A fascinating study of how the Roosevelt administration used mass media, including films by such luminaries as John Ford, Walt Disney, and Orson Wells, to promote the American way of life to Brazilians and how Brazilians actively interpreted, negotiated, and reconfigured this effort at cultural seduction.
Following completion of the U.S. air base in Natal, Brazil, in 1942, U.S. airmen departing for North Africa during World War II communicated with Brazilian mechanics with a thumbs-up before starting their engines. This sign soon replaced the Brazilian tradition of touching the earlobe to indicate agreement, friendship, and all that was positive and good—yet another indication of the Americanization of Brazil under way during this period.
In this translation of O Imperialismo Sedutor, Antonio Pedro Tota considers both the Good Neighbor Policy and broader cultural influences to argue against simplistic theories of U.S. cultural imperialism and exploitation. He shows that Brazilians actively interpreted, negotiated, and reconfigured U.S. culture in a process of cultural recombination. The market, he argues, was far more important in determining the nature of this cultural exchange than state-directed propaganda efforts because Brazil already was primed to adopt and disseminate American culture within the framework of its own rapidly expanding market for mass culture. By examining the motives and strategies behind rising U.S. influence and its relationship to a simultaneous process of cultural and political centralization in Brazil, Tota shows that these processes were not contradictory, but rather mutually reinforcing.
The Seduction of Brazil brings greater sophistication to both Brazilian and American understanding of the forces at play during this period, and should appeal to historians as well as students of Latin America, culture, and communications.
- List of Abbreviations
- 1. A True "Factory of Ideologies": The Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs
- 2. Brazil for the Americans: The United States of Brazil in the United States of America
- 3. The Boogie-Woogie in the Favela, or the Brazilian Attraction to the American Standard of Living
- Conclusion: Americanization Was Not Imitation
- Illustration Credits
- Name Index
American things are not making us deaf, but they are making us blind, and as in the classical image, we are like moths that the light attracts to their death.
Lima Barreto, "O nosso 'Ianquismo'"
In mid-1942, the construction of Parnamirim Field, the well-known American base in Natal, Brazil, was completed. Airplanes began to arrive in Brazil, bringing soldiers and technicians from the United States. They departed from the Northeast of Brazil to North Africa to help British soldiers trapped there by the Germans under the leadership of Rommel, the commander of the Africa Korps.
Americans were living among Brazilians from the Northeast. In order to communicate with the mechanics, before starting their airplane engines the American pilots made a sign: a fist with the thumb straight up. It was the "positive," the "thumbs-up."
When the ordinary people of the Brazilian Northeast, observing the American pilots for the first time, imitated the positive sign with the thumb up, Brazil was already Americanized. Luís da Câmara Cascudo, the remarkable researcher of Brazilian popular culture and folklore, noticed the phenomenon of our gestures but did not foresee the extent of the thumbs-up. Like the traditional touching of the earlobe with the fingers to indicate that something was good or positive, the thumbs-up became synonymous with agreement, friendship, beauty, questions, good morning, good afternoon, and good night. It would be used, at least in Brazil, for almost everything. It was much more internationalized than the earlobe touch, which had been used until then. Thus, in the 1940s, the gesture, which symbolizes our Americanization, spread from Parnamirim Field throughout Brazil.
It was very difficult for many to admit that Brazil was becoming Americanized. "Americanization" was a perennial topic of discussion and was transformed into a polemical issue almost always associated with modernization. Academics, intellectuals, and artists argued extensively pro or con. The ties between culture and economic dependence are evident in the analyses. Manichaeism was irresistible in the studies of the "Americanization" of Brazil. The quotation marks are significant. The phenomenon is sometimes interpreted as a great destroyer of our culture, a negative influence; sometimes, on the contrary, it is seen as a paradigmatic and mythical force, capable of liberating us from cultural and economic lethargy and having a modernizing effect on Brazilian society.
Monteiro Lobato, a Brazilian popular writer who lived in New York in the late 1920s, was one of those who were enamored with the idea of the American way as a way for Brazil to surmount its underdeveloped position and move toward a developed situation. Protective boots on the feet of the hillbillies and a tractor sufficed to create a new man: a positively strong and healthy Brazilian, capable of leading the United States of Brazil to be comparable to the United States of America.
The current of thought that blames Americanization for the deconstruction, or even destruction, of our culture entails a Marxist theoretical arsenal based on socioeconomic models that almost always relate cultural and economic dependency. A book that made history analyzes in a generalized way the Americanization of Latin American culture. It is called How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, which at the beginning of the 1970s—for obvious reasons (Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship)—was circulating in a semiclandestine fashion in its Spanish edition among Brazilian leftist circles. Donald Duck, Mickey, and the other Walt Disney characters were interpreted as agents of destruction of Latin American cultural traditions. The authors conclude that, through the adventures of the Disney characters, Latin American youth absorb North American teachings on greed, individualism, and materialistic consumption.
In Brazil, José Ramos Tinhorão, a polemic historian and researcher, is one of the most fervent critics of the Americanization of Brazilian popular music. For Tinhorão
the singer Farnésio Dutra, who had symptomatically chosen the North American pseudonym Dick Farney, had been in the United States . . . in the naïve belief that he could make a career in that country by singing American music.
In the case of this singer—who, by the way, was a good piano player—the process of alienation of mentality had reached an alarming point: his voice was almost a replica of Bing Crosby's. . . .
Upon his return to Brazil, Farnésio Dutra, transformed into Dick Farney, decided to sing what sounded closest to Bing Crosby: "fox-blues" . . .
The success was almost immediate with a public that was also alienated.
