Fox News Rhetoric & Why The Media Representation Of Brazil Was Absolute Bollocks

Television reports of favelas - murderous hell holes full of shite, drugs and enforced prostitution - couldn't have been more wrong, so why did they lie?
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Television reports of favelas - murderous hell holes full of shite, drugs and enforced prostitution - couldn't have been more wrong, so why did they lie?

Football tournaments are a uniquely odd experience.

Other sporting events may be able to rustle up a decent TV share or a brief zeitgeist spike of national enthusiasm, but there’s no doubt that football remains the Godzilla of sporting monsters. Nothing short of war can match the obedient blitzkrieg of people that sweep across the globe to converge on its carnivals. The World Cup is king. A kind of Mecha-Godzilla, if you will. With horns and little turrets that shoot lasers. There is none superior, and there is no escape. The bubble closes around you the second you step off the plane. Local naysayers retreat into their homes to live off canned goods and DVDs for a month. The only interactions you have are with fellow servants of the beast.

Enthusiastically swapping tales of how much they’ve masochistically squandered to be here, like some kind of grand football fans anonymous meeting. Days of the week become a useless method of delineating time. There’s no such thing as Wednesday, only the day when Bosnia play Iran and Nigeria battle Argentina. Whatever sparse world events manage to wriggle their way through the barricade tend to dissipate between the 1pm and 4pm games, becoming a distant half-remembered anecdote by the the late kick off. Being in Brazil only exacerbates this problem. A football obsessed nation where the only prominent news not relating directly to events at the World Cup, is people protesting the World Cup.

All of this made it particularly hard for me to comment on the media mood back in England while I was there, but I could hazard a pretty good guess it was positive. And a damn sight more positive than it was when I left.

Not because the tournament was refreshingly great World Cup though (it was) or because the myriad of worries and problems have all magically fallen away (they haven’t) but because the media narrative before, during and after sporting events are always uniformly predictable.

The Beijing Olympics, the South African World Cup, the Polish and Ukrainian European Championships, the London Olympics and the Sochi Winter Games have all been met with cautious concern or castigation, only to be celebrated from the moment the first dancing stereotype or plant in a leotard twirled their way into the Opening Ceremony.

The week I departed for the Amazon - the first stop in my summer of sadism following England - the BBC had run two documentaries on life in Brazil. The first – Carioca (Brazilian slang for a native of Rio) - was a social and political history of Rio de Janiero, edited by someone with a party pack of Red Bull and a shitload of video effects. The subject matter was gripping, and harrowing and worthy, but about as representative of the day-to-day life of your average Carioca as ‘London’s Tastiest Riots’ with Danny Dyer. Replete with images of hijackings and a litany of sound bites like “you could hear the gun battles from the Copacabana” the impression it gave was of a war torn Gomorrah. City of God meets Berlin in the 50s, by way of the Belfast Troubles. However conscientious its intentions, its lasting impact was “Stay away, Gringo. Here be trouble.”

Even after the host’s humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat, the news seemed over eager to shift from the desolation of Selecao to the unexpected barney. A pre-prepared story it was champing to run. A yellow tsunami of trouble was apparently imminent. 200 million Mookies poised to Do The Right Thing. A Channel 4 news a reporter stood loftily above an empty Copacabana as Jon Snow probed him on the likelihood of violence. “Brazilian authorities are preparing themselves for the worst” he relayed, framed by a scene of complete tranquility. Misleading pictures of protests from last year spread through social media. This was apparently the narrative we wanted. Predictably, despite a valiant tabloid attempt to ramp up pockets of disturbance as a citywide revolt, the mood was largely subdued. Certainly nothing more serious than any American sports riots of the past, oddly not feared after their round of 16 exit.

The second show saw former Newsround presenter Chris Rodgers unhelpfully provide a step-by-step guide to procurement in his search for Child Prostitution. “The police will do absolutely nothing” he reassured any would be perverts as he inadvertently showed us where to find, and how to clandestinely ask for underage accompaniment in the appropriate code. Eventually his intrepid reportage took him, inevitably, where no reporter had gone before about 9am that morning: the favelas. At which point Rodgers, like the scores of journalists before him, morphed into Stephen Tompkinson’s Damien Day, opportunistic field reporter from Drop The Dead Donkey (above), looking contemplatively at the drug dens he’d asked to be taken to, and squatting solemnly by an open drain to tell us “the stench of excrement is unbearable” as the camera zoomed in on a solitary empty Volvic bottle floating down the water way (presumably any attempt to get some actual excrement had been either vetoed, or unsuccessful.)

