The strategy of conveying power through ostentation is not new or exclusive of Brazilian culture. It has historically represented a way of life by the elite, particularly in a country marked, until just over a decade ago, by the world’s most severe inequality. A country that until the 1880s practiced slavery, having imported the largest number of slaves of any nation in history. Today ostentation also represents a way of doing politics. In the era of excessive media coverage, high profile projects are one of the keys to political success.
Rio de Janeiro suffers from a significant deficit in infrastructure in the sectors of transportation, housing, education, health care and basic sanitation. Yet over the past five years large-scale investments have taken place instead in order to meet promises made to the IOC in order to host the 2016 Olympic Games.
The funkeiro tribe (people who produce, listen to and enjoy Brazilian funk) has built a lifestyle based around the Carioca funk musical genre–a unique blend of rap, tamborzão (big drums), and bass. The genre originated in Rio–as its name indicates–and has reached all regions of Brazil with its beats and lyrics ranging from the politically conscious to sexual to violent. As it was appropriated by São Paulo’s favelas, a subgenre emerged: funk ostentação, known for its ostentatious lyrics and videoclips with explicit references to money, women, cars and material goods that signify financial and social success.
Ostentation is used as a pathway to success by political leaders and favela residents alike: people at opposing ends of Brazil’s social and economic spectrum. So what is the link between them?
Mega-events: showing off to the world
The act of hosting a mega-event is in itself an act of ostentation, due to the enormous investments and elaborate structures erected in association with such events. The hope is that through successfully carrying out such an event, the nation be seen by the world as a safe, modern, confident and wealthy country, while simultaneously convincing its own citizens that the country is entering a small circle of developed, influential nations. The 2008 Beijing Olympics consecrated China’s position as an international superpower. It is hoped by political leaders that the success of major events in Brazil will finally establish the South American giant as a globally influential country.
The international media has played into the game of ostentation politics. Initially doubting the government’s ability to host a successful 2014 World Cup, the international press celebrated the eventual delivery of the event. In the meantime, police repression and comparatively low media coverage meant those who would rather improved public health and education than expensive mega-events were not heard…