To use the terms used by Umberto Eco to describe the attitude of intellectuals toward the impact of mass communication, both the "apocalyptics" and the "integrated" have contributed to keeping the discussion lively. But they also have hindered a more substantial investigation of the nature of American cultural influence through the mass media. We cannot always blame the imperialism of the media for the influence and the superiority of other cultures over ours. By doing so we run the risk of fetishizing these same media.
Although Carlos Drummond de Andrade, a Brazilian modernist poet from the state of Minas Gerais, did not point directly to the media, he was intrigued by the national imperialism-culture connection when he attended a luncheon with American professor William Berrien, assistant director of the Rockefeller Foundation, who visited Brazil during the war. As a result of the lunchtime discussion, Drummond concluded that "any conception of cultural relations based on the inoculation of a weaker culture by another more powerful one, one better equipped with means of expression, would be an imperialist conception at the service of inexcusable economic and political goals." The poet could not perceive the planned imperialist intentions of a "more powerful culture," even by paying very close attention to the discourse of the American, that is, Berrien. According to Carlos Drummond de Andrade, the interest of the likeable American in Brazil was indeed of an intellectual and humanist character.
During that same period, Sérgio Buarque de Hollanda also participated in the discussion:
Our increasing contact with the United States is at the same time unsettling and a suggestive subject for the imagination: It is no longer only economic and political, but also cultural. There are some who are frightened by this increasingly closer interchange, and where the idea already plays a considerable role—I might even say a prominent role—[fear it] as a mortal danger to our authentic traditions, our national character, our rhythm of life, our own reason to exist. . . . We would easily accept a new form of colonization, a little more tolerable than the old one—colonization of ideas, manners, and even enthusiasms and hatred—abandoning the venerable conventions of the past.
I have just returned from a trip to North America that lasted a few weeks, over the course of which I learned to better judge such an opinion. It demands of us a spiritual exchange that promises broad and lasting consequences, exactly the opposite of a simple consent. It is at least for this reason worthy of attention and respect. No great benefit can come from a hemispheric patriotism that is the result of abdications and compromises.
From French to English
In the early 1930s, the Carioca (resident of Rio de Janeiro) musician and composer Lamartine Babo composed the fox-trot "Song for Englishman to See." The majority of the words in the verses are homophonic with English:
Ai love iú
Forget isclaine maine Itapirú
Lamartine was known for the critical irony of his lyrics. The title itself, "Song for Englishman to See" (Canção para inglês ver), is connected to the traditional relationship between Luso-Brazilian people, on the one hand, and the English, on the another. It is believed that the expression came from Dom João, the governing prince, in the first decade of the eighteenth century, who said, when he arrived in Salvador, which was all lit up for his reception: "It is good for Englishmen to see."
The spelling of the words in the Lamartine song is in "Portugenglish," following a trend of the 1920s that was critical of foreignisms, as, for example, in the poetry and chronicles of Juó Bananére. The meaning of some words that Lamartine Babo used in this song cannot be found in an English dictionary. The critical view of foreign expressions acquires a character that is almost anthropophagic in the modernist sense: The whiskey was produced from chuchu (chayote), a vegetable used as an ingredient in popular dishes, and not from Scottish malt or American corn from Kentucky. "Ai love iú" (I love you) rhymes with the Itapirú word, of Tupi-Guarani origin.
In 1933, it was Noel Rosa's turn. Rosa, one of the most popular samba authors, criticized foreign influence in Brazilian culture in a famous tune of that time. He attacked Americanization in the song "It Is Untranslatable" (Não tem tradução), a samba that shows the tensions and resistance of popular culture at a moment when an increased use of foreign expressions was noticeable in the media:
E as rimas do samba não são I love you
Depois o malandro deixou de sambar
Alô boy, Alô Jone,
Só pode ser conversa de telefone
The rhymes of the samba are not I love you
Afterward, the scoundrel stopped dancing samba
Hello boy, Hello John
Can be only telephone chat
Both Noel and Lamartine—each in his own way—criticized the Americanization of Brazilian society. They also criticized the traditional French influence, which was starting to diminish around that time. In the mid-1930s, a change of paradigm was emerging. Liberal Europe was related to things out of fashion. Modernization came from North America or, for some, from Germany.
The liberal state, a minimum requirement for Americanization, according to Gramscian theory, was far from Brazilian reality of the 1940s. The "apocalyptics" and the "integrated" had not taken into consideration that the "Americanization" of Brazil has its genesis in the nonliberal Vargas state of the 1930s and 1940s. This was a paradoxical Americanization.
Excluding the quotation marks, the questions remain: What exactly was the meaning of the Americanization of Brazilian society? Is it possible to determine the moment when this process began?
Americanism as a Paradigm
In 1940, a minor incident that occurred in Brazilian show business demonstrated that Americanization had to overcome resistance being shown by an important sector of Brazilian society. On the night of July 15, the Carioca elite gave Carmen Miranda the cold shoulder during her show in the Urca Casino in Rio de Janeiro. She had just arrived from New York, where she had performed on Broadway, on the radio, and in the movies.
At the beginning of the show, Miranda greeted the audience: "Good night, people." The public did not even react to her incorrect English. The proper greeting would have been "Good evening." Even the joking attitude of the singer, known as the Brazilian Bombshell, was not accepted by the public. The atmosphere worsened later when she sang "The South American Way," a rumba by Jimmy McHugh and Al Dubin, which, in her interpretation, resembled a samba. Dead silence was the reaction of the audience that had gone to the Urca Casino to see Miranda.
