The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil
Time goes by, but Brazil is still seen as a sexual Disneyland where violence is second only to soccer as a national sport. Here is a little overview of the long road that led to country’s present image overseas:
It all began in the 40s…
If asked to name one famous Brazilian, the average foreigner will quite probably remember the exotic Portuguese-born Carmen Miranda and her exuberant edible headdresses. So, Brazilian girls must be fun, out of control and slightly crazy. A little bit like Lucille Ball – if she ever showed her belly button.
The other strong reference in the forties is the 1944 Disney production “The Three Caballeros”, an animated musical that introduced character José (or Zé) Carioca, a cigar-smoking parrot. This typical Rio malandro is a bohemian type, always dapper in a white suit and straw hat, playing samba and courting some pretty girl.
In the 50s and 60s…
In the 70s…
The Brazilian government is partially responsible for the sexy image that stuck to the global imaginary. For a long time, Embratur, the official tourism promoter, distributed posters and leaflets that placed the feminine beauty as a centerpiece of the country’s attractions. In later years, the agency repositioned its publicity to focus rather in the country’s natural landscapes and cultural diversity. The country’s strategy to promote tourism (or lack of) was further discussed in another post, Paradise still unexplored
These Embratur ads from the late 70s and 80s were collected by Kelly Akemi Kajihara as part of her graduation project at Universidade de São Paulo. Her study on the construction of the image of Brazil abroad got awards and praises for its quality.
In the 80s…
“Blame it on Rio”, 1984 film with Michael Caine and Demi Moore. A middle-aged tourist becomes intimate with the teenager daughter of his best friend and blames the unbridled sexuality of the locals for his misconduct. Yeah, good try. They circulate in a version of Ipanema beach where the topless girls play with their little monkeys.
In the 90s…
This selection of postcards depicting the best landscapes of Rio and Fortaleza used to be more common a couple of decades ago, but they still can be found in some tourism spots.
In the OOs…
There is an obvious switch of focus. Our unbridled tropical sensuality loses some of its appeal and violence gets the front stage.
In “Blame it on Lisa”, The Simpson’s episode aired in March, 2002, the yellow cartoon family travels to Rio in search of an orphan that Lisa was sponsoring. The episode was not particularly popular in the country: it showed tons of violence (Homer is kidnapped and has to pay a ransom) and an oversexualized TV show for kids (inspired by the infamous Xou da Xuxa – mentioned in a previous post about The 10 ugliest album covers from Brazil). Then President Fernando Henrique Cardoso complained it “brought a distorted vision of Brazilian reality”.
In another episode, aired 5 years later, the Simpsons showed, once again, all their love: “This is the most disgusting place we’ve ever seen…”
Finally, in the 10s, things must be changing, right?
Not yet, really. Check this racy 2009 ad for a small Italian fashion label, Relish, that caused an uproar in Rio for depicting local policemen submitting foreign tourists to an intimate inspection.
And let’s end this ranting with the closing scenes of the 2012 London Olympic Games, that depicted a White British cop harassing a Black Brazilian street sweeper, who appeases the policeman with his charm and dancing skills.
I want to hear your opinion about all this. Does this discussion matter at all? Do you think it reduces the country’s appeal to tourists or investors?
Full version of “Olhar Estrangeiro” (Foreign Eye), 2006 documentary by Lucia Murat includes interviews in English with foreign directors, writers and stars who were involved in some key films about the country and helped to perpetrate this vision (among them, “Blame it on Rio”, mentioned earlier). Listen to the perspective of Michael Caine, Hope Davis, Zalman King, Jon Voight, Philippe de Broca, Robert Ellis Miller, among others.
sex, tourism, Women, Zé Carioca