Monday, May 5, 2014

Brazil and the World Cup

When people ask me if I’m excited about being in Brazil for the World Cup, my initial response is to give a big, fat, fucking “FUCK NO”. The only two prospects I can foresee coming out of the World Cup are people and noise, two things that I’ve grown to despise with age. And let’s not even get into the underlying social and political implications of these kind of events. Ok. Maybe a little.

For anyone who thinks that Rio is the paradise that they’ve been propagating in the media in the past and of current day, let me tell you right now: That shit is not true. I guess if you choose to only look at one side of the city and can afford to live in the world they’re advertising, then sure, I guess it could be true, but the reality of the city? Far from it. I still see plenty of people on the streets digging through dumpsters, entire families sprawled out on ratty mattresses at odd hours of the night, and just plain ol' fucking poverty. Immense amounts of poverty. For the everyday people, the Cup isn’t going to do much. I think my landlord’s housekeeper summed it up pretty well:

“The Cup isn’t going to change anything for me,” she says. “Hospitals, universities, public transportation, it’s going to be the same. The only difference is that there will be more traffic and it will be harder for me to travel to work and home.” 

So the first thing I noticed in coming back to Brazil were the traffic changes. Changes like roadblocks directing cars towards the opposite direction it once faced, destroying a major bridge so that buses can no longer stop at the dock, and just general oddities all around. I went back to the international airport with my landlord on motorcycle through horrendous traffic (even more so than it already was) and there was a random BOPE officers just standing in the middle of the freeway, like in the middle of the fucking freeway, directing cars as if that shit was common place. I don’t know why they were doing it (on a freeway of all places), but they were doing it. 

Speaking of police officers, it’s definitely felt like Rio has beefed up its security measures in certain places, mostly the rich ones. Street crime has noticeably risen as I’m often advised to take caution in certain areas at night that I could once walk through freely. One theory is that the pacification project pushing drug traffickers out of the favelas holds the responsibility. It’s not to say that petty thieves and drug traffickers are to be classified as one in the same, but when you take away the primary source of income for individual, especially one that was already involved in illicit activities to begin with, you make certain choices. 

There are millions, if not billions, of dollars being invested into the city for these events. Surely some of that money has to improve the city, right? Well it comes back to the classic syndrome that infects all cities responsible for hosting World Cups and Olympic Games (re: South Africa and China). Most, if not all, of the money is invested into stadiums and infrastructures that will be seldom used after the event, and public sectors like healthcare and education (especially dire in the case of Brazil) is left continuing to decay further into shambles. Then of course the element of government corruption. There is this ongoing joke in Brazil that whenever the cost of a construction plan is publicly announced, people in the city half that amount to know the actual cost because the rest of it goes inside the politician’s pocket.

For me, these things are basically a continued assault on the poor and dispossessed (in this case, maybe even the everyday person). Come at me with the whole argument about how beautiful it is to see nations coming together in a world sporting event and how it is a symbolic notion of the togetherness of the globe (believe me, I get it. I’m obsessed with boxing), or even just tell me lighten up and enjoy a party. But at the end of the day, is it worth the price of what is happening and will happen to city and its people? 

Most people’s social position here in Rio will not change with the coming of the World Cup and the Olympic games, if anything, their lives will only be made more difficult since the influx of foreigners will only further congest an already overly-congested public transportation system. And I am looking forward to having idiotic fat-faced fucking tourists clamoring around the city? Well, I’d give you the same answer I gave when you first asked me about the Cup.

At the end of the day, I know what side I fall on when discussing these upcoming events in Rio, but my perspective on the whole situation is also mixed. People whom I greatly respect are coming to and have a lot of love for the World Cup. And more than likely, the people being most affected by the city changes will be watching and cheering for Brazil as they play. Don't get me wrong, I think sports are a good thing, and if you asked me how I felt at the prospect of a mega-fight coming to the city with the same social consequences at its inception, I honestly don't know what I would tell you.

I guess the important takeaway is to be aware of the social costs of entertainment and that it is a fact, not an opinion, that people's lives are being drastically changed for this sporting event. These feelings that we feel in the midst of spirited competition and the celebration afterwards are far from free. They almost never are and I guess the least we can do is show our gratitude to which they came from. 

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