Perhaps the audience did not react solely in defense of both Brazilian nationalism and popular culture, which were being bombarded by one of its most popular representatives. The reaction was indeed closer to the attitude of the mazombo, to use the expression restored by Vianna Moog in his book Bandeirantes e pioneiros. Since colonial times, the mazombo has been a symbol of the Brazilian character. Mazombo, the son of a Portuguese born in Brazil, suffered from an eternal longing for what he had never been, that is, an urbanite of the great cultural centers of Europe.
To those Brazilians, any cultural manifestation, even if it was popular, could not come from America and, much less, from the United States, which always had been identified with "barbarian" mass culture. The Portuguese writer Eça de Queirós synthesizes the thinking of the mazombos: for them, there was much "more civilization in a Parisian alley than in all of New York." The paradigm was Europe, mainly France. The audience at the Urca Casino on July 15, 1940, found Carmen Miranda Americanized and somehow vulgarized, very distant from the "civilized alleys of Paris."
Two months later, the offended Carmen Miranda retaliated for the cold reception of the mazombos. In the same Urca Casino, she performed the samba "They Say I Returned Americanized" (Disseram que voltei americanizada), composed with typical Brazilian molho ("soul," literally, "sauce") by Vicente Paiva and Luís Peixoto:
E disseram que voltei americanizada,
. . . Eu digo mesmo eu te amo
E nunca I love you
They said that I came back Americanized,
. . . I really say te amo
and never I love you
Carmen Miranda sang in the most traditional style of the Carioca samba singers, the style that had characterized her as a typical Brazilian performer. In the second part of the samba, she changes her tone, giving to her voice a touch of the malandro. At the end of the song she pronounces the word "Brasil" as southerners—such as politicians like Pres. Getúlio Vargas—do, by stressing the letter "l."
However, the singer, who had reaffirmed her genuine Brazilian identity, returned to the United States and was swallowed up by the Hollywood machinery. She made films, performed in Broadway shows, sang, and, obviously, filled her pockets with money. She was, in the end, Americanized.
The world situation of the 1940s suggested to North American foreign-policy makers that attitudes such as those of the audience at the Urca Casino on July 15 needed to be examined carefully. Brazil was seen as an important partner in the hemisphere, and the safest way to guarantee this partnership was to Americanize Brazil by peaceful means.
The Americanization of Brazilian society could minimize some resistance to political ties between the United States and Brazil. Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy was an instrument with wide scope for the execution of the Americanization plan. The fine-tuning of the operation was carried out, as we will see, by a true "factory of ideologies" created by the American government.
Inside this "factory," Americanism was redefined with specific "raw materials" in which the suffix "ism" was transformed into a powerful, intentional tool with the clear objective of replacing other isms, whether indigenous or not. Americanization was the process of imposition of this ideology on the "weaker" cultures of Latin America.
Americanism can be better understood if we analyze some of the more important elements that took shape in the United States mainly during the first half of the twentieth century. One of them is democracy, always associated with American heroes and especially with the ideas of freedom, individual rights, and independence. Democracy, freedom, and individual rights, prevailing over differences of social class, religion, and race, were guaranteed for all Americans.
However, the more important ideological component of Americanism is progressivism. Strongly rooted in American culture, it is related to rationalism and to the idea of abundance, as well as to creative ability better known as American ingenuity. This dimension of Americanism exalted the free and energetic man, who was capable of transforming the natural world. Thanks to this, the market could offer some useful and attractive products in abundance, creating a new form of pleasure: the pleasure of consumption. As these products became available to all, independently of their class in society, life would be easier, more pleasant and enriching. As Charles Maland points out, "economic growth provides the opportunity to meet social needs, to defuse class conflict, and bring blue-collar workers into the middle class."
The same could be said about music. The channel was the market. Luís da Câmara Cascudo was correct when he identified in the syncopation of George Gershwin's songs the incessant rhythm of the assembly lines at Ford or other big American corporations. The rhythm of swing and Glenn Miller's Big Band was much more attractive than German martial music of the military bands, or the SS goose-step. Or, as pointed out by Prof. Richard Morse, Americanism is simpler because you can tap your foot to it. Almost everything was dictated by the rhythm of money-generating capitalism. It was irresistible. Once the difficulties of modern life were eliminated, the roots of social dissatisfaction would be removed. Social peace would be achieved by generalized consumption. Some key words had acquired a mythical meaning in the ideology of Americanism: "progress," "science," "technology," "abundance," "rationality," "efficiency," "scientific management," and the "American way of life."
Traditionalism is another important element in the ideology of Americanism. The myth of the pure and healthy life on the farm, the close relationship with nature, the small town, the high regard for family values, individual courage, fear of God—everything, in reality, had validity only for white Americans, Anglo-Saxons, fundamentalists, anti-Communists, and passionate imperialists.
The democracy-slavery paradox—present in the origins of Americanism—was, at least legally, swept away by Grant's and Sherman's troops at the end of the Civil War. In behalf of the Union, slavery was destroyed and a more dynamic market economy was put in place by force through the Reconstruction policies of the businessmen of the North.
Regional differences diminished through the implacable advance of the components of dynamic and standardized American modernization, such as the railroads, the telegraph, the telephone, the newspaper, and photography. Standardization took place at all levels. The cinema, the greatest of all American innovations in the area of entertainment, disseminated the American way of life more than any other medium. The movies Americanized the United States of America first and then the other American countries. It disseminated the bucolic image of the past of pioneers, farmers, small towns, the simple life—in sum, traditionalism—by means of modern and complex mass media.
