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National propaganda and soft power

Soft power often radiates out from the export of cultural-industry or even government products designed for internal national reasons, to promote consumption or sell ideas, in a cultural frame designed to attract and gratify national sensibilities.Two of the main media bases of soft power for Brazil are the export of music and television entertainment. These media evolved primarily to reflect the evolving popular culture and interests of Brazil. Both were driven by popular culture creators who wanted to express and add to a sense of national identity and this interacted with a similar desire by governments, notably and most formatively with the populist government of the 1930s-1940s in the case of music (McCann, 2004), and the military governments of 1964-1985 in the case of television entertainment. Major artists, writers and producers worked within a political frame that was set by governments to accomplish their national objectives, but also the political, social and cultural goals and interests of the creators themselves (Mattos, 2002; Sacramento, 2012). They also worked within an economic system in which the main boundaries and goals were set by entrepreneurs within family-based media empires who were also interested in shaping social life and politics, but even more concerned with commercial success (Sinclair and Straubhaar, 2013).

For example, as commercial television was consolidated in the 1970s, content promoted consumption through advertising, product placement and plot themes about how to be upwardly mobile (Mattos, 1984; La Pastina et al., 2004). While aimed at internal Brazilian development, these messages promoting commercial development became part of the message exported, when television exports started in 1975-1976, forming a major base of Brazilian soft power.

Brazilian music, as well as film, news and television, have all taken in a lot of influence from abroad, particularly the US. As we will see below, much of that influence was creatively hybridized into Brazilian media. Perrone and Dunn examine a 1959 song, ‘Chiclete com Banana’ (‘Chewing gum with bananas’), which playfully acknowledges how much Uncle Sam is influencing Brazil, but wants to speak back to the US, to have Uncle Sam hear and even play Brazilian music, too.They see that as a metaphor for the desire of Brazilians to have others, in the US and elsewhere listen to (and watch) their culture, of which they are very proud (Perrone and Dunn, 2002).Thus, artists and those at the creative end of civil society in Brazil also want to export their culture, as a kind of grassroots urge for soft power as something not only driven by cultural attaches or industry executives.

Soccer, samba and hybrid beauty

The soft power of a nation abroad is affected both by how people and institutions within the culture try to represent it to themselves and to others abroad, and by how people from abroad, explorers, colonists, travelers, artists, writers and media creators represent it. This is particularly true of relatively new nations, like Brazil, which have been extensively imagined from both within and abroad (Sadler, 2008). Sadler argues that Brazil has long been imagined both at home and abroad in terms of race and nature, both positively and negatively, of noble savages and cannibals, of Edenic nature and a green hell of impenetrable jungle, particularly in the first couple of centuries after its ‘discovery’ by Europeans. As Brazil became more modern in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Brazilians had to deal with these received images, as when the early twentieth-century poet, Oswald de Andrade deliberately seized on the cannibal image to celebrate Brazil’s creative hybridity (Andrade, 2001; Sadler, 2008). In a related manifesto of the same era, de Andrade also calls for‘poetry for export’, not only to absorb and rework foreign culture, but to create culture that can be exported back to other modern nations, since much of this wave of thought was about how to create modern art in Brazil. Dunn argues that this movement and idea helped shape later tropicalist Brazilian music and other culture for export (Dunn, 2001).

By the twentieth century, Brazil had more tools with which to shape its own image, internally and externally, such as poetry and fiction, art, music, sports, developed versions of popular culture festivals, radio, film and television. However, Brazil still had to struggle with images made about it by neighbours like Argentina, its former colonial power Portugal and global powers like France, Britain and, particularly, the US, as both a regional and a global power, and the dominant imagemaker of the twentieth century (Shohat and Stam, 1994; Perrone and Dunn, 2002; Sadler, 2008). For example, as the US tried to engage with Brazil to win goodwill and a military alliance during the Good Neighbor Policy era of World War II, the State Department asked Walt Disney to make films about Argentina, Brazil and Mexico (Saludos Amigos, 1942; The Three Caballeros, 1944) to show them in a positive light, but ended up creating lasting stereotypes about them internationally (Goldman, 2013).

