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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Carnival: Ancient Roots, Modern Media Saturation

The history of carnival (aka carnaval) celebrations in Latin America and around the world are much studied. To read Wiki's great rundown, read here. While most American media outlets focus on Rio de Janeiro, much of the rest of the region is immersed in their own forms of pre-Lent celebrations, colorful and ecstatic displays of pomp and passion.

Unfortunately, corporations have taken control over much of what is modern-day carnival in many areas. Coca Cola, national cell phone companies, cable TV firms and manufacturers of all sorts of modern schlock are now key sponsors of these celebrations, which are widely televised. That is not to say that the carnival traditions in play do not retain meaning and reflect history. But they do seem to me to be cheapened and made less meaningful by the corporate profit motive, and the homogenization of many local traditions and ways.

I know I am swimming against the tide here, perhaps screaming in the wilderness. But when national TV networks hold mindless beauty pageants and runway events, and thousands turn out to hear ear-numbing hip-hop and pop music that is programmed by 20-year-olds in New York or London or Los Angeles, it makes me yearn for a simpler time when traditions were local, defended and preserved.   

For a look at one of the hemisphere's truly authentic and most fascinating carnival celebrations, take a look at Oruro, in the Bolivian altiplano, high Andes plain. The most traditional of the dances is the Diablada. Here it is on YouTube

(Note: Condolences to the families of the dancers and spectators killed and injured in yesterday's tragic accident in Oruro during the carnival opening celebration.)

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