Movie-made America is the title of Robert Sklar's book. It was a commercialized Americanism. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Alexis de Tocqueville had already foreseen the power of Americanism:
It is unquestionable that the North Americans will one day be called upon to supply the wants of the South Americans. Nature has placed them in contiguity and has furnished the former with every means of knowing and appreciating those demands, of establishing permanent relations with those states and gradually filling their markets. The merchant of the United States could only forfeit these natural advantages if he were very inferior to the European merchant; but he is superior to him in several respects. The Americans of the United States already exercise a great moral influence upon all nations of the New World. They are the source of intelligence, and all those who inhabit the same continent are already accustomed to consider them as the most enlightened, the most powerful, and the most wealthy members of the great American family. All eyes are therefore turned toward the United States: these are the models which the other communities try to imitate to the best of their power; it is from the Union that they borrow their political principles and their laws.
The Americans of the United Sates stand in precisely the same position with regard to the South Americans as their fathers, the English, occupy with regard to the Italians, the Spaniards, the Portuguese, and all those nations of Europe that receive their articles of daily consumption from England because they are less advanced in civilization and trade. England is at this time the natural emporium of almost all the nations that are within its reach; the American Union will perform the same part in the other hemisphere, and every community which is founded or which prospers in the New World is founded and prospers to the advantage of the Anglo-Americans."
In the world situation of the 1940s, the Tocquevillian idea of the propensity of the Americas for Americanism was more real than ever. A considerable part of the world was practically inaccessible to the United States. Nazi Fascist\–dominated Europe was, in a sense, out of reach of the Americans.
Of all the ideological components of Americanism, Progressivism was the best suited "to conquer" the "other Americas" because of its simple and direct character, that is, to work, to produce, to earn money, and to consume. The other ideological components of Americanism were inherent and present in Progressivism in an abridged form.
Germanism as an Alternative Paradigm
To strengthen Brazil's sovereignty, many Brazilians tried to point out paths to the country's future. During the administration of Dom Pedro II, emperor of Brazil, who reigned from 1831 to 1889, some liberal thinkers, such as Tavares Bastos and André Rebouças, exalted the republican American formula. On the opposite side was Eduardo Prado, a conservative thinker, who, inspired by the country's past and the British regime, repudiated the American formula and defended the monarchy soon after the proclamation of the Republic in 1889. At the time of World War I, a book intended for "active Brazilians with courage and strong will" suggested Germany as a "third way," in order to avoid British and Yankee influences. Dunshee de Abranches, an outsider thinker, in A illusão brazileira (The Brazilian illusion) wrote: "Germany, which after 25 years of wise and happy internal reconstruction, had changed from a third-ranked country to a leading power [original emphasis], was worthy of being imitated by us, who possess the vastest and most productive territory in the New World."Abranches emphasized that, compared with other European countries, Germany had shown its superiority in all fields. He believed that we in Brazil, who had more resources, could do as well as or even better than Germany by putting an end to the perennial extortion caused by the association with "perfidious Albion," as England was termed by the French.
In the United States, the formulation of Americanism was the ideology that explained the modernization of the nation in the New World. In Germany, through Germanism, the ideological justification for expansion and modernization was sought in a conservative manner. Abranches saw Germany as a model country during World War I. This concept was echoed among certain Brazilians who were part of the power structure in Brazil at the time of World War II. During the 1930s and early 1940s, many Brazilians who were thinking about the future of the country were attracted to the ideology of Germanism. Germanism was another paradigm that presented an alternative to dependence on England and the increasing influence of the United States. Therefore, the North American republic, with its Americanism, would have to supersede the Germanic paradigm. The United States would have to be accepted as a more viable model than the fascinating Germanic model, at that moment a well-oiled and apparently invincible war machine.
The technological and consumerist aspect of Americanism was not appreciated by a significant sector of the officers of Brazil's armed forces. The military identified the mass production of gadgets by North American industry with the wastefulness of an excessively materialized and commercialized society. For many Brazilian military officers, the autarchic Nazi Germany model was apparently a more appropriate paradigm at that moment. The relentless advance of the Nazis in Eastern Europe during the first half of the 1940s engendered enthusiasm not only at high levels of the Brazilian government, but also among the population of Germanic origin from the south of the country, who were not properly integrated into Brazilian society. The German colony in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Paraná had already been reached by Radio Berlin and its emphasis on Germanism.
The "fascinating" side of fascism gave more luster to the Germanic model. The power of attraction of the elegance and sensuality of fascism was felt by a character in Sartre's novel La mort dans l'âme (Troubled sleep). While watching the march of German soldiers into Paris, Daniel was "delighted by their beautiful hair, their tanned faces, with eyes that looked like iced lakes, their slender bodies, their incredibly long and muscular hips. . . . A delicious, unbearable sensation, spread all over his body . . . he repeated, gasping: 'As if they were butter—they are entering Paris as if they were butter.' . . . He would have liked to have been a woman to toss them flowers."
If some masochistic Frenchmen were delighted by the Nazi victory, what can be said about the population of Germanic origin from the South of Brazil? Could it be that in the eyes of Brazilian officers, the German soldiers seemed to be more elegant and better fighters than the French with their khaki uniforms? For Susan Sontag, the Nazi soldiers were aesthetically more attractive, especially the SS soldiers, with their well-cut uniforms, black boots that seemed to compel the soldiers to stand erect, and white gloves hiding their hands. This elegance made the American soldiers look like salesmen in civilian clothes, with their neckties and shoes with laces.Thus, Brazil's aesthetic-military paradigm became Germany.