Key aspects of the cultural base for what would become Brazilian soft power began in the 1920s. Theoretically, a good way to understand this phase of Brazilian culture was the articulation through artists of an ethnically and culturally hybrid set of practices and ideas for making music, arts, writing, poetry, popular culture such as festivals and holidays, and sports. Much of the dynamism of Brazilian popular culture, particularly music, festivals like Carnival (a large pre-Lenten festival with European roots, but a large Afro-Brazilian influence through music and dance), and sports, came from Afro-descendent or mixed-race performers and artists, as well as from indigenous and European traditions.

Artists from both Black and European cultures in Brazil began to proclaim the value of a hybrid culture within which to be creative. Modern Art Week in Sao Paulo in 1928 ended with a proclamation of‘Cultural Cannibalism’, a home-grown Brazilian mix of indigenous, European and African cultures, and this was considered a desirable trend to be embraced (Andrade, 2001). It can be seen in the incorporation of indigenous, African and mixed imagery and themes in high art, like painting and sculpture, as well as in the inclusion of samba, Carnival, soccer and other aspects of popular and folk culture in mainstream media and government promotion of mass culture as a means of unifying national identity (McCann, 2004). The poetry, literature and art that came out of this movement was hailed abroad, as were samba, soccer and Carnival, reaching a celebratory status in foreign films like Flying Down to Rio (1933) and Black Orpheus (1959), which form part of Brazil’s soft power in the world.

Government promotion of samba at home and abroad

Due to a climate partially influenced by European scientific racism, samba and Carnival had been repressed as undesirable ‘Black’ culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hennano Vianna noted the rapid transformation of samba from repressed and despised Black culture in 1910 to the primary symbol of Brazilian national identity in the 1930s—1940s, as well as one of its first big cultural exports (Vianna, 1999).That came in part as a number of European descended intellectuals and cultural intermediaries, such as artists, writers, government officials and cultural industry managers, began to admire and promote samba culture, Carnival, and the careers of Black musicians (Vianna, 1999; McCann, 2004).

The Brazilian government under Getulio Vargas saw the promotion of samba music, through Carnival, events, recordings and radio, as a way of unifying the nation (McCann, 2004). Vargas also began to see it as a form of soft power, paying the travel expenses to send Carmen Miranda to the US in 1939 to create a good impression and, reportedly, to sell more Brazilian coffee in the US (Sadler, 2008). The Brazilian government had earlier sent an orchestra of samba musicians to Europe in 1925, so this idea of promoting Brazil abroad through popular music was not entirely new to Vargas (Perrone and Dunn, 2002). However, the promotion of Carmen Miranda as the embodiment of Black Brazilian samba - a white woman, born in Portugal, who came to be seen as its most famous interpreter - privileging white performance of Black music, demonstrated, in both the creation and export of some of the most visible kinds of samba, a racial tension and ambivalence that was also common in the US in this era (Johnson, 2003).

Brazilian music was also recorded and distributed internationally, particularly in the Americas, as another part of the US Good Neighbor Policy ‘to attract markets and support in the World War II effort’ (Perrone and Dunn, 2002). US recording artists and technicians were sent to record Brazilian music for release in the US. Orson Welles, who had been sent along with Walt Disney teams to Brazil to make films, presented Brazilian music to Americans on the radio. This was an interestingly complex operation in public diplomacy, to create goodwill in Latin America by making other Americans more aware of their popular cultures, particularly their music.

Brazilian and US government and private commercial motives overlapped. For example, Carmen Miranda was invited to the US by a US music agent, but the trip was paid for both by Vargas and the US State Department (Perrone and Dunn, 2002). The US film industry benefited, with the films starring Carmen Miranda, and particularly Disney, which still has The Three Caballeros, starring Donald Duck, Ze Carioca (Brazil) and Pancho (Mexico), on release, and which made Brazil-only comics with the Ze Carioca character (a suave Brazilian parrot) for years. The US government benefited when Vargas, having had warm relations with both Germany and Italy in the 1930s, finally joined the Allied war effort in 1943. And Brazil gained some lasting soft power from this US-aided exposure to the world.

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