Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon owes the inspiration for this column to a 2009 film entitled “Lula, Son of Brasil”, a box office flop released during the 2010 Presidential election campaign when Lula was maneuvering to get Dilma elected.
The film — panned by critics as one of the worst in decades and denounced as a propaganda piece — was (surprise!) nominated by Brazil’s Ministry of Culture for the Oscar as Best Foreign Film.
After all, it tells the heart-warming tale of a street urchin from Brazil’s backwards Northeast region, who makes it big after migrating to São Paulo by dint of hard work, determination and courage, despite losing a finger and being jailed by the military.
The U.S. had its own version of this “rags to riches” story in the pulp fiction novels of Horatio Alger Jr., wildly popular after the Civil War. Even today, lots of poor Americans still believe the myth that they can get ahead through true grit and sweat equity. The trouble is, adepts of the Horatio Alger myth didn’t read the books carefully enough.
In every Horatio Alger novel, the hero only gets ahead after he has performed some act of heroism; the person he saved from disaster inevitably has a rich relative who decides to become the hero’s benefactor, showering him with money.
Ragged Dick, Alger’s most famous character, expresses this quite clearly: “I’d like it if some rich man would adopt me, and give me plenty to eat and drink and wear, without my havin’ to look so sharp after it.”
Lula seems to have reinvented these novels. In his own view (Hubris! Chutzpah!) Lula saved Brazil from the disaster of prior governments. There is abundant evidence that several rich benefactors did indeed adopt Lula, giving him “plenty to eat and drink” and much, much, more — think “triplex” — and he still doesn’t “look so sharp after”.
The Curmudgeon will emit more dismal columns opportunely.