Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Visiting Shantytowns

According to Eric Weiner, NY Times journalist, it all started 16 years ago in Brazil (where else?). Marcelo Armstrong was the first to have this idea: taking tourist to visit the slums and the first group of tourists of the slums was brought into the favela da Rocinha, the biggest in Rio de Janeiro. From 1992 until now the business had spread not only in Rio or Brazil, but all over the world. Tourist from richer countries in North America or Europe pay to go and see (or get to know, maybe) how the poorest people in Asia, South America or Africa ty to make a living and survive day by day.
The ethics involved in this sort of tourism is arguable, as Weiner would show us in his article: "Slum Visits: Tourism or Voyeurism?". On the one hand, people that would never get to know this reality, finally have the opportunity to see how they look like and this, hopefully, would make them see their life from a different perspective - and, according to tourists that already had the experience, this really happens. Besides, having tourists and a commercial activity in the shantytowns rings a certain financial aid to the people that live there. They have the opportunity to sell their products and spread their culture. On the other hand, though, how can we sell poverty? How can someone ask for money in order to take a handful of tourists to precarious houses of poor people. And how can tourists take photos of this poor and difficult life as if it was something "exotic"? In fact, they can hardly convince me that the pictures really have a documentary value...these people, after all, spend only a few hours in the slum and then, after a week or so, take the flight that will bring them back to their life in a luxurious Manhattan apartment.
As you can see, I`m not really convinced of the value of this kind of tourism (also called poorism), even though I think it can (or might) have positive results.
Talking about Brazil, there`s a new movie on theaters: City of Men. It is sort of related to City of God, but with a different perspective, more centered on the people rather than the favela itself. Actually, I haven`t seen it yet...I have to find somebody who would like to come with me. The only problem is that I know this kind of movies are shocking for most people. Moreover, non- Brazilians hardly get the tragic situation of violence in the slums, tending instead to criticize the movies for being too violent (and forgetting that the movies want actually to depict the reality).

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