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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Brazilian pride, Part II

The NY Times ran an article this morning, World Cup Despair in Brazil, with pictures and quotations from various Brazilians about what it was like to see their team lose in the World Cup.

A sampling:

"Our nation is hurt. We will need to face people making fun of us for the rest of our lives. I will have to tell my grandchildren one day that I saw this happening. How am I going to tell this to my grandchildren?" -- Lucas Dos Santos, 41

(When the USA lost the bronze medal in hockey to Finland 5-0 at the Sochi Olympics, did it occur to you that you would have to tell your grandchildren about it? Did you worry about how you would phrase it? Were you even aware of that game?)

"The way they hurt the hearts of the Brazilian people. My head hurts. It's too much suffering." -- Adilson Mourao, 47

(Suffering? Has Mr. Mourao ever heard of World War II? World War I? Or even the fact that eight Brazilian workers died during the construction of the World Cup stadiums?)

"If I could, I would like to step on Felipao's callus. I would not like to pinch him. I would not like to hit him. I would like to step on a callus on his foot." -- Andrea Silva, 41

(When the 2004 USA Dream Team lost to Puerto Rico in the preliminaries of the Athens Olympics, did you want to stamp on Alan Iverson's bunions? Or kick Tim Duncan in the shins? You know, not pinch him, or hit him, but just kick him in the shins?)

Another Times article today, 29 Minutes That Shook Brazil: 5 Kicks Felt in Guts Everywhere, actually started on the front page and then continued in the sports section. It, too, quoted random people on the street:

Rogerio Graces da Silva arrived at his sister's house to find her crying so hard that "We thought she would become ill. She was shaking! We made her sip water. I've never seen sadness like it." 

(His sister is ill. But she doesn't need a regular doctor, she needs a psychiatrist.)

"When the fourth goal went in," said Jose Brito Lopes, who watched at a crowded favela bar in Rio de Janeiro, "people started saying, I am ashamed to be Brazilian." 

(I can recall people saying, or at least implying, that they were ashamed to be Americans during the Viet Nam War. And I remember a few Hollywood liberals saying that they would leave the country if George W. Bush was elected President, though none of them ever made good on that promise. However, I cannot, for the life of me, recall a single person ever saying he was ashamed to be American because of a sports defeat.)

Mr. Dos Santos was right when he said "We will need to face people making fun of us for the rest of our lives." Because the Brazilians do need to be mocked. Not for their World Cup loss, but for their reaction to it.

Which seems to be pretty much on a par with America's reaction to 9/11.


Anonymous said...

I find the reaction of these people to be baffling, not understanding it. It was just a game, not a big deal (in the big picture). Amazing. I would not cry over the U.S.A losing any game (or contest), never have and never will. I'm like, are these people serious.


John Craig said...

Birdie --
Exactly. The Brazilians are living proof of the following equation:


Anonymous said...

I can understand their emotional meltdown, considering all the poverty and despair in that country, and so many millions were looking for some great thing to bind them together and uplift them from their misery, even if the euphoria fizzled out after a couple weeks.
So, from that point of view, it's kind of sad. It is also admirable, maybe enviable, that they're able to feel that level of patriotism and national pride for their team. Americans would never reach that level, as they already dump their sports energy into pro/college sports. Also not helping in the unity department, are the large swaths of foreigners posing as residents, who stampede in American streets when "their" team wins (or loses).
But, yeah, if you can't laugh at women and children crying hysterically over a sporting event, you're just not human.

John Craig said...

Anon --
When you put it as you id in your first paragraph, it's more understandable. But still, a soccer game is such a temporary thing for them to invest their hopes in, it seems silly.

You're right, though, Brazil does seem to be a more unified country than the US. We're factionalized in al sorts of ways, even with manufactured divides like the "gender war." Brazil has more of a melting pot feel, but even there, there's an economic racial divide.. And yes, the sight of various Latin American "Americans" cheering when their home team beats the US does not enhance unit in our country.

But what I was talking about in this post and the last one was the insanely emotional, blinkered nature of Brazilian nationalism.

Steven said...

Most Americans aren't interested in soccer or Hockey so of course they wont remember historical defeats in those sports.

I'm not sure America even has a national sport that is like soccer in Europe or South America. American sports fans seem to be split between football, baseball and basketball. Imagine all three sets of fans followed one of those sports. That would make it a much bigger part of the national culture. It would be covered prominently by all media outlets all the time, even off season. Almost every male growing up would play it and dream about making it as a pro.

Now imagine that that sport was equally popular in many other countries, another condition that does not obtain for American sports fans. If that were the case, there would be rivalries that are like red sox-Yankees but with an added dimension of patriotism and nationalism. These rivalries would go back decades and cover at least the whole post war period.

In that situation, you probably would remember important or dramatic past victories and defeats, especially to your rivals.

