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“Why aren’t they protesting?”: low-income Brazilian’s views on the World Cup

By Juliano Andrade Spyer, on 27 June 2014

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Teens and their cool smartphones on the act of shooting a selfie displaying their best looks combined with the national colours during the Mexico-Brazil match. Photo by Juliano Spyer

I am living about two hours away by bus from the stadium where Holland humiliated Spain (5-1) and Thomas Mueller stole the spotlight from Cristiano Ronaldo after Portugal’s 4-0 defeat to Germany. Yet the World Cup has not impacted significantly upon the lives of those living in this working-class village I call Baldoíno. In general, my informants believe the allegations of overspending and misuse of public money in building the infrastructure for the tournament to be true, but instead of protesting and complaining they exhibit considerable excitement about the event itself. My impression, based on 14 months living here, is that this apparently contradictory position is understandable because as well as the problems they face there are also good reasons to celebrate.

Baldoíno is already in a celebratory mood, not particularly because of the World Cup, but because June is the month of festivals including those in homage to Saint John and Saint Peter. Though important across the nation, they are much more celebrated here in the Northeast of the country than in other parts. But aside from the days of Brazil matches and these popular festivities, life hasn’t changed significantly here: everyone is working and shops are open during normal hours. The main change the World Cup brought is that schools are closed during the 40+ days of the tournament, a decision that obliged parents to monitor their children while at work.

Group gatherings and online communication

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An evangelical Christian couple and their friends and family are watching the game through the new TV set at the top of their unfinished three floor home. Photo by Juliano Spyer

The feeling that nothing special is happening is evident both online and offline on those days when Brazil is not playing. Then the World Cup disappears from everyone’s newsfeeds just as if the competition were taking place elsewhere. But when the team is scheduled to perform, businesses close about one hour before the match and employees are generally released from duty. As they gather to watch the game, they also connect with wider groups of family and friends through status updates and other online actions. Humour is not just an element of this conversation but almost the reason for it to take place. Here are some quotes of status updates the on  17 June, the day Brazil and Mexico tied 0-0, which resemble the mood of the conversations happening among people sitting together:

The result was not what we expected, but the mess [with friends at home] was awesome! Go Brazil!!

You can run an anti-doping exam on this goalkeeper and find that he has hot pepper on his blood…

What a game, bro. It’s tough!

At that same night, I went online to share my own photos and differently from the previous or the following days, most of my newsfeed was about the game. Here are the types of interactions that I noticed:

  • Updates posted about the game including snapshots taken during the match and predictions of the final score; also general comments about things happening in the village related to the game;
  • Humorous memes about various subjects such as sport commentators’ meaningless remarks, or about a particular player’s physical attributes shared by women;
  • And photo albums about their day watching the game which attracted the attention of various circles of friends to tag, like, comment, and share these photos;
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The writing of this meme compares the national glories mentioned at the Brazil anthem with the physical attributes of national team player Hulk.

What’s there to celebrate?

As we approach the last matches of the initial phase of the tournament, international newspapers such as The New York Time (here) and The Wall Street Journal (here) reported that the apocalyptical predictions about the World Cup did not happen. Air travelers have been able to reach their destinations with no more than the normal problems; the stadiums have been finished on time for the matches and are operating accordingly; and there hasn’t been strikes or massive protests similar to those that happened about this time last year. In addition, there are three further causes to why my informants are also choosing to be positive about the event:

  • For most, the idea that the country is in poor condition is more abstract than real. Their families have lived through generations without having the means to buy consumer goods that mark social distinction. Today items such as cool TV sets, cars, microwave ovens, and tablets are no  longer exclusive to upper-class households. The perception seems to be that the alleged corruption scandals have not harmed low-income Brazilians since their lives are better now.
  • Corruption, social injustice, and exploitation are not new experiences for them, so the understanding appears to be they must take what is positive from unfortunate circumstances. Everyone I ask say they believe the corruption allegations are true, but that there is nothing to be done about them now. As an informant explained: it would be a waste not to enjoy the spectacle that has already been paid for.
  • I also feel that many in the village share a certain pride for the fact such important event is happening in their country and also that Brazil is among the best in the world at this popular sport. Although they are aware that they are more exposed to social injustices than the middle and upper classes, there is a shared sense of personal achievement that becomes more apparent with the World Cup happening here and not elsewhere. The honour of hosting such event reflects this group’s feeling of economic growth. This perception has been amplified by the fact the competition has been exciting and that so far the national team has been performing, if not brilliantly, at least satisfyingly and no worse than rivals such as Germany and Argentina.

It’s not just about football

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On this comic meme, President Dilma says”We are keeping our eyes on you that keep posting on Facebook that “there won’t be a World Cup” but have already booked to go to a barbecue and watch the matches with friends.”

The point that combines these arguments is that low-income Brazilians in my field site are not exclusively celebrating football, but also the success of having had a collective and apparently lasting movement upward. None of my working class informants can afford tickets to World Cup matches, but they have been given a privileged position at stadiums thanks to the popularization of cable programming, high definition TVs and digital transmission. In common with what happens within the football stadiums, they will be together with a lot of people and consume mostly the same foods and drinks commonly served at these venues: various grilled meat dishes, beer and colas.

Brazilians are internationally known for loving football and playing it with passion and creativity. Football is also associated with class mobility, as historically it has allowed people, especially non-whites with less economic means, to earn visibility and wealth. Now contemporary low-income Brazilians may be celebrating that they no longer need football to acquire relative wealth and visibility. I am not suggesting everyone in Baldoíno has the same experience in terms of economic growth. Many are still struggling to enter the formal workforce due to various limitations including poor schooling and disinterest for having regular jobs. But as a group, they can finally sit and enjoy the games at the comfort of their homes through their new TV sets. And the social media is here to make this reality visible and hence more lasting.

THE WORLD CUP ON SOCIAL MEDIA WORLDWIDE
This article is part of a special series of blog posts profiling how social media is affecting how ordinary people from communities across the planet experience the 2014 World Cup.

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