The Brazilian media, Representation and ‘bullying’ of foreigners

Last week, the Brazilian Human Rights Commission approved a request by Congressman Marcos Rogério to remove a Guaraná commercial featuring Neymar that allegedly ‘promotes bullying against foreigners in Brazil’. Watch the video above.

In the commercial, foreigners ask Neymar how to order Guaraná, a Brazilian soda made from an Amazonian fruit. Neymar then writes the translation on a piece of paper. But he doesn’t write what they asked him – he writes common Brazilian sayings that make zero sense in the context of ordering a drink. And so the ‘gringos’ go off to Rio and embarrass themselves by saying things like “I am a dog sucking on a mango, please” (which is a phrase that means ‘ugly’).

Maybe it is a little bit offensive, but if someone is travelling to a place where they don’t know the language they should expect some confusion and ridicule. After all, there’s nothing wrong with being lost in translation – no one expects someone to speak all the languages. And if you are hung up on going places where the language is unknown to you… well, just stay at home.

In any case, the complaint was not made by any gringo (that I know of) but by Brazilian congressmen who are responsible for human rights in this country (it’s important to note that the former president of this human rights commission was largely homophobic, racist and sexist). From this I can only assume they a) have nothing better to do and b) have no idea what human rights actually are.

It’s very difficult to agree that this little prank qualifies as bullying and that this commercial somehow, as the request document put it, ‘violates the values of human dignity’ when so much of the media representation in Brazil is incredibly harmful to its own population.

For example, black women are notably either portrayed in soap operas as maids or sexual objects. The first ‘gay kiss’ on national television was aired a few months ago but comedy shows still largely rely on homophobia to make jokes. Women in general are told they are token prizes in commercials, or are regularly asked by yogurt adverts whether they are thin enough for summer.

If the issue really is ‘human dignity’ and not ‘don’t bully the gringos, they’re bringing us cash’, then why is the image of the Brazilian woman, for example, so warped? A study published by Avon in 2013 shows how women in particular have their ‘human dignity’ violated by the Brazilian media: half of Brazilian men think women are responsible for the house and 89% of them find it inadmissible when women do not keep the house clean. Around 50% of Brazilian men also think women don’t feel the need for sex and 69% of them will not allow their wives to go out without them.

Judging by the commission’s complaint against the Guaraná commercial, we can assume that these congressmen know the importance of media representation. And yet, the Brazilian media is sexist, misogynist, transphobic, racist and does not correctly portray our people – in fact they are regularly oppressed by it.

Slavery is constantly erased, and made into a joke – despite the ugly fact that Brazil was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, after bringing 3 million Africans to the country. Women are belittled and represented as sex objects. The history of native people is also constantly made fun of and the genocide of native peoples is erased by the mainstream colonialist rhetoric.

And this pathetic complaint, that uses ‘human dignity’ as an argument, is coming from a human rights commission that spent the larger part of 2013 trying to pass a bill of law called ‘Gay Cure’ that would allow doctors to treat homosexuality as a psychological disease.

When the population’s ‘human dignity’ is violated every day by harmful stereotypes and oppressive representation, it is really hard to care about Neymar laughing at a few tourists who are fortunate enough to be able to travel to Brazil to (presumably) watch the World Cup.


14 thoughts on “The Brazilian media, Representation and ‘bullying’ of foreigners”

  1. Hi Nicole. I understand your points about the fact that there are more important things to worry about. While this is true, I thought you may like to see my response to the advert, a foreigner’s point of view. It is through the power of advertising that we can present a positive picture of Brazil, it’s role models, and also provide leadership on good behaviour, respect, and love for our fellow people. For me the advert was an opportunity lost:

  2. I guess that, what Nicole’s trying to say to us all is, unless you are afro-brazillian, woman, gay and/or by any means, oppressed you shouldn’t complain, oh, and being a foreigner means you can’t be oppressed because “you are fortunate to come to Brazil” and therefore deprives you of that entitlement, or so I understood.
    I would say this though, there was a change in the Human Rights Commission and maybe there is a change regarding the policy of said Commission, for the better, one hopes.

