Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Escaping Reality With Brazil’s Globo TV

NOV. 10, 2015

Vanessa Barbara
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Last year, The Economist published an article about TV Globo, Brazil’s largest broadcast network. It reported that “91 million people, just under half the population, tune in to it each day: The sort of audience that, in the United States, is to be had only once a year, and only for the one network that has won the rights that year to broadcast American football’s Super Bowl championship game.”

That figure might seem exaggerated, but all it takes is a walk around the block for it to look conservative. Everywhere I go there’s a television turned on, usually to Globo, and everybody is staring hypnotically at it.

Not surprisingly, a 2011 study supported by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics found the percentage of households with a television set in 2011 (96.9) was higher than the percentage of those with a refrigerator (95.8), and that 64 percent had more than one television set. Other researchers have found that Brazilians watch four hours and 31 minutes of TV per weekday, and four hours and 14 minutes on weekends; 73 percent watch TV every day and only 4 percent never regularly watch television. (I’m one of the latter.)

Among them, Globo is ubiquitous. Although its audience has been declining for decades, its share is still about 34 percent. Its nearest competitor, Record, has 15 percent.

So what does this all-pervading presence mean? In a country where education lags (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently ranked us 60th among 76 countries in average performance on international student achievement tests), it would imply that one set of values and social perspectives is very widely shared. Furthermore, being Latin America’s biggest media company, Globo can exert considerable influence on our politics.

One example: Two years ago, in a bland apology, Globo confessed to having supported Brazil’s military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985. “In the light of history, however,” it said, “there is no reason to not recognize explicitly today that this support was a mistake, and that other editorial decisions in the period that followed were also wrong.”

With these hazards in mind, and in the name of good journalism, I watched a whole day of Globo programming on a recent Tuesday, to see what I could learn about the values and the ideas it promotes.

The first thing most people watch each morning is the local news, then the national news. From those, one might infer that there is nothing more important in life than the weather and the traffic. The fact that our president, Dilma Rousseff, faces a serious risk of impeachment and that her main political opponent, Eduardo Cunha, the speaker of the lower house of Congress, is being investigated for embezzlement, get less airtime than the details of traffic jams. Those bulletins are updated at least six times a day, with the anchors chatting amicably, like old aunts at teatime, about the heat or the rain.

From the morning talk shows and other programs, I grasped that the secret of life is to be famous, rich, vaguely religious and “do bem” (those who stand on the side of good). Everybody on-air loved everyone else and smiled all the time. Wondrous tales were told of people with disabilities who had the willpower to succeed in their jobs. Specialists and celebrities discussed that and other topics with remarkable superficiality.

I decided to skip the afternoon programs — mostly reruns of soap operas and Hollywood movies — and go straight to the prime-time news.

Ten years ago, a Globo anchorman, William Bonner, compared the average viewer of the news program Jornal Nacional to Homer Simpson — incapable of understanding complex news. From what I saw, this standard still applies. A segment on a water shortage in São Paulo, for example, was highlighted by a reporter, standing at the local zoo, who said ironically: “You can see the worried look of the lion about the water crisis.”

Watching Globo means getting used to platitudes and tired formulas; many news scripts include little puns at the end, or an inanity from a bystander. “Dunga said he likes to smile,” one reporter said about the coach of Brazil’s national soccer team. Often, a few seconds are devoted to disturbing news like a revelation that São Paulo would keep operational data about the state’s water supply secret for 15 years, while full minutes are lavished on items like “the rescue of a drowning man that caused awe and surprise in a little town.”

The rest of the evening was filled with soap operas, from which you could learn that women always wear heavy makeup, huge earrings, polished nails, tight skirts, high heels and straight hair. (On those counts, I guess I’m not a woman.) Female characters are good or bad, but unanimously thin. They fight one another over men. Their ultimate purposes in life are to wear a wedding dress, give birth to a blond-haired baby or appear on television, or all of the above. Normal people have butlers in their homes, where hot male plumbers visit and seduce bored housewives.

Two of the three current soap operas talk about favelas, but with little resemblance to reality. Politically, they tend toward conservatism. “A Regra do Jogo,” for example, has a character who, in one episode, claims to be a human rights lawyer working with Amnesty International in order to smuggle bomb-making materials to imprisoned criminals. The advocacy organization publicly complained about that, accusing Globo of trying to defame human rights workers throughout Brazil.

Despite the high technical level of production, the novelas were painful to watch, with their thick doses of prejudice, melodrama, lame dialogue and clichés.

But they had their effect. At the end of the day, I felt less concerned about the water crisis or the possibility of another military coup — just like the apathetic lion and the empty women of the soap operas.
Correction: November 10, 2015

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described a brief report by Globo television about the status of operational data on São Paulo’s water supply. The report said the data would be kept secret for 15 years, not that it had been kept secret for 25 years.
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Vanessa Barbara is a columnist for the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de São Paulo and the editor of the literary website A Hortaliça.

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Source: New York Times (USA)
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/11/opinion/international/escaping-reality-with-brazils-globo-tv.html?_r=2

In Portuguese:
Deu no New York Times: “Rede Globo, a ‘TV irrealidade’ que ilude o Brasil”

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