Even Frank Capra, considered to be one of the most distinguished "manufacturers" of the American dream, was impressed with the aesthetic side of Nazi ideology. In April 1942, Capra and Anatole Litvak went to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art, in New York and in a special screening watched Triumph of the Will, the already famous film by Leni Riefenstahl. Capra was astonished: "It scared the hell out of me. My first reaction was that we were dead, we couldn't win that war . . . just exactly as the Austrians did and the Czechoslovakians did and the Channel countries did. That picture just won them over. . . . When I saw it, I just thought, 'How can we possibly cope with this enormous machine and enormous will to fight?' Surrender or you're dead—that was what the film was saying to you. I sat there and I was a very unhappy man. How can I possibly top this?"Frank Capra, who was terrified by "fascinating fascism," was the aesthete momentarily distanced from American cultural and marketing reality. The film transformed power into spectacle, politics into aesthetic: a demonstration of camaraderie, youth, willpower of the people (Volk), and blood.
But outside the deeply idealized context of that historical German moment, the marches, the speeches, the parades, the torches, and the references to the heathen cults of the primitive Germanic tribes had almost no significance. The parades, and so on, touched the heart of some integralistas and isolated Brazilian army officers, but only for a short time. It did not take them long to convert to Americanization.
When Capra recovered from the impact, he retaliated with the series he produced together with Litvak, Why We Fight, aimed at the soldiers on the front, a documentary with propagandistic intentions sponsored by the Office of War Information and the Signal Corps, a movie company linked to the American Armed Forces. The series had little impact beyond the barracks. It is currently an integral part of the archives on World War II. Capra's commercial films, such as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Meet John Doe (1941), were a much more efficient vehicle for Americanization. In other words, the market was the best road to Americanization.
The German model was not easy to understand, and it was difficult to adapt to Brazilian reality. The Nazi autarchic pattern was rooted in the remote past of German history, mixed with fragments of conservative imperial culture and the modernization of the Weimar age. In sum, Nazi Germany was based on the project of self-supported expansionism. The ideological project was strengthened by a combination of traditional culture, racism, and enlightened rationalism.
Furthermore, one has to add all of this to the idea developed at that time by a vast war literature, the result of Fronterlebnis (war experience at the front), which portrayed Germany with a more masculine culture. A generation was forged capable of fighting Amerikanismus, which was seen as a "veritable plague" with its Taylorism, its mass production and consumption, the rationalism of its industry, and as a threat to the German spirit. For the German right wing, Fronterlebnis produced strong souls to fight the American way of life and its escapism.
This formulation, which seemed to transform Nazi Germany into a significant world power, captured the attention of some Brazilian army officers. Gen. Pedro Aurélio de Góis Monteiro was invited to attend one of the many huge military parades in Berlin. Góis Monteiro did not manage to visit Germany, but in one way or another, a self-supported developing economic project remained in the thinking of the military officers of the 1930 Revolution. Although we did not have the past technical experiences that came from schools of engineering, we had more natural resources than Germany.
Until Brazil achieved technical independence, it could buy weapons and machines produced by the great German industries under the system of compensation offered by the Germans. In these transactions, money was not used, but products were exchanged. By 1935, "the Brazilian government made an informal compensation (aski) arrangement with Germany, in spite of having signed a reciprocal trade agreement with the United States in February of the same year. Finance minister Arthur da Souza Costa, in defending this move, stated that certain Brazilian commercial interests depended on the compensation system to export their products to Germany, while others used it to import German goods."
The manifestation of the Brazilian government's autonomy caused the Americans to protest. But for the more nationalistic military sector, such attitudes of independence in our commercial relations strengthened the idea of distancing Brazil from the excessively commercialized orbit of the American economy. At the same time, we would divest ourselves of the feminine image of Latin America portrayed by the North American press starting at the end of the nineteenth century. This image would change through a Fronterlebnis transposed to Brazilian reality and forged in the remote Paraguay War (War of the Triple Alliance, 1865\–1870), in Canudos (the backland peasants' rebellion in Northeast Brazil at the end of the nineteenth century); in the Contestado (the peasants' rebellion in southern Brazil at the beginning of the twentieth century); in the military upheavals of 1922, 1924, and 1926\–1927; in the movement of 1930; and in the brief battles against leftists in 1935.
However, the formulations of the military were hindered by our historical-cultural reality, which demanded different mechanisms from the German model. Pres. Getúlio Vargas seemed to better understand our formation. On the international level, he tried to maintain equidistant relations with "mercantile Yankee imperialism" and "romanticist Germanic imperialism." This game was not easily understood by the general staff of the armed forces. Some of President Roosevelt's skillful and sensible advisors on American foreign policy were paying attention to the conflicts of Brazilian internal politics.
As previously mentioned, German expansionism threatened the hemisphere and the equilibrium set by the interests of the United States. Three days before the swastika flew from the Eiffel Tower, President Vargas took advantage of the situation. His speech on board the battleship Minas Gerais, delivered on June 11, 1940, is known for its dubious message: "We march toward a different future . . . the time for short-sighted liberalisms, sterile demagogies is over . . . The energetic peoples fit for life need to follow their aspirations."
He commented on the repercussions of the speech in his diary. Many saw the speech as Germanophile; at least that is what it sounded like to England. The United States was initially surprised. A diplomatic discussion took place involving Chancellor Oswaldo Aranha, American Ambassador Jefferson Caffery, and Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles. The tense situation was evaded.
A few days after having criticized the democracies, Vargas had been skillful enough to show his support for the policy of Pan-American solidarity proposed by President Roosevelt. On June 12, Vargas recorded in his diary: "We began the talks on our war planning with the head of the American military mission, our military people, and the minister of the exterior." The game of Brazil's head of state yielded its first results.