    1. what i am saying is that a bit of mockery has nothing to do with human rights and its frankly insulting that the people who get some kind of voice are not the actual oppressed masses who need it the most.

      it is truly sad that our ‘human rights commission’ had a homophobic, sexist, racist man for a president last year & that this is what they are spending their efforts on this year. as i said, if they understand what representation and human dignity is, they should protect their own people first and foremost.

      I never once said you’re not allowed to complain about ‘oppression’ which btw this commercial is not. and yeah, i think being able to travel is a fortunate thing, not a lot of people get to do it – this does not allow for prejudices, but if you compare this tiny amount of ridicule and ‘lost in translation’ to the danger women and LGBT persons are in because of prejudices that have been hammered on the society for decades, it feels truly insignificant to me that a few gringos got laughed at while on holiday.

  3. Hi Nicole, as a long-term British resident in Brazil (with relatives near Sheffied!), I find this kind of ad tiresome. Whilst you’re right to argue that there are more important causes for the Human Rights Commission to take up, the fact is that the casual xenophobia displayed here (and in so much of Brazilian culture) springs from the same bigoted mindset which lies behind the stereotyping and marginalizing of the genuine victims of human rights abuses in Brazil (women, coloured and LBGT people, the poor). Brazil remains a deeply xenophobic country which, because it’s so invested in the myth of its ‘racial democracy’, has never fully acknowledged its own pernicious racism.

    The ad also reflects the old Brazilian inferiority complex regarding Europeans/Americans in the pleasure it takes in ‘getting one over’ on the ‘stupid gringo’. (The issue of the history and use of the word ‘gringo’ deserves a blog of its own). Unfortunately, the sheer dumbness of the ad, its feeble jokes and its primitive attitudes only serve to reinforce another stereotype: that of the backward Brazilian. Also, do you really believe, as a multi-lingual person who has perhaps struggled to acquire second and third languages, that it’s funny to ridicule foreigners trying to speak a foreign language? It’s probably worth remembering how poorly prepared Brazil is for the forthcoming global sports events in terms of the population’s capacity to speak English. Visitors are unlikely to ridicule their efforts, however. They will simply be shocked.

    Finally, it’s probably inappropriate to classify the behaviour displayed in the ad as ‘bullying’. The congressman was perhaps merely seeking to promote a more respectful attitude towards tourists. There can be nothing wrong with this, particularly in a country which, for all its natural assets, struggles to attract more tourists than Argentina or Slovenia. There is a tradition, particularly in Rio, that ‘gringos’ are fair game for abuse by canny locals. But, as Cariocas are begining to realize, with the surreal prices charged for sub-standard services all over the city, Brazilians are always going to the biggest victims of these attitudes.

    1. I feel lik if we are going to talk about bullying of gringos we should talk about how businesses constantly overprice things for unknowing foreigners who don’t speak the language, not some silly prank.

    2. Also I don’t believe it’s funny to ridicule people for not speaking the language, however as a multi-lingual person I recognize that going into another country where I do not know the language will always result in some sort of ridicule, that’s just normal. At least in my experience, it has always been light hearted and well-intentioned. In my experience, the best thing to do when learning a language is being humble about it.

      And the bit about inferiority complex is very true, however we need to ponder on why this exists – it is clear to me that this stems from colonialism and the fact that Europe in particular (and perhaps the USA later on, in exploitations of the Amazon and so on) benefited from Latin America’s natural resources and obviously became ‘superior societies’ in certain ways that Brazil is not because of this. To be honest I don’t blame Brazilians for feeling inferior or angry at this.

      Furthermore, as FIFA and Dilma attempt to get everyone in order, no protests, booing, etc, it seems like we are being told to ‘sit down and be nice to the foreigners’ which is, in itself, quite upsetting. Again, you must look back at colonialism, when our land was taken and natives ‘educated’.

      In my humble opinion anyway 🙂

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