Sunday, 5 February 2012

Television, The Drug of The Nation

Back when Your Life Is An Impossibility was a strapping young buck of a blog, and not the shrivelled, empty husk you see before you today, the suggestion was mooted that all this wandering around in search of so-called “real life” (drinking in dingy bars in downtown Recife, risking life and limb on lunatic footballing jaunts across the country, involving oneself in relationships with the womenfolk of a string of nefarious ne’er-do-wells) was all a bit of a waste of time, and that the only thing you really needed to do to understand the beating heart and soul of a place was to tune into local FM “yoof” radio.

YLIAI now feels pretty ashamed about writing such foolishness. Of course listening to local FM “yoof” radio is no way to really grasp the cultural identity of a country or city. What is, however, is TV.

TV! Funny, really, how our lives, our histories, are shadowed by TV. For example, and speaking of ashamed, YLIAI, had his Neighbours years, several decades ago. Then his Brookside years. Then, when he finally wised, up, his Cheers years, and his NYPD Blue years, and his ER years, and his Sopranos years, and his Mad Men years. Each of these programmes, if YLIAI concentrates hard enough, conjures up a time, a place, a job, a living room, a sofa, someone on the sofa for company (or even better, blissful solitude).

Now, it seems, after ducking it for the best part of six years, YLIAI is living through his Brazilian TV years. More specifically, his Globo years. And branded into his mind forever, probably, will be the place, Goiania (sob), and the someone(s) on the sofa for company, Francis Begbie and Flup, the idiot Pekingese.  

First up is that world of hard hitting social drama, the Brazilian novela. Fina Estampa, to be exact, which involves a dizzying array of people (all of them upper middle class if not filthy rich, most of them fairly physically attractive, perhaps the novelas single saving grace) involving themselves in shenanigans of a sexual, financial, familial or criminal nature. It’s a bit like Dallas or Dynasty remade for the 21st century, without the gritty realism.

But wait. That’s not entirely fair. Fina Estampa, in fact, contains dollops of gritty realism. Only it’s gritty realism of an upper middle class Brazilian stripe, and therefore not immediately recognisable as such.

Exhibit A: The middle aged, though still relatively glamorous, psychiatrist Danielle goes to a party in a motorbike shop (why is not really explained). There she is approached by strapping hunk Enzo (who serves no particular purpose other than being a strapping hunk). Danielle rejects Enzo’s advances, and heads for home. Enzo follows Danielle, and in the street, tries his luck again. Danielle tells him firmly where to go. Enzo tells Danielle that “he knows what she needs”, and forces a rather aggressive kiss on her botoxed lips. 

Danielle flees to her office, nearby, to compose herself. Visibly shaken, after a moment’s reflection, she realises that despite being an intelligent and successful woman, what she really needs to fill the gaping hole in her life is a bit of Enzo action. She rings down and releases the door to the building. The rather cocksure Enzo, lounging against a nearby tree, springs into action and rushes upstairs. Steamy lovemaking in the style of 1980s Hollywood blockbusters featuring Michael Douglas or Alec Baldwin ensues. Globo’s message to the people of Brazil: if she says no, pin her against the wall in a dark alley and force yourself upon her. She’ll soon realise that she really wants it.

Exhibit B: Plucky lower middle class (she is described in the publicity material as "poor", but isn't really) heroine Grizelda wins the lottery. She then buys a nice house in an upper middle class gated condominium complex. The neighbours in the upper middle class gated condominium complex make it very clear that people of Grizelda’s ilk are not at all welcome as neighbours. Also, Grizelda’s teenage daughter, Amália, is almost burnt to death in a house fire, before almost dying in a car crash because someone has planted a snake in her car. Grizelda’s son Quinzé is poisoned and falls into a swimming pool, where he almost dies. Grizelda falls in love, then has her heart broken, by dashing restaurateur René. Globo’s message to the people of Brazil: Poor folk, know thy place. Social mobility is A Very Bad Thing.

