Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Bah! Humbug! It will surprise very few of you to learn that the Curmudgeon is NOT a Carnival fan, particularly not a fan of the annual gaudy parades carried out by the samba schools in the Sambadrome. What’s not to like? Here’s a list.
The music is repetitive, in three senses. During their eighty minutes of parading, samba schoolers must repeat and repeat and repeat the very same words, over and over and over again. Moreover, most of the “sambas” each year sound very much like each other, the rhythm (a “marchinha” not a “samba”) is certainly identical for all.
Worst, the sambas this year sound just like those of last year, and the year before that, and so forth. It’s been decades since there was any samba song that captured people’s imagination and made them want to sing ever again.
The floats have swollen into monolithic mega-gigantic splendiferous and ornate creations, often reaching new heights (literally) of bad taste. Honorable exceptions aside, the floats are supposed to be metaphors for some words in the samba theme, but quite often are simply tributes to tackiness.
The standardized costumes are yet another boring bit. Every school must have “baianas” wearing hoop skirts and a “comissão de frente” wearing 19th Century clothes and a “rainha da bateria” wearing almost nothing. Same old, same old, same old. And of course every school has its standard colors which it must interweave into the plot. Mangueira, for instance, has pastel pink and green as its colors, and (trust me on this) it’s hard to make anything go with pink and green.
The Curmudgeon also objects to the fact that at least half (nobody knows for sure) of the samba schools are largely financed by the numbers racket running the “jogo do bicho”. The jogo do bicho is criminal activity, the chief racketeers are routinely rounded up and jailed for a few days till their lawyers spring them, and yet … the City of Rio de Janeiro cooperates with them!
The City, of course, claims it has no involvement with the racketeers, it simply sends taxpayer money off to LIESA to be distributed equitably among the schools. If that’s true, the Curmudgeon wants to know, why do Carioca taxpayers have to fund this activity?
Recently, contributions to the samba schools from both bicheiros and the City have been decreasing, so some schools now need to go off grubbing for cash. This they do unflaggingly, but the consequences are disastrous for the seriousness of the parade.
This year there are schools which, in return for sponsorship, have adopted as their themes places or things which have absolutely nothing to do with samba or Carnival or anything else. These include the town of Cuiabá, the state of Pará, the musical “Rock in Rio” and the glitterati gossip rag “Caras”.
For the Curmudgeon, however, the icing on the cake is … wait for it … South Korea! We kid you not, a samba school from the suburbs called “The Innocents” will be singing the praises of South Korea.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)