Brazil offers many pleasures but also many pains and I hope the reader will permit a brief preamble on pain before we get down to the subject in hand, which, unfortunately, is not pleasure but televised political propaganda.
For sheer vulgarity and crassness Brazilian television is hard to beat, whether from the more popular stations or those which think they are more select. Every night, a character by the name of Ratinhothis translates as "little rat" but, instead of an engaging little whiskered fellow from The Wind in the Willows our Ratinho is a large brute with a Stalin moustache who wields a long leather cosh to berate his victimsappears.
His program has plummeted to the depths of bad taste to such an extent that it has even been fined by the normally placid broadcasting watchdog. Ratinho specializes in presenting freaksdwarves, midgets, obese transsexuals and so onwho cavort around the studio to the amusement of a noisy semi-literate studio audience, egged on by cheerleaders.
Recently, he showed a video in which a pedophile doctor committed sexual acts on teenage boys whom he had drugged. The doctor had foolishly thrown the videos, which he had made secretly, onto a skip in the street where someone found them. When he saw the content, instead of informing the police, the finder gave them to Ratinho who had no compunctions in airing them. Such is the popularity of this program that a viewer recognized the doctor who is now in prison.
Ratinho is popular with criminals as well as self-styled vigilantes. One of his camera teams recently accompanied a gang of grave robbers who were shown scaling the walls of a cemetery, breaking into tombs and interfering with bones and skulls in search of rings and jewelry. In one case the grave was quite identifiable as there was a photo of the deceased person on display, Italian-style.
The teaser to one recent program was "Would you go into a cage with 40 rats?" leading this viewer to switch off on fear of what was about to appear. Switching off is the best advice as simply switching channels won't help, especially in São Paulo.
As making money is an obsession with Paulistanos, there are several financial programs, which instead of providing useful information for viewers, are just conduits for their egotistical presenters. Two of these presenters are particularly irritating. The smugness with which they gaze at the cameras reminds you of the perverted doctor and you can well imagine them watching themselves later on and masturbating, mentally if not physically.
One of them, a small serious type with glasses, which are too small, and suits, which are too tight, sits between two big-eyed, big-mouthed girlsone dark and the other (dyed) blonde. After pouting and smoldering at the camera these temptresses turn adoringly to the presenter who then hogs the limelight and gives an inarticulate, banal comment, accompanied by excited arm movements.
On another channel the presenter, a little leprechaun, smirks and primps himself as though making his first-ever television appearance and knowing that his whole familyfrom great grandmother to second cousin twice removedis proudly watching. His eyes sparkle with self-adoration and he bears the smile of the successful con man, knowing he has the audience in his hand.
Neither has any television skills but have marketed themselves well and are now celebrities. They both dress very badly in ill-fitting suits and gaudy ties. The credits of one show even lists a company called "Mr. Tie". There are few intellectual or cultural programs and soap operas, sport, sex, children's programs, chat shows, and similar fare make up the rest of television here.
Brazilians are avid TV viewers and political parties know it. By law, parties are allowed a certain number of minutes of free airtime on TV and radio. This free airtime is crucially important as it allows the politicians to get their message directly into people's homes. Former finance minister Mailson de Nóbrega recently pointed out that not only do 90 percent of Brazilian homes have television but the lower social classes use it as the main source of information. Voters from this section of the population tend to form their opinions from what they see on the screen.
Nóbrega also highlighted surveys, which showed that, in the 1994 and 1998 campaigns, most voters only decided on their favorite candidate three months before voting day i.e. between July and September. That is why so much hope is being pinned on the official start of TV campaigning, after the candidates have been chosen by their parties in June. The camp of the probable government candidate, former Health Minister José Serra, is pinning great hopes on the battle of the TV screen. If the pro-government partiesPSDB, PMDB, PPB and the PFL, which recently left the ruling alliancerally round Serra, he will enjoy greater television coverage than candidates from individual parties or smaller alliances.
However, Serra is currently lagging well behind the left-wing Workers Party candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in opinion polls. Lula has really spruced up his image of late and is being treated as a serious contender this time round. The image of Serra, by comparison, is feeble and it will need an amazingly successful TV campaign to sell him. Another problem is that the third runner at the moment, former Rio de Janeiro state governor Anthony Garotinho, is an experienced broadcaster. He was a professional radio reporter at one time and is at ease in front of the cameras. His populist message is also simple and can be understood by anyone.
Whether Serra can compete on the small screen with people like thisand Ratinhois doubtful. Serra had better hope that voters are swayed by his message rather than his image.
John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações, which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published by E-zine Infobrazil - www.infobrazil.com