The Good Neighbor Policy, the Intellectuals, and Americanism
There is no denying that World War II was the turning point in the history of cultural relations between Brazil and the United States. However, the idea of the Good Neighbor Policy, which included culture in the international agenda, was developed a few years earlier, during the government of Republican president Herbert Hoover. Elected in November 1928, President Hoover embarked on a trip through Latin America before taking office that, according to him, was not exactly a recreational trip. He intended to change some important aspects of American foreign policy. As soon as he arrived in Honduras, President Hoover gave a speech in which the expression "good neighbor" was used; this expression would be adopted by President Roosevelt in 1933.
Hoover was preparing the ground for his Latin America foreign policy. However, he was not well received in all the countries he visited. Argentina and Uruguay showed little enthusiasm. In Buenos Aires there were protests against the presence of the American president. But when President Hoover arrived in Rio de Janeiro on December 21, 1928, he received a warmer welcome. The poet Oswald de Andrade also welcomed the North American leader in his own way: "Hip! Hip! Hoover! Poetic Message to the Brazilian People."
Oswald de Andrade's verses reflect the critique by sectors of the Brazilian intelligentsia of the growing presence of Americans in Brazil. They also reflect the disagreement on racism, as does Mário de Andrade in the "Nova Canção Dixie" (New Dixie song): "No, I'll never be in Color Line Land."
For a long time, Americanism had forged a discrediting image of Latin America. The white Protestant man was valued. He was always mentioned as leading progress in the fight against uncivilized life and created an opposite image for Latin Americans. According to this concept, to the south of the Rio Grande was the America of the Indians, the blacks, the women, and the children. This America needed to learn the lessons of progress and capitalism to abandon this "inferior" position. This America needed, ultimately, to be domesticated.
Some American intellectuals began to criticize this image of superiority, a trend current mainly after World War I. Those were the 1920s—in reference to the United States, already described as "splendid drunken years," the years of nonconformism, with flappers, as young women of free behavior who liked to dance were known. The Brazilian name for flappers was melindrosas, the young women whom Monteiro Lobato described as "these charming creatures, unique in the world, American girls whom European painters proclaimed the prettiest beings on Earth, most perfect body, physically slim, solid as Helen Wills, the tennis queen, self-assured, friends of whiskey in massive doses after Prohibition proclaimed the use of alcohol a crime, these flowers of flesh . . . who trot in the street to their clerical work, where they walk out on men, and who keep a series of boyfriends."
The February 1920 issue of Life magazine had on the cover a flapper, that is, a slim "Lobatian" melindrosa. Wearing a big necklace, garters showing, full of bracelets, face painted, she was dancing with an old man wearing a tuxedo and eyeglasses on the tip of his nose. A small caption read: "Teaching old dogs new tricks." The old gentleman who danced with the flapper represented traditional America, which could not resist the appeal and pleasure of an America that was almost its opposite. It was a time when the paradigm of the puritan and honest American was shaken: a moment of cultural disturbance. As Warren Susman mentions:
Too often the decade appears as Ishmael Reed describes it in his recent (1972) brilliant and provocative literary tour de force Mumbo Jumbo: "That decade which doesn't seem so much a part of American history as the hidden After-Hours of America struggling to jam. To get through. . . . If the British prose style is Churchillian, America is the tobacco auctioneer, . . . the traveling salesman who can sell the world the Brooklyn Bridge and convince you that tomatoes grow at the South Pole. If in the 1920s the British say 'The sun never sets on the British Empire,' the American motto is 'There's a sucker born every minute.'"
But it also was a time dedicated to the material prosperity of the interwar period. Calvin Coolidge, the Republican president (1923–1928), had close ties to big business. President Coolidge had a "religion": wealth and work, in the deepest puritan and individualistic sense. The factory was its temple.
The decade of the 1920s is well known in the history of the United States as a moment of great economic expansion. It was an era of intense mechanization of production and a vertiginous growth in the market. Profit was the motto of the big investors who preached in Coolidge "temples." The high priests were Frederick W. Taylor and Henry Ford. It was a market that produced everything en masse: cars, vacuum cleaners, radios, refrigerators, and food. There would always be a sucker ready to buy any thingamajig produced. The progressivism and reformism that had marked the government of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt had been covered, after President Coolidge, with a mask, a sort of stingy caricature, reduced to a concept of productivity and enterprise. Morality walked hand in hand with the religion of production and consumption. Ford was publicly opposed to tobacco, alcohol, and dancing. The blame for the vices of society fell on immigrants, Jews, and blacks.
For the provincial attitude of the moralists-fundamentalists, beer was always related to the temptation of the devil and the immigrant. The same was true for sex and music. This attitude gave birth to the constitutional amendment that established Prohibition, which came into effect in 1919. It was a time of moralism and greed. It was a time to flout strict laws. A lot was drunk during these "drunken" years, a time in which it was forbidden to drink alcohol.
The breaking of the law produced a specific type of culture and behavior. Speakeasies were established, in which there was no restriction on alcoholic beverage consumption; bootleggers, traffickers, and rumrunners, a Latin-Caribbean variation of traffickers, brought rum from the Caribbean to the thirsty American market.
This morality imposed during the Coolidge-Hoover years could not control the sexual appeal of the advertisements of the big companies. For instance, it was impossible to prevent a cigarette manufacturer from advertising its products outdoors with a poster of a pretty young brunette whose seductive lips longed for an imaginary Lucky Strike, or perhaps even a kiss. Sex appeal was not used only in commercials. The cinema, still silent, showed the curves of the "It Girl," Clara Bow, or the "masculine sexual symbol" of the time, Rudolph Valentino.
