Academic journal article Framework

Politics of Representation: Television in a São Paulo Favela

Academic journal article Framework

Politics of Representation: Television in a São Paulo Favela

Article excerpt

I think I've read almost half of Agatha Christie's work. I like Sidney Sheldon a lot. I love thrillers and Jo Soares. I did not like Adriane Galisteu's book. I thought she was worse. I've read O guarani by José de Alencar. I read magazines and newspapers. My life, the life of the poor, is shit. If you don't look for information, you will never better yourself. I only don't read the paper when I don't go somewhere that I can read it. I read it everyday on the bus. I get on the bus, read it and throw it away. (Laurinho, Vila Feliz)

Wired Up to the World

The favela or shanty town of Vila Feliz is simultaneously segregated by distinct social barriers and wired up to the world through books, newspapers, magazines, television, radio, VCRs and a variety of institutions, such as the Catholic Church, Pentecostals, Neo-Pentecostals, the Mormons, AfroBrazilian cults, political parties, public and private social organizations and criminal activities.1 This complex interplay of segregation and connection constitutes daily life in this extraordinary place that can be seen as a microcosm of Brazil. Located in the heart of one of the richest neighborhoods in the city of São Paulo, Vila Feliz synthesizes some of the paradoxes of contemporary Brazilian society. Social inequality is dramatically inscribed into this urban landscape. The mansions of the rich are situated near to wooden huts, unpaved streets and open sewers. Tower blocks of condominiums have balconies on each floor, as well as swimming pools that overlook Vila Feliz. Their sewage comes down the hill through the favela in open streams, heading for the river. Whereas upper-middle-class streets in São Paulo are characteristically winding, the streets of the favela are laid out in a grid pattern. A further irony is that the streets of the favela are named after enlightened

Anglo-Saxon philosophers, such as Herbert Spencer orjeremy Bentham. An ambiguous dynamic of fear, separation and intimacy defines the relations between those who live in Vila Feliz and those who live in the nearby condominiums. Nannies, guards, gardeners, cleaning women, cooks, drivers, sewer workers, bricklayers, office boys and a whole army of condominium employees live in the favela. They walk up-hill to their work, which is often inside upper-middle-class apartments. There, these employees become acquainted with the manners, fashions, architectural styles, cooking habits and frustrations of their employers. Nonetheless, the latter rarely enter the favela.

Violence is part of daily life in Vila Feliz. Certain activities are viewed with particular suspicion, such as taking photographs. Photographs are forbidden because they are considered as possible ways of mapping and scrutinizing secret domains. Upper-middle-class homes are heavily protected by gates, video cameras, alarms and private guards, so as to isolate them from the outside world. This complex dynamic of exclusion and inclusion is reflected in the fact that many security guards who are responsible for protecting wealthy homes from the threat represented by the nearby favela, are themselves favelados or inhabitants of the shanty town.

Representatives of public institutions such as the police or the municipal government rarely enter Vila Feliz. However, local politics is dominated by informal groups based on kinship, whose roots lie in Brazil's remote North East, where mass migration originated. Social segregation is inscribed in the bodies of ihe favelados, and Vila Feliz has a large black and mulatto population. Gender inequality and discrimination are also a significant dimension of daily life in the favela, as a large percentage of the households are headed by women, while unemployment, alcoholism and violence involve mostly men. Family arrangements are unstable and they frequently change.

As in many other communities in Brazil, religion has a prominent place in Vila Feliz. There are various Evangelical churches, a group of American Mormons, a Catholic priest and Afro-Brazilian cults. …

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