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Opinion, by Haley White

PARÁ, BRAZIL – When I get back to a hotel room and decide that I need a little TV time, I normally search for a channel like AXN, Universal, or Sony — a digital space where I can sit for a while and trust that the next drama or sitcom to come on the screen will not be too cruddy.

If you are a tourist in Brazil, however, sticking to tried-and-true international channels is a huge mistake. This country has some bizarrely awesome television shows geared towards highly specific viewing preferences.

My personal favorite is AgroCanal, an agricultural channel (not to be confused with the AgroMix TV or the Canal do Boi, which means “The Bull Channel”). If you hit AgroCanal at the right time of night, your screen will fill with images of cattle walking back-and-forth across a field, and your speakers will swell with the dulcet tones of an overly excited announcer who wants to convince viewers at home to buy those cattle. As best as I can tell, this program was created by someone who thought that the United States’ QVC and Home Shopping Network needed some livestock.

If agriculture isn’t your thing and you really just want some pop culture, then check out The Silvio Santos Program, billed as “the most fun program on television.” Hosted by geriatric billionaire Silvio Santos on the channel SBT, this show mixes celebrity interviews with good, old-fashioned TV games and pranks, including hidden camera segments.

Description aside, what makes this show schadenfreude-nistically enjoyable is not what happens on stage, but rather what happens in the audience. Santos manages to fill every seat with women who wear a lot of makeup and become utterly baffled when he invites them to participate in spelling bees and other seemingly easy games.

Then, of course, there are Brazil’s legendary soap operas or novelas. These shows aren’t always just fluff. They often serve as important forums for discussing major social issues. In the 1990’s, for instance, the novela O Rei do Gado (The King of the Cattle) intermixed romance with land reform policy in its storylines.

I’m sure that there are some other Brazilian TV gems that I did not cover (I never got to that dramatic ad I saw the other day that lamented that 250 indigenous communities did not have complete editions of The Bible). But that’s the point. If you want to learn more about sheer ideological and cultural diversity of this country, you really need to go forth and flip the channel.

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Haley White is a journalist and Fulbright Scholar lecturing at the Universidade Federal do Oeste do Pará in the Amazon. She used to work in business. You can read more of her musings about Amazonian life at http://haleyelisawhite.wordpress.com.

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