Poolside at the Copacabana Palace and the buzz is that the Material Girl has become the Girl from Ipanema, moving uptown to the chic Fasano Hotel not far from the Kaballah Centre and joining Rio governor Sergio Cabral for carnaval festivities. But tall and tan and young and lovely is getting harder to find because Brazil is adopting American-style bad eating habits that are driving teletubby statistics off the charts.
Madonna's "Success for Kids" project to help favelas in Rio and Sao Paulo got street cred Wednesday when she met with Jose Serra, the powerful governor of Sao Paulo state who is tipped to win the presidential vote later this year. Serra, a technocrat with American neoconservative stylepoints, spent time at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies. In a photo-op, he told media that Madonna looks even "better up close."
But he didn't share his plans for rolling back the supersize epidemic that affects Madonna's favela kids and millions of others at a time when the nation seeks to produce a generation of top flight athletes ramping up to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
"The overweight problem presents a real challenge for government and business because Brazil is a growing industrial economy," says Dr. Martha Rochelle, PhD, a professor of nutrition at UNIMEP in Piracicaba, who has done studies on the eating habits of young people. "People work hard and enjoy traditional foods. But to get ahead in life both parents in the family unit often work and fast foods are seen as a timesaver."
With 40 percent of the population overweight and the trend skewing upward, Brazil trails the US, where 73 percent are either overweight or obese. In Washington, first lady Michelle Obama has launched the "Let's Move" program to fight America's overweight pandemic but her team acknowledges it will take a generation to produce successful results.
Brazil, Russia, India and China, the emerging G-20 nations that will lead the world economy by 2050 all face overweight epidemics because their lifestyles are moving away from traditional cultural values, becoming more American and Globalist. And none can afford to divert the $50 billion spent annually in the US and Canada on weight loss goods and services from their core economies. That's $17 billion more than what president Barack Obama wants the US Congress to front to finance his war in Afghanistan for the rest of the year.
The groundswell of celebrity fascination with Rio's favela culture started with the Brazilian Tropicalismo movement. Tropicalismo, with similarities to the American cultural changes of the 1960s and 70s, is an example of how globalism co-opts populist movements from being vehicles for inclusiveness, nation building and constructive social change into a cult of superstars doing cause related marketing to enhance their careers.
Post 1960 Tropicalismo pioneers Caetano Veloso and Chico Buarque initially used their music as a vehicle to protest the US-backed military junta that took power after an elected government had the wisdom to invite communist revolutionary "Che" Guevara for an official state visit. Veloso and Buarque, who were jailed by the junta and opted for exile, were not favelados or from poor families like Elvis or Johnny Cash, but from staunch middle class families like Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin.
Veloso, now a millionaire icon in the pantheon of Brazilian pop music, is popular with working class Brazilians who work long hours to buy his music. Yet he had the audacity to criticize the policies of president Lula that have created jobs and income for his fan base, calling the former steelworker "an illiterate." Caetano has since apologized publicly.
The third man in Tropicalismo, singer-guitarist Gilberto Gil, expanded the frontiers of Brazilian popular music in the 1970s and 80s, creating an opening for Jamaican Reggae and cross-over variants of Southern African and West African pop. But with the seductive beat and skank riffs came the political road rage associated with the Castro-influenced politics of Michael Manley in Jamaica and militant factions of the African National Congress, importing class conflict and race politics into the favelas and other low income bairros that have stressed the Brazilian social fabric. Gil recently resigned as Lula's Minister of Culture to return to music. He has been an involved with the globalist Creative Commons movement, which seeks to demonetize intellectual property rights in the name of "internet democracy" while claiming to give creators more return on their creative work.
All this helped set the stage for Michael Jackson to parachute into Rio in 1995 and use the Morro de Santa Marta favela as the stage set for his famous "They Don't Care About Us" music video. The irony is that with all his skin lightening drugs and pancake makeup, Jackson looked like a caucasian in the video, lighter than Lula, Barack Obama, Louis Farrakhan and anybody that US Senator Harry Reid could add to the mix. While it had no direct connection to local politics the video was a global hit and helped infuse a sense of militancy and racial conflict that was not Brazilian into Brazilian society,
Segue to Madonna, using the same Morro de Santa Marta favela as a backdrop for her "Success for Kids" project. Santa Marta is one of the less violent favela neighborhoods and with Madonna's level of security it isn't much different than Bill Clinton having a business lunch uptown at Sylvia's.
If Michelle Obama's project will take a generation to produce results how long will Madonna's take?
Visit the favela yourself and try and map the return on investment. Favela tourism is now a growth industry in Rio with US and European visitors paying top dollar to cruise the hood in tricked out SUVs while wearing designer label trek clothing that favelados need to work a month to buy.
Maybe its time to rethink rockstar relief efforts. Why isn't Madonna doing this project in her hometown of Detroit which needs help big time? Why aren't Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso or Madonna's billionaire Brazilian backer Eike Batista flying up to tour the meth dens in Bullhead City, Arizona with US Senator John McCain and launching their own "Success for Kids" style project there?
There are two dissonant beats going on this Carnaval season. Brazil for Brazilians and Brazil for the Globalists. Most Brazilians prefer to avoid the issue, but that's what the Supersize Samba is really all about. One more caiprinha Severino, and I'm outta here.