It was not easy for the puritan and moralist soul of the average American to control its so-called primitive instincts. The abundance and offers were such that sex and alcohol—integral parts of the market—could not be abolished by the force of law alone. Evidently, moral and religious limits were present. The pleasure-seeking white man found himself exceeding the limits established by law and morality. Literally leaving his territory, he searched for a kind of anticipated forgiveness of his sins. Harlem, the black neighborhood of New York, represented a truly free territory for part of the white population.
They searched in other "territories" for what was forbidden in their own. White Americans had discovered the sensuality of black American music in Harlem. There was no sin in Harlem. Even if there was, when the white man returned to his territory, the guardians of puritan morality would not take into account the sin committed in another spiritual "jurisdiction."
At this time, almost simultaneously with Latin Americans, a generation of American intellectuals started to question the segregation and materialist-consumerist character of American society. They criticized, above all, the prejudiced interpretations formed in the "drunken '20s" and during the depression that some periodicals made of Brazilian cultural peculiarity. These intellectuals believed that it was essential to understand what were commonly regarded as negative qualities: the "savage" and "natural" aspect of certain social groups in their own country and of the Latin American peoples. It was an introspective phase for these intellectuals. It was necessary to understand the savage forces and not deprecate them. This was a route to a more spiritual America, in which nature was the source of regeneration. This approach tried to keep alive the idea that the Wild West, the frontier, had not died. Many went looking for the pure and genuine values of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico. They learned their customs, their dances, their food, their music, and even slept with them, with the intention of criticizing the American way of life. The idea of going to the origins was what guided young Americans such as Mary Austin, Franz Boas, John Collier, Robert Herrick, and Lewis Mumford. All of them in a certain way contacted the Indians and criticized the addicted, capitalist, and materialistic American culture. Perhaps this is one of the bases of "Freyrian" Brazilian sociology: Gilberto Freyre had strong connections with Franz Boas.
From Indians to women, from women to children, from children to blacks and their folkloric music. From there to jazz, which white people such as George Gershwin took upon themselves to incorporate into concert music. It is "natural" that Latin America was the next step. According to Pike, "Latin America's cultural and racial mestizaje instead of being taken as a badge of inferiority became now a symbol of hope to a generation intent upon synthesizing culture and nature, rather than obliterating nature so as to safeguard cultures."
One of the intellectuals who had searched for this synthesis most intensely was Waldo Frank. According to Fredrick Pike, Frank has to be understood as an integral part of a generation of East Coast Jewish intellectuals who stood for a messianic and millenarian concept of history. The idea of the American melting pot, according to Frank, should be carried beyond American borders. The cabala supplied the bases for a curious theory of integration between the north and the south of the continent: the feminine aspect of God (Shekinah) had been separated from its divine head; later, a sacred marriage joined the parts again, forming a union of God with the feminine principles. Frank drank from this source and re-created the popularized interpretation according to which the United States always had been seen as the masculine part and the Latin peoples as the feminine part of the Americas. For him there should be a union between the feminine and the masculine parts of America, and not the domination of one over the other.
Frank and other intellectuals of the time believed that Latin America should not follow in the steps of American historical development, which had produced an excessively materialistic society. With the help of its intellectuals, Latin America should deepen its mystical sensitivity and help Americans recover their lost spirituality, their pioneering past. In 1942, during a trip through Latin America, Waldo Frank spread his interpretations. It was not by chance that the Good Neighbor Policy was understood by some sectors in Latin America as the first phase of sincere relations with the United States.
However, in the 1940s, Waldo Frank was not the true "messenger" of the Good Neighbor Policy, nor did this represent the type of closeness that those ingenuous and sincere Anglo-American and Ibero-American spirits had hoped for. The Americanization of Brazil was the achievement of a United States more interested in keeping the continent as part of its market. The traditional Protestants were little influenced by the activities of outsiders such as Frank. In reality, by disseminating a morally favorable image of the materialistic and consumerist aspect of Americanism, they were trying to isolate the influence of these young opponents of the "extreme materialism" of North American society.
The idea of Americanizing the United States itself was translated into a pedagogical and disciplinarian politics following the precepts of the Protestant Anglo-Saxon white elite. The target of this politics was a mass of immigrants who had recently arrived in the country. The heterogeneous, undisciplined, and even anarchistic culture of the immigrants needed to be controlled in order to protect the basic "pillars" of "Christian civilization."
Let us focus on the name of the country called the United States. It is one of the few countries—if not the only country—in the world that does not have a specific substantive name. One has the impression of an abstract being with political qualities. It seems to be a group of independent states that decided to become united around a few common ideals. It was the state of New York that joined the state of Maryland that joined the state of Virginia that joined the state of Massachusetts, and so on. Keeping the idea of independence, the set of states adopted a common name, the United States of America: a sociological and political concept. Because of this development, the notion of nation was not immediately formed. The English language lacks a word to define people born in the United States. Or, better, the word exists: "Americans."
From the beginning, there was an unconscious desire that was translated into the idea of "Manifest Destiny": the United States would appropriate the word "America" to identify the country. The intriguing part is that, in all State Department documents I have examined, the expression "Other Americas" is used for all the American countries except the United States. However, this does not include Canada, for obvious cultural and racial reasons. "Other Americas" sounds like a paradigmatic truth. Thus, an America existed, that is, the United States, in short, a grand country with an industrial revolution, magnates, laborers, Hollywood, skyscrapers, modernity. And then there were the Others, with none of the above.
