Television, the drug of the Nation
Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation
So sang the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and still in 2013 I am not quite sure how much us Westerners realise how much our news is faked. One of the best examples is this clip of journalist Charles Jaco goofing around on a tv set which was supposed to be a Saudi Arabian “hotel”.
Twenty years later and CNN were caught out yet again with a fake Syrian blogger “Danny”:
It is interesting being part of a Brazilian – British couple. When my wife comes to the UK and watches the British news, it can be quite shocking, especially seeing the reporting from the Middle East, where there are relentless stories demonising the people there. And now things are moving to Africa, where “Al Qaeda” are said to be active.
Robin Cook, shortly before his untimely death, said this of Al Qaida:
Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally “the database”, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Inexplicably, and with disastrous consequences, it never appears to have occurred to Washington that once Russia was out of the way, Bin Laden’s organisation would turn its attention to the west.
(Reference: The struggle against terrorism cannot be won by military means, The Guardian, July 2005).
You know it’s funny how the BBC, Sky, CNN, Fox, you name it, never seem to recall that Al-Quaida was not a terrorist organisation at all as we are all told it is, but just a database of names of people the CIA trained. The name Al-Quaida then somehow magically transformed into the global terrorist organisation we know and love today, an organisation who always seem to be located on top of the world’s most important natural resources ay?
So that is the UK and America for you. What’s happening in Brazil?
In am learning Portuguese and everyone tells me I need to watch soap operas in order to learn spoken Brazilian. One major problem is that subtitles don’t work on our tv, so that way of learning is out for me. But Brazilian soap operas are for me utterly unwatchable as they seem to me to be wall-to-wall shouting, really really intense shouting, non-stop, and for a Brit like me it’s just all a bit too much, although Brazilians seem to love all this stuff and hang on every word and scream.
My wife suggested I watch one of their historical soap operas. I did say as we switched it on that they would start shouting any minute, and low and behold, around 30 seconds it all kicked off – nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah NAH NAH NAH! Too much again.
In Brazil some of the channels are owned by Evangelical churches who seem to have been set up in order to extract as much money as possible from some of the poorest people in this country. They run crazy news programmes each afternoon around 4pm, the sole purpose of which is to focus on every tragedy and act of violence, and broadcast these live from the ghettos with their helicopters and tv crews on motorbikes. I do watch these a little as my Portuguese is around the level of language that they use. The presenters speak slowly and repeat what they say, so in fact while it is very trashy tv, you can follow what they are saying, if only for a few minutes before needing to switch off.
There are a few shows in Brazil which defy British categorisation. When I first moved to Brazil I didn’t quite understand what was happening at all or what exactly the programme was, being a curious mix of game show, chat show, sketches and very scantily clad women who just stand in the background in very skimpy clothes.
Right, so what’s the point of all of this and what intelligent observations can I possibly make?
Let’s rewind and talk about how war is presented on the news in Brazil. Of course most of the time with the US being so dominant over the psyche of Brazil, their perspective is the one presented without question. But around 11pm in Brazil, and sometimes earlier around 9pm interesting things happen on news programmes. They actually give much more time to single items, as opposed to the utter obsession of Sky in the UK with their Breaking News. This extra time gives some of the most intelligent and articulate Brazilians time to be interviewed in a much more profound way than the soundbites which are more the norm in the UK.
In writing this blog I am always conscious that I am writing with two audiences, and while I risk upsetting my Brazilian readers in the first half of many articles, often I discuss certain things to achieve a certain effect, before looking at the point I really want to make. So for the Brazilians here, here is a video of the leader of the opposition party, Ed Milliband, in a famous interview with the BBC. The journalist asks him six or seven questions, and all Milliband can do is repeat the same phrase he has learnt by heart after every single question. The reason he does this is that he knows that most of the time, news agencies only have time to broadcast one answer, hence his absolute cynicism in providing an answer which is totally unrelated to those he was asked.
I believe that these strikes are wrong, at a time when negotiations are still going on. But parents and the public have been let down by both sides because the government has acted in a reckless and provocative manner. After today’s disruption, I urge both sides to put aside the rhetoric, get round the negotiating table and stop it happening again.
It’s sad isn’t it?
