From Brazil and other brands

Wassily Kandinsky, Circles in a Circle, 1923.
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By MARCELO RIDENTI*

Commentary on the book by Michel Nicolau Netto

With a hangover from the Olympics, nothing better than reading about mega-events. Even more so in the case of Brazil, which has become a brand. And valued in the symbolic goods market when the country hosted the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. This is the theme of Michel Nicolau Netto's thought-provoking book, From Brazil and other brands, the result of extensive research carried out at Unicamp, initially with a postdoctoral fellowship from Fapesp, then as a professor in the Department of Sociology.

With sociological density, without prejudice to clarity and fluency, it addresses the relationship between national representations and sporting mega-events. It particularly clarifies how images of Brazil are produced and inserted into the consumer culture of the global symbol market, under the control of corporate powers.

In the strictest sense, the book is a fundamental contribution to understanding the logic of the so-called mega-events, particularly in the sports area, with all the interests involved being articulated in the global market from resignified national images. In the broadest sense, the work helps to understand the theme of the nation's cultural production in the context of globalization. It shows how national representations involve global processes that, in turn, do not dispense with the nation-state, which continues to produce them, but without holding the monopoly of these representations that no longer find their centrality in the national space. Thus, now having sports mega-events as his object, Michel Nicolau continues the reflection of his previous books, focused on globalized musical production: Brazilian music and national identity in globalization (Annablume, 2009), and The discourse of diversity and World Music (Annablume, 2014).

In the dispute over representations of the nation with other agents in the transnational space, the Brazilian State uses its own specialized agencies, such as EMBRATUR and APEX-Brasil. It also resorts to hiring private companies that operate internationally (Millward Brown, McGarry Bowen and others). Everything is articulated in a game of disputes conducted according to the convenience of private transnational companies, whose interests are guaranteed by the nation-state itself, which cedes its territory to mega-events. In them, a denationalization of authority would operate, which is now exercised in a certain space by agencies such as the International Football Federation (FIFA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In this process, the transnational performance of advertisers specialized in producing national images gains prominence. They would constitute themselves as a kind of new intellectuals, after all they would occupy the function of producing national identities in the era of globalization, in the role of “artificers of national identity producing nation-brands” (p.17).

The work seeks to understand the wide range of agents, disputes and conflicts within game promoters, highlighting the approximations and tensions between State and capital involved in mega-events. The first chapter deals with the advertisers' discourse about the nation, adapting national representations to the transnational consumer culture. The “nation-brand” is developed, in which the national image would be placed in a “process that produces national and city representations through tools of marketing, inserted in a consumer culture and with a view to valuing these images for competition in a global market of symbols” (p. 30).

The nation-brand would be something with a national reference, but “in a way that it can be shared and valued globally”, with integration through the market (p. 51). This theme is deepened in the second chapter, on the globalization of national identity, in which the nation-state itself becomes an agent interested in the discourse and production of the nation as a brand.

The focus of the third chapter is the symbolic economy of mega-events – which have become denationalized. The authority over their forms of representation passed into the hands of international bodies, under the control of the IOC and FIFA, especially from 1990 onwards, when globalization matured. According to Nicolau, “the mega-events are globalized because they can land anywhere and, thus, raise the condition of that place (of a nation, of a city) in disputing a highly saturated global market of symbols” (p. 118). The denationalization process would be carried out within the structures of the nation-state itself where the games are held.

In the fourth chapter, there is a more detailed analysis of the central objects of empirical research, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, with the production of what the author calls a “denationalized media-space”. The State would denationalize certain areas of the city, with successive borders that the participants must cross, from the areas adjacent to the mega-event, passing through the expanded area, until reaching the core area, where the authority over the symbolic forms would belong to the IOC, or to FIFA and institutions linked to them.

The fifth chapter is devoted to explaining how the Brazilian State used its EMBRATUR and APEX-Brasil agencies in mega-events, in a dispute for national symbolic representation in the context of globalization, with a national agenda turned to the outside world. The theme continues in the sixth chapter, which highlights the role of “symbolic administrators” played by State agents and others in the dispute for national representations in mega-events.

Advertisers, holders of the ways in which the nation is represented in globalization, would form a “network of transnational specialists”, craftsmen specialized in national representation, “an elite of nomadic creative workers that circulates around the globe”, organizing mega-events (p. 232). Their power as new intellectuals would be legitimized by holding the knowledge for the “transformation of national memory into an object of the global market of symbols […] intermediated by consumer culture, the media and the cultural industry”, connecting consumers from different places. There would be a certain “global provincialism” involved in mega-events, “imagining the world as a great market of symbols formed by nations, by brands; by nation-brands” (p.244-246).

Quite open, inspired by authors such as Pierre Bourdieu and Renato Ortiz, the theoretical and methodological choices are pertinent to explore the extensive field research. The book presents a profusion of references and debates with the most up-to-date bibliography at national and international level, referenced in an accessible way also to the reader unfamiliar with the subject, who has access to the text facilitated by a series of tables and photos at the end of each chapter.

In short, the book is very well constructed, the result of exhaustive research, which can generate new questions. For example, regarding an aspect noted in passing: the mega-events in Brazil were carried out by the Workers' Party (PT) governments, to a certain extent already planned by the administrations of the Brazilian Social-Democracy Party (PSDB). And its implementation fell largely to the Ministry of Sport, occupied for a long time by representatives of the Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B). Thus, one can ask: it would be fair to conclude, implicitly, that party and ideological differences would matter little, given a logic in which the national State would be at the same time hostage and partner of large private transnational corporations to sell the Brazil brand in the globalized market ?

The work highlights – with relevance – the conflicts between State and capital in the realization of mega-events. Perhaps it is worth asking more specifically how conflicts are expressed within the State itself and between the capitals involved. Even more interesting would be to be able to follow the clashes with those who are neither state agents nor private transnational companies. These are those who normally participate only as consumer-spectators, sometimes as opponents of mega-events. The subjects who – as shown in a suggestive passage in the book – collectively advanced to protest within the borders of transnationalized areas to which they had no access, barred by the police, refusing to reduce Brazil to a brand.

*Marcelo Ridenti is a full professor of sociology at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The Secret of the American Ladies – Intellectuals, Internationalization and Financing in the Cultural Cold War, coming out on ed. unesp

Extended version of article published in SBS blog , on 17/11/2020.

Reference


Michel Nicolau Netto. From Brazil and other brands: nation and symbolic economy in sporting mega-events. São Paulo: Intermeios/Fapesp, 2019, 266 pages.

 

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