Partly owing to negligence, Brazil and the other Latin American countries became accustomed to these denominations when referring to the United States and to people from the United States. Immigrants, in turn, Americanized themselves within a generation. Some of the cases of resistance were restrained or seen as colorful manifestations. Many immigrants in Brazil, especially the Germans, had been isolated for a period of time. This preserved the German language and culture in Brazil, facilitating the dissemination of Nazism in the colonies of the South. German-Americans, in contrast, quickly adapted to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant community.
A simpler project would be necessary to Americanize the other Americas. Some of the issues expressed by dissident intellectuals—the critique of segregation and the idea of the superiority of the white Protestant—had undoubtedly been incorporated, but only to consolidate a model condemned by outsiders, that is, to elevate the idea of material progress and the insertion of the Latin American countries into the mercantilist sphere of Americanism. The "outsiders" had been used, in a certain way, to carry through the Americanization project, at least on the representational level. The conditions that would be used as the basis for relations with Latin America were created during the government of Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The depression surprised a euphoric and "drunken" America. The national income fell from $81 billion to $49 billion, and millions of unemployed people took to the streets. The middle class began to lose its savings, insurance, and income from small investments. Unable to pay their mortgages, members of the middle class lost their own homes, one of the most important symbols of the American way of life. The slums, known as Hoovervilles, and breadlines, ironically, seemed to have become the new symbols of an impoverished America.
After 1933, the new government of the Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, introduced the New Deal. Along with it, a feeling emerged: the 1920s had been years of sin and, therefore, needed to be forgotten; a great effort of reconstruction had to be marshaled. The country acquired the shape of an immense family congregated around a "father," who, by the way, entered American homes on a weekly basis through his "fireside chats" on the radio.
One of President Roosevelt's first acts was the abolition of Prohibition. Wine and beer, now legal, boosted an important and lucrative sector of the economy. Aside from the lack of money, it was a time concentrated on the arduous work of rebuilding the nation. The time and space for pleasure had been reduced or, at least, disciplined and domesticated.
The disciplinary characteristic was also noticeable in the music. In the 1920s—baptized by Scott Fitzgerald as the "Jazz Age"—a great number of talented musicians were known for their individual virtuosity and distinguished themselves in small groups, such as in the house-rent parties of Harlem, or on the South Side of Chicago. But the New Deal period was marked by the birth of the big bands, the age of swing. In the formation of the orchestras at the time of the New Deal, "the individual musician had to work harder than ever before. He had to be able to 'swing' separately as well as with his section. And then the sections had to swing together, too. It meant endless rehearsals, a comparative loss of identity (except for the solo stars), and high-level teamwork."
Jazz also was moralized and disciplined. One could say that it was a moment in which there was a kind of informal morality. In other words, it was a morality that was more politico-economic than cultural. Some years later, in the early 1940s, bebop was a reaction to the "disciplining" of the music. In spite of this, for "millions of common Americans, especially workers and farmers . . . the New Deal was a huge moral crusade capable of restoring the values of justice, fairness, democracy and equality in the economic life of the Republic."
From Anglo-Saxon America to Ibero-America
"Por muy bien cortado que esté un frac, puesto sobre el lomo de un yanqui parece siempre un frac de prestidigitador" (a tuxedo—no matter how well cut—once put on the shoulders of a Yankee always looks like a magician's tuxedo). This conclusion of the cultured dictator of El recurso del método (Reasons of state) by Alejo Carpentier, summarizes well how Latin American aristocrats saw the Yankees: as uneducated and inelegant. Also, José Enrique Rodó in Ariel bitterly criticizes the utilitarianism, the materialism, and the mediocrity of American culture in order to emphasize the "aristocratic" culture of Latin American thinkers.
Public opinion on the subcontinent had always associated Americans with the arrogance and superiority of the Uncle Sam image with its Mephistophelian goatee. Uncle Sam was a simultaneously ridiculed, comical, and fierce figure, with his flawless top hat threatening the Latin American peoples.
New times introduce new images. By 1938, arrogance was coming from German ambassador Karl Ritter, who insulted Chancellor Oswaldo Aranha. The old image of the Americans contrasted with the European elegance of Amb. Jefferson Caffery. The refinement of this southern gentleman belied the association of the tuxedo he wore for official ceremonies with the image of any magician. Rockefeller was one of the few responsible for this change by "delivering the message to Latins that Yankee men and women of affairs had a genuine interest in promoting the better things of life: They were not the cultural barbarians that Latin-American pensadores so often assumed them to be."
In a photograph taken in Rio Grande do Norte in January 1943, after President Roosevelt returned from the Casablanca conference, he is sitting in a Jeep, smiling, dressed in a white linen suit and a Panama hat, in the company of President Vargas, also smiling and confident (see cover illustration). This is a new seductive image transmitted by President Roosevelt to the Brazilians.
In this new phase, Latin America could still be represented as the feminine part of America, but not in the same mold as before. To the American, who was living the "informal morality" of the New Deal era, the Latin America represented in this feminine image started to become, on the plane of pleasure, a liberated territory, a kind of international Harlem. Generic and hypothetical Carmen Mirandas had taken the place of the flappers. What was difficult to find in the United States could be found easily in Brazil. The religious chronicler of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had written about the absence of sin to the south of the equator. Americans seemed to have discovered the old writings, interpreting them according to a naughtier concept. Waldo Frank would prove this thesis with a mulatta from Belo Horizonte in 1942.
In the same year, Orson Welles produced a radio program with Carmen Miranda in which she taught him how to sing and dance. When one listens to the program, the relationship of exchange established between the two is noticeable: it discloses the delicate malice of the woman-America—seducing the man-America—at the same time as she is seduced by him.