Riots in Brazil: traffic jams, bad schooling and obesity

Why are they rioting in Brazil?

It is not supposed to happen.   Brazil – the football crazed country – is supposed to be hosting the world’s biggest party.  Brazil – the home of night-life is supposed to be full of beautiful people who are happiest when playing football, dancing Samba or watching their national team deliver a lesson in sport to some hapless foreign team.

Now our screens are full of images of rioting school teachers, burning buses and kidnapping criminals.   What happened?

You would understand, if you have ever been in a Rio de Janeiro traffic jam.

When I write ‘traffic jam’ I don’t mean the mingy-whingy traffic jams that we have in the rest of the world: the delays of Calcutta, the strife in London, the slowness of Los Angeles.  No, I mean there is a difference when you are in a Rio bus – packed to the rafters with people, some of whom obviously do use deodorant but many who do not  – and the bus does not move.

Again, when I write ‘does not move’ – it is not of those pleasant interludes that occur in other countries of the world: a brief escape from you boss; a brief moment – or fifteen or twenty or forty minutes  – of pondering the mysteries of life as your urban transit system burps gently to a halt.

You know the feeling. Your mind relaxes and says to itself, “Well, there is nothing I can do. I have missed the meeting anyway.  Let me consider the great questions of life:  ‘Why am I here?’  ‘Is there a just, loving Deity?’  ‘Why can’t Arsenal just score a goal instead of trying to walk the ball into the net?’”

No. In Rio and the rest of Brazil, when they do traffic jams they do them well. Two hours is pretty much a daily average.  Let me repeat two hours.  Each way. Four hours in traffic to come and go to work is not unusual.  Then the traffic jams start.  They can go on for days.  You do not just miss the meeting, you can miss the entire day of work.

You stand there in a bus that has not moved for over an hour.  Your mind does not go to eternal mysteries of life, rather it turns to your own situation: your children go to a crappy school; your hospitals are decrepit: your air is dirty, polluted and full of dangerous chemicals. The streets flood every time there is a drizzle of rain.  The government is a covert alliance between drug-smuggling thuggish police officers, politicians and real estate developers who would evict their own mothers for higher profits.   The streets are over-run with crime.  The Brazilian women have been hit with the fat revolution and wobble past you like over-stacked fishing nets.    You have all that happening and FIFA is coming to town and pricing you out of your own football stadiums.   You too might begin to riot.

This does not mean that Brazilians are not crazy about football. Nor does it mean they do not support their national team.  It does mean that there is a fair sampling of people who are not stupid enough to think that spending billions of dollars transferring real estate and sporting venues to the super rich is necessarily the best use of their taxes.


BTW – you are still in shock aren’t you?

I know.  I know. In the long litany of the decline Brazilian society you never thought that anyone would ever write a sentence – “The Brazilian women have been hit with the fat revolution and wobble past you like overstacked fishing nets.”

You could get non-functioning transit system, corrupt politicians and policemen,– but not the decline of Brazilian women.

Sadly, it is the truth.

I do not like to write it either.  It feels ungentlemanly and unchivalrous to say such things.   However, there is – somewhere – an important lesson about media images and reality on the streets.     I am not sure where, but it is there.

Lets begin at the beginning.  In just about every TV spot about the Brazilian World Cup there is a message about soccer, sex and gorgeous Brazilian women.  Often it is not particularly subtle. You know how the ads run: pan of Brazilian football stadium, chanting fans, cut to a sunny beach, a woman wearing a bikini made of dental floss walks past, smiles alluringly at the camera and says something like, ‘Benvindo a Brasil’.

Twenty years ago, even ten years ago these images may have been true. Now, sadly, the invasion of fat has come to Brazil.   It is not as bad as it is here in North America, where we wobble past each other as if God had poured liquid into our bodies and then forgotten to say, ‘when’.    (I was in Miami, Florida a few months ago.  In the hotel there was a collection of talking refrigerators wearing shorts wandering the hallways).

However, in Brazil the same thing is beginning to happen.   Many, but not all, Brazilian women are now overweight.  Fine.  It is the modern-day plague.  A corporate induced sugar addition to our diets across the world.  The difference is that in Brazil for some unexplained reason the men do not seem particularly fat. I am not sure why.   Maybe it is a matter of perception, I do not look at Brazilian men in the same way.  However, it might be because Brazilian women have not stopped dressing in bikinis that look like dental floss or spandex shorts.   Fat is everywhere you look in Brazil.   It spills over trousers.  It oozes out of tight shorts. It surges past bikini tops.

So – Brazil is not the earthly paradise of sun, sand and soccer that it has been portrayed to be – and there many good reasons for the protests and riots on their streets.


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