Also, the most important domestic leagues are in Europe, so the most important thing for Brazilians is the national side. They have won the most world cups of any nation and have historically played the most freestyle, skillful, joyful football. Even as a kid in England, you grow up aware of this aura of greatness about the Brazil team.

All that said, I'm not defending those quotes that do seem completely out of proportion to me, although how do we know they aren't picked from tens or hundreds of interviews, most of them milder?

Probably a hell of a lot of their national pride and identity is based on soccer so this is a big shock to the system, to that pride and sense of self that has built up over a long time. They've also been socialized into feeling that deeply about soccer, growing up in an extraordinary soccer culture. That is probably a lot more remote for an American than for even people in a soccer obsessed nation where fairly deep feeling about soccer is par for the course.

In club football in Europe, crying is usually seen here and there in the crowd and among the players when an important final is lost. I know a guy who can't sleep before an important game with a rival, every scenario running through his head.

Lastly, fyi winning an Olympic gold has no real prestige or importance in the soccer world. Soccer players are pro so most of them don't get to play in the Olympic team. Winning is a novel achievement but has about as much importance as the Under 21 team winning something- hardly any relevance to the real national team, except maybe as hope for a promising crop of youngsters.

sorry this was so long.

Steven said...

"But still, a soccer game is such a temporary thing for them to invest their hopes in, it seems silly."

Pundits all around the world to this day consider the 1970 Brazil team to be the greatest ever soccer team. I grew up being told about that team by my dad. This is still no doubt a significant part of Brazil's heritage as a country. That's how temporary it is!!!

They are very soccer obsessed, in favelas the kids grow up playing skillful football with no shoes on in the dust, making it as a pro being their childhood dream and their potential way out of poverty.

I'm trying to give some context.

John Craig said...

Steven --
All good points. True, Americans split their attention between different sports, whereas soccer is the national sport of Brazil. And I know the World Cup has a huge significance in a lot of countries. And yes, those quotes could have been culled from a large number of milder comments.

So, yes, you have a lot of valid points. Still, there's something in the Brazilian character which is different. Even in the other soccer-mad countries, I doubt they reacted to being eliminated from the tournament with quite the same histrionics. And the other examples I used in the previous post, about the Brazilians flooding the Swimming World website with votes for their guy over Michael Phelps, with Cesar Cielo's reaction to his every victory, which have nothing to do with soccer, and are still different from the way other countries do things.

I'm not saying Americans are the ideal sportsmen. I don't like the way they chant "USA! USA!" after every victory. (No other country does the equivalent.) And we as a country seem to take our cue from the end zone dances that are performed in (American) football. In swimming, the sport I follow most closely, I'd say the Western Europeans are the model for decorum and sportsmanship. (I see too many Eastern Europeans I suspect of juicing to include them.)

Of course, in an individual sport like swimming, behavior varies from person to person. Still, watch enough people and you can get a general sense of behavior from a country in general. And the most over the top sports fans I've ever seen are the Brazilians.

Steven said...

I would not disagree with that characterization of Brazilian sports fans. One prominent Brazilian pundit said that the national sport of Brazil isn't soccer; it is winning.

European countries wouldn't react that badly to being eliminated but neither would Brazil have if it was by a normal score. If England were beaten 7-1, it would be a national embarrassment and a big crisis in the English football world. But at least our national football ego is not that big- we are quite pessimistic about our chances these days- in other words, we know we are no longer in the same league as the big boys and we don't expect to win. In Brazil, the reality of what happen is in total contradiction to their self-image and expectations. Even the bookmakers had them favourites going into the tournament.

However, I don't disagree that there is an extra x factor with Brazilian fans over and above all this that makes them take it particularly badly.

p.s. to give a sense of how bad a 7-1 defeat is, the most successful club side ever is Real Madrid. Their biggest ever defeat is 8-1, which happened in 1929-1930 season. I'm estimating they have played between 2 and 4000 competitive games since that defeat. This is actually Brazil's heaviest ever defeat. You have to go back to 1920 for s 6-0 defeat. And Brazil were the bookmaker's favourites to win the tournament. That's how amazing the 7-1 defeat is.

John Craig said...

Steven --
True, I guess I wasn't taking into account the embarrassment factor of such a large defeat. I was thinking more in terms of, a loss is a loss and you won't be in the finals, too bad.

But the larger issue is still the extent with which people identify with a group of athletes with whom they have no personal relationship. As a swimming fan, I follow Michael Phelps' exploits with great interest, but I find it equally interesting whether he does well or poorly, and either way, it doesn't affect me emotionally in the least. Then again, maybe I'm just a cold fish.

Steven said...

oh yeah, they wouldn't have reacted like that if they lost 1-0. A few tears probably but they could take it.

Its a bit different with team sports than individual ones I think. People get tribal devotion or something.

Its the ones who are brought up by fanatical parents who seem to have it the deepest in them. For others, its just an interest.