A Gringo Perspective on Brazilian Carnival, Stereotypes and Cultural Revival

Tempo de leitura: menos de 1 minuto

Justin Murray

Brazilian Carnival

I’m from the United States, and this is my fourth Carnival in Brazil. Brazilians always ask me what I think, and I find that each year my perspective evolves. As my awareness of Brazilian culture deepens, I realize that Carnival has many facets, many interpretations, and they all have some truth to them.

Foreigners love Carnival, and every year the gringo masses come to see what the excitement is about. But what’s our experience like? Does it help us learn about Brazil’s true cultural heritage, or does it reinforce stereotypes?

STEREOTYPES OF CARNIVAL

Brazilian CarnivalThis is a delicate subject because a lot of Brazilians are very sensitive about stereotypes and misconceptions that people have about Brazil. I think there are a lot of exaggerated ideas about Brazil for sure, but could it be that they come from Carnival?

After repeating this experience so many times, and living in Brazil, I would argue that many of these negative stereotypes come from the commercialization of Carnival.

Given the fact that it is arguably the craziest party in the world, and it’s what a lot of foreigners come to Brazil for, these tourists understandably confuse it to be a pure expression of Brazil’s culture. I would argue that for most foreigners, Carnival is more of a caricature of Brazilian culture, and particularly of Rio and Salvador.

Carnival is a powerful and intoxicating marketing message that gets broadcasted to the whole world. It’s what’s being marketed, it’s what sells, and it’s the impression of Brazil that foreigners walk away with.

But isn’t this exaggeration and craziness what carnival is to a lot of Brazilians too?

Cf. Como se fala “pular carnaval” em inglês?

MY CARNIVAL EXPERIENCES

I’ve never spent Carnival in Rio or Salvador, which I imagine to be the biggest, strongest expressions of Carnival. I’ve heard there are a lot of others too, many of them much less commercialized. I spent my first year in Olinda, and the next one in Diamantina.

Right now I’m in Belo Horizonte, where I live. I know, I know, Belo isn’t supposed to have much of a Carnival. But it’s actually been growing the past few years, and there are a lot of people who really are trying to make this into a respectable cultural festival. It’s growing really fast, and it still has a lot of the grass roots energy of a people’s carnival. There aren’t many gringos, but there are blocos, and concerts, as well as bonecos and parades. It’s pretty cool.

Here are three general perspectives on carnival that I would like to explore. They are not mutually exclusive.

1. Carnival as CARICATURE OF BRAZILIAN CULTURE

This is probably the most common vision of Brazilian Carnival, and it’s what foreigners expect. As a tourist, without any knowledge of alternative movements, this is an experience of Carnival that is extremely difficult to resist. It’s the gross exaggeration of Brazilian culture, and its common in the bigger festivals. There are commercialized versions, which are expensive and exclusive, and there are more popular, street versions of this, that bring together many types of people.

Brazilian CarnivalFor me, Olinda was an incredible experience of euphoria, intoxication, and joy. I met a lot of people, and made good friends. I doubt that it was the most authentic representation of Brazilian culture, but it was more authentic than a lot of others, and at the moment, it was the experience I needed to have.

Some variation of this type of Carnival is for the masses who can afford it, and for nearly every gringo that comes to Brazil. To be honest, it’s what’s to be expected, because the entire commercial machine promotes it as THE Brazilian Carnival experience, and this is what sells.

If I had left Brazil after my Olinda experience, I would have been left with an incomplete and exaggerated idea of Brazilian Culture. My stereotypes would probably have been reinforced.

Cf. Brazil plans giveaway of 3 million free condoms for Carnival revelers

2. Carnival as SOMETHING BAD

The longer I stay here, the more I realize that there are a lot of people who don’t like Carnival, who detest it, and who avoid it at all cost. I respect their point of view, and I can see how one could think this way.

The more I listen, the more I realize that there are many valid perspectives for people who don’t like Carnival. Some people have grown out of it, while others never even liked it, and others are still deciding. And this is not even considering the perspective of poor people and the people who work during Carnival.

Some people are very negative for no good reason, while others are annoyed by the vast discrepancy between the commercial representation of Brazilian culture, and their own sense of cultural heritage. Other people simply have more important things to worry about and Carnival just doesn’t grab their attention.

3. Carnival as a CULTURAL REVIVAL

There are a lot of people who are interested in creating and experiencing Carnival as a more authentic AND popular cultural expression. They are the minority, but in every place it happens, they are the heart and soul of it, and in my opinion, it’s from them that the essence of Carnival flows.

Brazilian CarnivalDespite the gross commercialization, the caricature cultural representations, and the cynicism, it is this movement for cultural revival that connects me to a deeper sense of Brazilian culture.

In four Carnivals, I’ve developed four different perspectives, and when I put them together, it makes a lot more sense. There’s a quote by Anais Nin that I really like that says “We don’t see the world as it is. We see it as we are.” I would say the same thing about Carnival.

Cf. Textos Mastigados

IT’S TIME FOR CARNIVAL STREET PARTY!

Right now, I can hear the drums of the bloco, people singing and dancing. I can feel the vibrant energy of the masses, and for me, Belo Horizonte’s Carnival is a cultural revival, a people’s Carnival, and it’s calling me to the streets!

Anyways, these are just my reflections. I admit that I see Carnival through the eyes of a gringo, but after three years in Brazil, a big part of me really feels Brazilian. If you’ve ever lived in another country, I’m sure you know what I mean.

What about you? What’s your Carnival experience like? Do you agree or disagree? I would love to hear your point of view. Thanks for the opportunity to share with you guys!

Justin Murray was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, but he currently lives in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He is the founder of the hot new ESL blog, Real Life English.

