The downside to Brazil being the Country of Carnival

. Feb 19, 2020
carnival brazil image The world-famous samba school parade, in Rio. Photo: CP DC Press/Shutterstock

A popular joke in Brazil dictates that the year only properly begins after the Carnival holidays, the four-day period of festivities that takes over the nation this weekend. The idea is that the celebrations are such a big deal that the “Country of Carnival” waits until the parades and street parties are out of the way before turning their attention to anything else. As the world watches the colorful scenes that largely form the visual identity of Brazil overseas, the joke seems to be quite close to reality.

However, it might be time for Brazil to rethink about the ramifications of being globally recognized as the Country of Carnival.

</p> <p>The colorful celebrations during this pre-Lent period are associated with Brazilians&#8217; image of being the &#8220;coolest nationality&#8221; in the world, <a href="">as <em>CNN</em> once said</a>. It brings to mind the idea of joy and celebration, even in situations of national crisis, such as in 2016, when <em>The Economist </em>argued that the country was &#8220;<a href="">partying on a precipice</a>.&#8221; Or in 2018, when <em>The Guardian</em> said Brazil was &#8220;<a href="">turning to carnival as an escape from crime and corruption</a>.&#8221;</p> <h2>The Unbearable Lightness of Being Cool</h2> <p>At first, this seems to be positive. After all, the brand of a &#8220;cool&#8221; nation, one that is colorful and welcoming, is one of the most desired in nation branding approaches, as Katja Valaskivi, Director of The Tampere Research Centre for Journalism, Media and Communication (COMET) at the School of Communication, Media and Theatre (CMT), University of Tampere, Finland, argues in her book “Cool Nations: Media and the Social Imaginary of the Branded Country.”</p> <p>This perception of being the country of Carnival can be problematic, however, and the final result may be detrimental.</p> <p>First of all, the idea that the year only begins after Carnival is harmful to business. While investors are anxiously expecting the approval of economic reforms in Congress, the idea that this entire process is on hold because of a national party is not good for the country.</p> <p>There are other problems with this &#8220;party country&#8221; tag, one concerning international relations and the global status of Brazil. The problem is that this <a href="">image of constant celebration</a> seems to be at odds with the main ambitions of Brazil&#8217;s foreign policy agenda, historically connected to the goal of achieving the prestige of a major global power. While the country wants to become a big player internationally, the association with Carnival seems to make it hard for other countries to take Brazil seriously.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="carnival celebrations" class="wp-image-31810" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Revelers in Rio&#8217;s city center. Photo: A.Paes/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <h2>The Country of Carnival: a view from abroad</h2> <p>Though Brazil has strived to project positive images—and it is recognized as a cool nation—studies show the country is perceived as “decorative” and has become associated with stereotypes not generally applied to so-called &#8220;responsible&#8221; countries. The Carnival image sticks so strongly to Brazil, with international media reports on the country often illustrated with pictures of costumed samba dancers.</p> <p>Carnival is the most prominent symbol of Brazil in the rest of the world, explained academic Rosana Bignami in her book <em>“A Imagem do Brasil no Turismo”</em> (Brazil&#8217;s Image in Tourism). &#8220;Being the country of Carnival means not being the country of anything else,&#8221; she claims. It means being a country where the population lives for parties and does not perform other activities. </p> <p>A nation of madness, frenzy, and liberation from the senses in the masses of populations. It means not recognizing any other cultural event, any regional popular festival, date, hero or national symbol. “Accepting the image of a people that builds up to one popular party every year means surrendering to the image of a population that lives for just that reason,” the book argues.&nbsp;</p> <script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>This apparent conviction that a “positive” image has a negative effect appears in all of the global surveys about how Brazil is perceived in the rest of the world. One good example is <em>U.S. News</em>&#8216; “Best Countries” ranking, developed in partnership with BAV Group and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Brazil placed 28th overall in the <a href="">2020 rankings</a>, being considered number one in the &#8220;Adventure&#8221; category and 7th in &#8220;Cultural Influence.&#8221;</p> <p>However, it ranked 59th in &#8220;<a href="">Open for Business</a>&#8220;—behind Jordan, Azerbaijan, and Myanmar—52nd in &#8220;Quality of Life&#8221;, and 34th for &#8220;Entrepreneurship.&#8221;</p> <p>While the image of Brazil as a &#8220;cool&#8221; nation is certainly useful in some respects, British image consultant Simon Anholt encapsulated the broader problem when he said that &#8220;everyone loves Brazil, but the country needs more respect.&#8221;

Daniel Buarque

Daniel Buarque is a Brazilian journalist and author of the book Brasil, País do Presente (in English: Brazil: Country of the Present). He is currently completing a doctorate on Brazil’s global image at King’s College University in London.

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