So much for novelas. What could provide a better snapshot of modern Brazilian social mores than Big Brother Brasil? Not much, as long as the modern Brazil you’re looking to discover does not involve any part of the norte, nordeste or centro-oeste of the country – apart from one, lonely, mato-grossense, trapped amongst all the southerners, and referred to continually as “the hick”, and a token Baiana, who didn’t last longer than the first few weeks.

Big Brother Brasil is also prohibited by federal law from including any of the poorer 90% of the Brazilian population, as the ever alert Globo quickly realised that whenever poor Brazilians were allowed in, they tended to win any public votes by a landslide, as well as generally looking a bit scruffy among all the sleekly beautiful people in the house.

There was a black chap on the show for a while (it is not known how he sneaked past security) but he was expelled from the house following a rape scandal, during which, while paralytically drunk, he seemed to be enjoying himself a little too much under the covers with a sleeping, and also paralytically drunk, toothsome female housemate. The case looks destined to end in court, although it seems that Globo, who supplied the copious amounts of alcohol imbibed by the pair, and a single bed for them both to sleep in, as well as asking the female contestants things like “do you like sex? Do you? How much do you like it?” during the first episode, will not be on the stand. Globo’s message to the people of Brazil: By God things would be much better in Brazil if everyone was white, upper middle class and from the sul and sudeste. The rest of you are just bloody savages.   

The problem is that YLIAI doesn’t have much interest in what playboyzinhos and patricinhas from Florianopolis, Curitiba and São Paulo get up to in their scanties (well he does, but that’s another story for another time). But wait. What’s this? A Justiceira De Olinda, a drama about love and betrayal, from Pernambuco, and starring Juliana Paes? What fun!

The epically bosomed Janaína is married to Anderson. She spots Anderson cavorting in the kitchen of a blonde neighbour. Horrified, she proceeds to cut off Anderson’s penis with a big knife. It then transpires that the blonde neighbour was in fact Janaína’s friend (played by the genuinely wonderful Leona Cavalli, star of YLIAI’s favourite ever Brazilian film, Amarelo Mango) and the pair were merely planning a surprise party for Janaína’s birthday. Janaína and friend rush Anderson to hospital where his penis is sewn back on.

A few weeks later, Anderson is ready for action. And imagine our couple’s joy when they discover that Anderson’s rather puny member has been accidentally replaced by a much bigger piece of equipment! The final scene shows another woman, in another bedroom in Olinda, discovering that her husband, presumably also back from the hospital, now has a much smaller penis. That this couple are black is surely mere coincidence. What a hilarious mix up, etc. Globo’s message to the people of Brazil: In the nordeste, the only thing that people really worry about is booze, football and cuckoldry. Also, all black men have really big knobs.

YLIAI feels sad. He wanted to like Globo, he really did. But he has no choice. He’s going to have to change channels. Things will be better on the other side, he’s sure of it. What’s this? O Melhor do Brasil with Rodrigo Faro, on Record? Looks like fun. Seems to be a man, blacked up in Black and White Minstrel Show fashion, dancing the Rebolation. He is surrounded by dwarves, also blacked up, also dancing the Rebolation. YLIAI starts to feel a bit sick.

Still, over on Band, there’s some proper crime reporting going on. This should be good. Brasil Urgente, with José Luiz Dantena. And it is. All manner of bloody corpses are dragged across the screen for our viewing pleasure. Mr Dantena is apoplectic. What kind of a country is this? and What barbarism!, he roars over and over. He also, finally, provides just the kind of philosophical sustenance that YLIAI’s troubled soul has been seeking.

Reporting upon the murder of a woman by her businessman husband, who then killed himself, in Minas Gerais, Dantena ponders the meaning of life, the universe and everything. What barbarism! What kind of a country is this? I mean, if you’re going to kill yourself anyway, what’s the point of killing the missus first? It’s not like she’s going to bother you anymore, is it? You’ll be dead anyway, you muppet! Next time, leave the missus alone, and just top yourself!

Quite right, says YLIAI.

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