“Make a Sixth”

The madness has begun!  Brazil defeated North Korea yesterday 2-1 in their first game of the World Cup tournament.  The biggest sporting event in the world, every four years 32 national teams spend a month competing for the coveted Jules Rimet trophy and bragging rights for the title of best football nation on Earth.  The Brazilians are the only country to have competed in every World Cup tournament since 1930, and the Brazilians are five time champions.  In fact, they have won five of the last thirteen tournaments (and they were in the championship game in one other, losing to France in Paris in 1998). [See my blog of October 10, 2009 about futebol in Brazil.]  Brazil, win or lose this World Cup, has bragging rights like no other country.  (The Italians have won four times, and they are reigning champions having won in 2006.)  There are posters everywhere here proclaiming, “Win a Sixth” (Faz um hexa).

World Cup fever

The World Cup in Brazil is something like the Super Bowl in the U.S., but stretched out over a month (especially when the Brazilians win).  During yesterday’s afternoon game, the country came to a virtual standstill.  Government offices and many stores closed.  Several hundred thousand (including me) flocked to Copacabana beach to huge television screens and grandstands set up for the tournament.

Watching the game on Copacabana beach

The city yesterday was covered with green and gold.  Street vendors are doing a booming business in funny hats, large eyeglasses, flags, banners, and noisemakers.  Brazilian flags are everywhere.  The World Cup, in fact, is one of the most powerful examples of the formation of national identity—the topic of the book I am writing.  No matter one’s class, color, region, or local football team, when the World Cup begins, everyone is Brazilian.  Everyone is unified and galvanized cheering for their team, their country.

The multitudes watching the game at Copacabana beach

The team itself is an advertisement for the central myth of Brazilian identity—that all Brazilians, regardless of color or class, are forged out of the collision of three peoples, Africans, Portuguese, and Native Americans.  The rainbow of colors on the Brazilian team—from the pale skinned star Kaká to the dark skinned Ramires—reflects the spectrum of skin tones in Brazil as a whole.  No other team in the World Cup has the ethnic and phenotypical range of the Brazilians.  The power of television and the World Cup reinforce visually this central myth of Brazilian identity, and the team provides one of the most potent forces in the reinforcement of national identity.

Even the great poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade was dressed for the game!

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