This entry from the fine but now-dormant Brazilian music MP3 blog An Order of Progress and a Side of Fries is now several months old, but it's one of those things I meant to post a link to and never quite got around to until now. It's a response to a New York Times article about a street shooting in Rio, a city which the story describes as an "often violent metropolis."
Blogger Ari Joseph critiques Americans' two main stereotypes of Brazil, which happen to be polar opposites: crime-ridden hellhole and beach paradise with a bossa soundtrack. City of God on the one hand, Chill Brazil on the other--"leaving it up to us to resolve the conflicting images of carefree party people and AK47-wielding 6 year-olds by resorting to recycled popular music from 50 years ago," he writes.
I'm only quoting short snippets of his argument because you should really check out the whole post if you're so inclined; it's really good (and makes me sad it's the most substantial one on his blog in months). Here's a further taste:
Brazilian culture thrives today in a way that is seldom appreciated here in the United States because of our preoccupation with the issue of crime. It warrants, and deserves, a trip to Brazil to see for yourself. The culture is complex, significant, and, most of concern to many people, original. Crime is an issue, but as many of my faculty members abroad have said, the United States is the most dangerous country in the world and we don't seem to have any problem with it.
... How so many Americans can be completely oblivious to a nation of 80 million people is baffling, to say the least. What is more disturbing, however, is how much our two nations have in common with each other. I think Americans are in a unique position to relate to [Brazilians] more so than perhaps any other nation in the world, and there was a time in our collective history when we appreciated that.
Now, I've never been to Brazil, so I can't speak with any authority whatsoever on the subject. But I do understand the power of both of the myths Joseph elaborates. They're not so unlike outsiders' two major images of New Orleans, come to think of it--crime den and pleasure palace (whose soundtrack is either ancient Dixieland jazz or 60s r&b depending on your age and personal taste)--and I know how incomplete/misleading both of those are, even if there's an element of truth to each. (To extend the analogy, the current music of New Orleans is also as different from the old stuff as contemporary Brazilian music is from the bossa, samba, and tropicalia that we gringos love so much... but I digress.)
Interesting to note that the favela funk I was just writing about here brings together the crime myth and the party myth in one convenient package; hard to find an article on that genre of music that doesn't offer lurid details about the seedy criminal element at its core. Tidy, no?