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Taís Alcântara
Taís Alcântara
5 anos atrás

I really liked the way you distinguish a lot of types of Carnival we have in Brazil! I really agree with yours perspectives, and thanks for trying to see different points of our Big party haha!! I’m happy that even if we have so many problems, we could offer some fun time for our people and show the world about some parts of our culture! 🙂

Justin Murray
5 anos atrás

Thanks Tais for reading and commenting on the article. I’m glad you liked it! Yeah, after another year of Carnaval I think there’s a lot more to be said on this topic! Take care.

Justin Murray
5 anos atrás

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts Becky!

Justin Murray
5 anos atrás

Hey Thiago, I appreciate your thoughtful comment. It sounds like you are taking advantage of the chance to relax and recharge the batteries. Have a great extended weekend, my friend!!!

Ulisses Wehby de Carvalho

Hello Becky!

How are things? Thank you for taking the time to drop us a line.

Take care

Ulisses Wehby de Carvalho

Hi Thiago,

Thank you for the feedback. We really appreciate it.

Take care

Thiago Araujo
Thiago Araujo
5 anos atrás

Thank you for sharing this material. It was a pretty nice practice for me. I had fun.

Gabriel
Gabriel
8 anos atrás

The quote I hear the most nearby carnival days is “nobody belongs nobody”. And here it goes my stereotype to carnival, which one I do believe works for almost all of them: a party where you get drunk as hell, make out with as many different and unknown people as you want and do it all allowed for something who should once be a religious holiday. What I think of carnival? It is a great time to relax and turn of the TV for a week or maybe a month, to make sure you won’t see this plague all over the channels. Actually, I guess nobody knows anymore why the carnival exists for, it is just a period in the beginning of the year when you stop working to go and lose your mind and do whatever you want. I don’t see this as fun, I am sorry. :/ I am glad you have fun and enjoy carnival days, but I like to think that half naked women dancing for hours the same music, repeated over and over again can’t be something to be taken as a serious party. I guess it is a shame on Brazil. But, as we see, there are more people who like it than the other way around. It is life. 😉

Mário Rodrigo
Mário Rodrigo
8 anos atrás

“Carnival is more of a caricature of Brazilian culture”. Fuck yeah! That’s perfect. “We don’t see the world as it is. We see it as we are.” Great! Great quote. Congratulations! For me, Carnival is a good oportunity to rest and stay with my family.

Justin Murray
8 anos atrás
Reply to  Mário Rodrigo

Awesome comment Mário! You’re the man! And that’s a good chance to rest and hang out with your loved ones. Peace.

Justin

Antonia
8 anos atrás

I mean, there are, in fact, many points to consider, sorry, my mistake!

Antonia
8 anos atrás

Although I don’t like Carnival, your perspective is very interesting. There are, in fact, many points of you. Well, I like rock’n’roll and, for me, there’s no way to like this so popular parade. I don’t like the noise, the barely dressed women, no, no, no. Anyway, it’s nice to see that you’re having fun! Good one!

Justin Murray
8 anos atrás
Reply to  Antonia

Hey Antonia, Thanks for comment. I’m a big rock ‘n’ roll fan too! Have you ever been to a big rock festival? What about Rock in Rio? I appreciate your feedback. Good job with your English too.

Tati
Tati
8 anos atrás

I definitely fit into the group of those who don’t like – being euphemistic – carnival. I’ve never liked it and had only one carnival experience in a very small town once. I was there because I was spending the holliday with my best friend and her family and she and I decided to check how the party was in town.
I don’t like the songs they play in carnival; it really bothers me to see people getting crazy, making out with strangers, losing control and getting drunk. Ok, I’ve never been to a big carnival and you might think I have stereotyped carnival in my mind. And I also know the behavior abovementioned is not everyone’s. But, for me, it is a big mess,unconfortable and with music definitely not to my taste. Definitely not my kind of entertainment. And it also kind of disturbs me the fact that tons of money are spent with a mess of just few days.

Justin Murray
8 anos atrás
Reply to  Tati

Hey Tati, Great to hear your perspective! I know what you mean by the craziness and I’ve seen it myself. But do you take advantage of the time to do other nice things that you enjoy? Thanks for the input and CONGRATS on your English. It’s really really good!

Tatiana
Tatiana
8 anos atrás
Reply to  Justin Murray

Hi Justin!

Thanks so much for the compliment about my English! I’ve been a translator for a few years and I really love English since I was thirteen (now I’m thirty, lol), languages and different cultures in general. Although I’ve worked with English for a significant part of my life, I still find it so hard to understand some accents and confess that my listening has been a bit “rusty” depending on the kind of TV show or movie I watch. There is one thing I love about carnival: to be able to rest from work, to stay home watching movies or to visit friends, to stay home with family members, to go have fun in some place where there is no ‘smoke’ of carnival hehehe. Once I travelled to Europe and came back on “Ash Wednesday”.
That is how I usually spend Carnival. It is definitely a long break and I enjoy the fact that I can do these things I mentioned 🙂
Tati

Justin Murray
8 anos atrás
Reply to  Tatiana

That sounds like a pretty awesome chance to relax! As far as your English, you’re hanging out on a great site, so that’s one good way.

For your listening, it’s something you can improve really quickly if you listen every day. If you have a smartphone, or apple MP3 players are good because it’s really user friendly and syncs with itunes really easily… but the main idea is to listen every single day to something you’re interested in.

Whatever you want to learn about, there’s a podcast in it for sure, and you can take advantage of convenient moments traveling to (or exercising) to fill your head with English!

Here is an article with several pop culture English podcasts – http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/133274-ten-pop-culture-podcasts-worth-the-time/

One I really love is Radiolab! It’s intelligent, unique, and you learn about EVERYTHING! http://www.radiolab.org/

I hope this helps. Thanks for the comment and take care!