Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As ancient mariners told the tale, the Doldrums were that part of the ocean near the equator where the winds die down completely, leaving sailing ships bereft of movement for weeks, inducing “inactivity, listlessness and mild depression”.
Since 1930, however, once every four years as the sun nears its solstice, the doldrums expand their reach to points far south of the Equator, indeed to the Tropic of Capricorn and beyond.
In Brazil, this recurring quaternary function is called “Copa do Mundo”. “Mundo” means “World” and “Copa” is best translated as “Stop”—as in “Stop the world, we want off!”
In Brazil, this is particularly the case with politics, as the Copa do Mundo games just happen to coincide with national and state elections, which the doldrums precede by four months.
Occasionally, governments have attempted to use the doldrums for self-promotion—in 1970, during the height of the military dictatorship, four-starred generals tried to hitch their wagons to the stars of the “Seleção Canarinha” which swept through all comers on its way to winning the Cup for the third time.
The generals failed miserably, as no one paid a blind bit of attention to their propaganda—the people were all glued to the tube, watching the first ever transmission of color TV in Brazil.
As civilian rule returned, Brazilians looked forward to the World Cup with an enthusiasm unrivalled by anything other than Carnival.
Everyone, and we mean everyone, wore yellow and green clothing on game days, everyone had flags or banners hanging out their home and car windows, residential streets were painted with football motifs and festooned with streamers bearing yellow and green pendants.
Until 2013. That was the year of the protests, the ones that began over a 20-centavo increase in city bus fares, but were not about the 20 centavos. They were about a lack of representation and a lack of basic public services like health, education and welfare.
Holding the 2014 World Cup in Brazil did not assuage the resentment felt by the people, and the 7 – 1 defeat by Germany served as a metaphor for the abject failure of Brazil’s politicians to provide what the people wanted—representation and public services.
In 2016, the “Dump Dilma” movement convinced its supporters to use yellow and green shirts to show their support for impeachment, and many did—but the only yellow and green shirts most people had ever worn those from the “Seleção” of years back.
By this year’s Winter Solstice, after Dilma’s impeachment led only to economic and political uncertainty, with little likelihood that the October elections would bring a breath of fresh air, yellow and green have gone out of fashion as millions of Brazilians have succumbed to “inactivity, listlessness and mild depression”.
So, this month, if you’re in Brazil, do not look for lots of yellow and green clothing; do not expect to find streets and homes and apartment blocks festively decked out in canary colors; do not expect to find people in a good mood—no matter whether Brazil wins or loses its World Cup matches.
We’re in the Doldrums.