Something that drives some Brazilians and Brazil observers crazy is the international media's tendency to constant relate Brazil's misfortunes to the upcoming World Cup and Olympics. After three buildings collapsed in Rio last week, likely due to illegal construction in one of the buildings, one of the most prevalent messages throughout the English-language coverage of the tragedy was relating the events to Brazil's preparedness for the international events. Not about Brazil's building codes, or construction laws, or safety regulations (luckily, some people did cover those issues, as you'll see shortly, and there are still plenty of talented journalists providing great coverage of Brazil), but just the basics of the aftermath and why the tragedy reflects poorly on Brazil's upcoming events. Just search for terms related to the building collapse with Olympics or World Cup and you'll find dozens of results. It's not that they're completely off target; some of the articles are thoughtful and sensible, like this one from the Christian Science Monitor, which delves into some of the important issues about construction. But it makes you wonder if journalists are legitimately connecting current events to the Olympics, or if the editorial directive is to make that connection in order to inspire interest in readers.
It's not as if there has been a shortage of tragic events in Rio in particular; as Julia Michaels explains on Rio Real Blog, "In the last year Rio has seen exploding manhole covers, trolley, ferry and bus accidents, metro stoppages and electrical blackouts, among other catastrophes." She also went on to discuss the background of what happened, and why it could theoretically happen again, and why it's a serious issue for the city. But in the mainstream media, the imperative seems to be to connect any negative news events in Brazil to the World Cup and Olympics. To give you an idea of how pervasive this narrative has become, my grandmother brought it up of her own accord over the holidays, mentioning she'd been reading and hearing about it on the news.
The same types of speculations were made about South Africa before the World Cup, wondering if they would be ready in time. Things worked out fine, in the end, and they likely will in Brazil, too, even if things wrap up at the last minute or if certain projects have to be abandoned. The more important questions, of whether all of the preparations for the events will benefit Brazil, or if rushing to finish projects for the events will negatively impact the country (as in, buildings collapsing out of thin air), are discussed infrequently outside of Brazil in the mainstream media. It begs to question: once 2016 rolls around, will anyone want to cover Brazil anymore? Without the big international events to constantly peg news to, will readers and viewers care? Or will Brazil gradually lose space in the international press, particularly in the English-language press? It even makes me wonder if they'll pull correspondents after the Olympics wrap up--it seems possible, sadly, despite Brazil's continually growing global importance.
It's possible another tactic to take will be on that some outlets already use: constantly mixing inappropriate references to stereotypical aspects of Brazilian culture to serious news pieces. It's something I've written about before, and is an unfortunate ongoing trend. In some articles, it seems difficult for outsiders to treat Brazil as they would a developed country, constantly needing to throw in some banal reference to samba or bikinis. Two recent examples: a comprehensive BBC article about the Brazilian economy, an excellent piece that was trivialized presumably by an editor who decided on the title: "Brazil's economy marches to a samba beat." There was also an otherwise insightful Wall Street Journal article about start ups in Brazil, but included an unrelated photo of a Carnival dancer (with a caption making a tenuous connection to the article) and this paragraph:
"Obviously, as everyone says, Brazil is the next China—it's now the sixth-largest economy in the world. 'The not-obvious part,' Julio Vasconcellos, cofounder and chief executive of Peixe Urbano, told me, 'is there is a ton of opportunity here and very few people taking advantage of it.' Why isn't every sunny young Brazilian with a tech idea taking the leap? Because, beyond the thongs, they've got issues. (Who doesn't?)."
It may seem trivial to point out this kind of framing of Brazil, but as I've written before, I do think it makes a difference in the long run of how foreigners perceive, and consequently interact with Brazil. It also helps perpetuate the complexo de vira-lata, as aptly mentioned in the WSJ article. The World Cup and Olympics actually can provide a break from this type of stereotypical and sometimes inappropriate framing of Brazil, even if mentioning the events isn't always warranted. But it does make me wonder what Brazil's "hook" will be in the international media after 2016. I guess we can expect a lot more samba references.