Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th April, 2008
The Palestinian-American literary theorist, Edward Said, wrote extensively on the subject of Orientalism — the way that the British and the French, in particular, interpreted North Africa and the Middle East in a way which made them appear both exotic and backward. This was useful to the European Orientalists in order to justify colonial occupation, and the export of European ideas and practices to the region, on the grounds that these were necessary for the Arab world to achieve development and progress. The Americans are up to something similar at this very moment, in Iraq.
As the theme of my guest lecture at the Ceará Federal University in Fortaleza, I chose ‘Brazilianism’, arguing that the image of Brazil put across by the mainstream media in Europe similarly often distorts and devalues the Brazilian reality. Four stereotypes that frequently recur are samba, violence, poverty and environmental irresponsiblity. The last-mentioned has taken on a new dimension with the great row that has broken out about Brazil’s promotion of biofuels, which some people argue are pushing up world food prices and thereby causing hunger.
However, in my lecture I pointed out that the picture is not entirely gloomy. The European institutions and media are starting to recognise that Brazil is a strongly emerging economy, rightly included with Russia, India and China amongst the BRICs. Brazil is beginning to make its voice heard more forcefully on the world stage, and if the rumours of the latest offshore oil discovery in the Bay of Santos prove true, then it will soon become an oil-rich economy too.