My very own Milwaukee has caused international uproar over the building of a fake favela at the Nomad World Pub on Brady St., the very same towny/sporty bar where I play magic upstairs with the boys on Tuesdays. Where one Tuesday I looked down from the window to see the bar’s courtyard transformed by costumey colored clothing hanging in mock haphazard fashion from lines crossing now brightly painted walls. Apparently these fake poor could also not afford driers. But I digress…
I’m really writing about the appropriation of poverty.
For what it’s worth, I’ve seen the favelas first hand. My father grew up in Brazil… In Rio and other parts. And I’ve traveled and taught there. Spoken with NGOs actively involved in raging a war against the government who is waging war against the favela dwellers. My interest was in the way that testimonies of people living in the favelas were being used by NGOs to build a campaign to keep people in their homes, and prevent the government from completing their complete pre-World Cup, pre-Olympic slum clean up. My problem with the NGOs was that they were paying people for their stories and censoring stories that reflected a critical spirit toward the slums they were trying so valiantly to save. This rock/hard place ethics treading is a more than common occurrence in the international aid community. We all have the very best intentions (even as we strip your rights to save you.) In short, the “favela situation” in Brazil is a complex one and its history long. Any attempt to wade into the geo-historio-political cross hairs of this housing pandemic had better come packing. But again, I digress (and with tasteless mixed metaphors, no less)…
I think what I’m really writing about is media and hypocrisy.
1) Any press is good press. The dark and evil Nomad World Pub is now truly worldly with the exposure. Come one and all to visit this rogue establishment!! Give us your dollars for a chance to sit in our gauche shanty-esque corner of Milwaukee! How I am reminded of walking the Killing Fields of Cambodia watching tourists take smiling pictures in front of mounds of skulls. How much the remnants of that atrocity remain one of the major reasons that “dark tourism” continues to be a source of money for that country.
2) For all the hand wringing over Nomad’s appropriation of poverty, I truly wonder how many of those news outlets have EVER cared to report on the actual subject of the appropriation, that is, millions of people living in squalor in Brazil’s slums? The real message then becomes: we don’t actually care about the world’s poverty…just don’t appropriate it!! Because then we might actually be reminded that it’s there.
The critical reception of the Nomad’s faux-vela, I’m convinced, is mostly interested in slapping the hand that so blatantly tries to commercialize an impoverished area. As long as the actual disparity between Brazil’s rich and poor, between the shiny new stadiums shadowing the tins roofs of countless homes, as long as that situation remains hidden, then the complicit critic is content.
For all of the Nomad’s bad taste and stupidity, they don’t come close to the hypocrisy of their critics.