Even after the host’s humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat, the news seemed over eager to shift from the desolation of Selecao to the unexpected barney. A yellow tsunami of trouble was apparently imminent. 200 million Mookies poised to Do The Right Thing...

The template was reminiscent of countless reports from South African townships in 2010, where much was made of the very real fear swathes of visiting fans would contract AIDS.

But it’s easy to be cynical. The plight of the abused and impoverished deserve our airtime more than a hundred shit sitcoms, reality shows or anything that persists in keeping Keith Lemon in work. The problem is not the nobility of the intentions but the narrative.

Favelas, for example - fleeting idents of Benetton kids chasing a ball around a colourful urban maze aside - are almost unanimously depicted as hives of squalid poverty, violence and drug addiction. When a reporter is not stooping to savour the excrement, he’s portentously pondering the vicious cycle of favela life. Which is all well and good, but ignores that the favelas are also a bustling and vibrant community, housing millions of people from all avenues of life. There are nicer areas and not so nice areas. Some of the coolest nightspots in Rio are in the favelas, and you can walk around the majority quite happily, encountering jollity and wonder more than jealously and violence. As the hoards of sore thumb reporters and their incredibly expensive camera equipment somehow manage to do.

Carioca, to its credit, touched on this, but the point was ultimately lost in the tide of aggressive visuals. An asterisk in a sexed up dossier. Such a consistently negative portrayal can also create its own form of desensitisation, and worse, discrimination. Though at least you can claim its heart was in the right place.

Less nobly purposed is the bi-annual inquest into whether Johnny Foreigner can get anything done. Like South Africa before it, Brazil apparently existed in a perpetual state of municipal incompetence. Whether or not they can afford all these new stadiums is a serious and legitimate question. Whether they’d all be ready in time for the World Cup seemed a more churlish concern for a country who’s own FA took seven years to build one stadium, and still couldn’t get that finished on time.

But you might think it’s a semi-reasonable concern in countries where the infrastructure needs a complete overhaul.

It’s a good thing then, that the 2012 European Championships in Ukraine and Poland, with their more up-to-date facilities and less extreme poverty was a much more positive affair all round. Well, apart from the racism. And the hooligans, obviously. They were going to ruin everyone’s time. Or at least according BBC’s Panorama, who extrapolated a nationwide bigotry epidemic from footage of a thuggish minority. The resulting furore worked Sol Campbell up enough to encourage fans to stay away, sensibly opining that they could well “end up in a coffin.” Locals I met in Poland were noticeably angry with this. Bemused as to why the globally trusted BBC would willfully portray them so badly. In the end the only trouble was a politically motivated spat involving Russia. England’s non-white fans – at least the ones I spoke to - were harassed only by journalists asking if they’d been harassed, and the most widespread abuse of a black man was an English chant deriding Campbell’s presumptions.

There will always be cultural and political differences when events like these are held abroad. Many of which are worth raising. The outcry over homosexual discrimination before the Sochi Winter Olympics was a good fight, even if the safety concerns were overzealous. But the more insidious sensationalizing strikes me as something different. The line between awareness and fear mongering is often a tight one to walk.

This was my fifth tournament, and I always encourage people to go, expenses permitting. The more remote and unfashionable the better. They’re fantastic festivals. A two-month Glastonbury of Sport. In Kiev the town center often morphed into a full blown Eastern bloc dirty house rave and in Rio the Copacabana Fanfest presented local acts to perform between each game, dissolving into a full blown beach set club night by nightfall. One gameless evening was even set aside for a headlining Brazilian dad rock act, playing 80s Eurovision cocaine rock to a captive audience of thousands. (Literally. Anywhere near the screen it was very hard to get out.) It was wonderful. It always is. The people, the places, the atmosphere. It’s unique and delightful wherever it’s held.

Yet despite a plethora of such tales, told a million times, there’s always the inevitable dissenting voice from the back of the room. Convinced it's not worth leaving the safety of the armchair for the chaos of dangerous, ramshackle nation.

So if you have the chance to attend the Rio Olympics or the Russian World Cup, but don’t go for political or ideological reasons (and God knows there are plenty) then more power to you. Though I’d argue absentia activism is no substitute for the ground level experience. But if your reasons are born of fear or suspicion that it wont be safe, organised or welcoming, then more fool you.

That way lies Fox News rhetoric and a populace suspicious of the world beyond our borders, championing charismatic right wing politicians on the back of flimsy sound bite Nationalism and the ability to drink a pint or be amusing on a talk show. And we don’t want that. Do we? We’re Britain, where nothing’s wrong. We’re better than... Oh.

Follow Oscar on Twitter, @oscarpyejeary