Back to Brazil. I could spend a lot of time looking at the many really high quality news, current affairs and cultural shows on Brazilian tv but thought I would look at just two from last night. It is still just one week since the monumental tragedy in Santa Maria where so many young people lost their lives in a fire in a night club. Maria and I were watching Domingão do Faustão (this translates along the lines of Big Faustão’s Big Sunday), and the presenter Fausto Corrêa da Silva was doing as he always does some silly video clips of people falling over and generally making a fool of themselves.
Faustão is an interesting character. Maria showed me some of his really early shows on Youtube from the 1980s I think. Very cheap sets with edgy bands, a little like The Tube or maybe The Word, and he himself would be really critical of the corrupt and the exploiters of Brazil. Having moved to the tv channel Globo, he now commands a huge audience, and tv adverts and product placements explicitly endorsed by Faustão in the middle of his shows cost millions. Obviously he has had to compromise his more cutting commentary, but now I am speaking a little more Portuguese, it seems the show is more than just my first impressions of vacuous laughs and vacuous women in bikinis. Last night he did himself and the country proud.
Last night after the humorous video clips had played, they cut out any razzmatazz, cut out the dancing girls, cut out the music and cut out the normally hyper audience who remained silent. I have to paraphrase as I didn’t catch everything, but looking straight into the camera he said that what was wrong and what had caused the tragedy was incompetence, stupidity, greed, laziness, corruption and sacanagem, which is fairly strong and translates as “taking the piss” (British English).
So although this is light entertainment, Faustão it seems still cares a lot about Brazil, he is patriotic and does have a huge role to play in the education and encouragement of Brazilians, who like the rest of us around the world are just getting dumped on by politicians, legislators and those focussed only on profit and not the purpose of their enterprises. can you imagine Ant and Dec or Noel Edmunds or Simon Cowell or Bruce Forsyth launching into a tirade? I can’t, it just wouldn’t happen.
Following Faustão came the sunday night show Fantastico. This is a current affairs show which also has a lot of humour and silliness in it as well, especially when discussing all the news from the weekend’s football. But it covers current affairs well and reported on the psychological impacts of the tragedy in Santa Maria on those who had survived and those families who had lost their children.
They interviewed the owner of the night club, who told us he was not to blame, as he didn’t know how many people were in the club that night and firemen had not told him what a safe level was. They interviewed the drummer of the band, who said they were not to blame since they had used pyrotechnics many times and no one had ever told them not to do it, so it was everyone’s fault for not telling them, and not the band. In Brazil it seems that no one is ever guilty of anything.
Apart from the victims of course. There are many who are really struggling to come to terms with this horrific tragedy, and many blame themselves and are suffering from huge guilt for being alive when their friends have died. It was harrowing to watch.
Fantastico also built a full size replica of the Kiss night club. My immediate reaction was to worry about this simply being audience-chasing sensationalist journalism, but in fact it really helped you understand the maze-like layout of the club, and how many barriers there were to prevent people from leaving. In Brazil you enter a bar or club and are given a piece of paper (sometimes it’s electronic). This records all your drinks, and you pay on leaving. Hence the design of the club, with many barriers, was the worst possible design to help people escape from a toxic fire.
There were quite a few details which were quite horrible to contemplate, and there is no need to mention this here. But like Faustão, given that there is now such a problem with education in Brazil, this too has the ability to teach young people how to recognise fire dangers in clubs. This education does continue even with soap operas, the historical ones which teach Brazilians about their own history (last night we watched one where black people were beginning to be allowed to play football) and some, like Salve Jorge present many social issues such as the exploitation of women. Look behind the appearance and there is an intelligence there easily missed.
Is television the drug of the nation? Of course adverts still do all they can to belittle people, tell them how empty their lives are without the latest gadget, perfume, car or clothes, just as anywhere, and there is a huge amount of violence on the screens, but this is no different to the violence I can’t avoid on the Warner Channel during the ads in between Big Bang Theory which I love.
I have to say I have leant quite a lot from the news and documentary channels here, oh, and there are some notch Brazilian films too you have never seen, so maybe if we could find a way to export some of this Brazilian culture then we will achieve a little more balance and a little less stereotyping of this ever elusive country and people?
As always, I very much welcome comments and observations in the comments section below.