and international intervention by the state itself to create a new focus for economic development in a somewhat empty part of the country, while also creating a very visible international symbol of Brazilian innovation. Both reflect the national base of transnational cultural power.

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