182 Pages

Body Parts on Planet Slum


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A fascinating look into how women use soap operas to reconfigure suffering, pleasure, sexuality and embodiment.

There is growing interest in urbanization as currently a third of the world’s urban population live in slums, and by 2030 there may be two billion slum dwellers across the globe (Davies 2004, 17). During economic crises, slum dwellers are involved in increasing feats of self-exploitation. The literature on slums and informal settlements tends to focus on economic survival strategies, particularly those of men. But how do women, as the most marginalized and excluded slum-dwellers, survive in the face of poverty and gender oppression? What are the emotional rather than material costs of poverty? This book conveys the rich fabric of life in the slum.

‘Body Parts on Planet Slum’ discusses the importance of Christianity and telenovelas, and explores what it is about women’s lives in particular that makes these stories so central. Yet it is also increasingly clear that for the poorest women, church attendance has become a rare luxury – whereas telenovelas are piped into their homes on a daily basis. The unemployed women watch up to six hours of telenovelas a day in the midst of arduous physical labour in the home. The women suffer in relation to their bodies, but invest in a masochistic glorification of suffering. It is this glorification of suffering that links the women’s lives to the telenovelas in crucial ways. It reveals disturbing valuations of women’s bodies that traverse reality and fiction, and connect to a central feminist question, ‘What is a woman?’

Foreword by Juliet Mitchell; Introduction; Chapter 1. Theodicy and Ideology: ‘Everybody Needs an Ideology to Live’; Chapter 2. The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth; But in the Meantime They Shall Watch Telenovelas; Chapter 3. Suffering Soaps; Fragmented Bodies; Chapter 4. The Politics of the Vagina; Chapter 5. The Redemptive Womb; Chapter 6. The Invisible Back; Final Feliz; Illustrations; Table: Women Respondents; Glossary; Bibliography; Index



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Published 01 October 2011
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Body Parts on Planet Slum
Body Parts on Planet Slum
Women andTelenovelasin Brazil
Lisa Beljuli Brown
Anthem Press An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company www.anthempress.com
This edition first published in UK and USA 2011 by ANTHEM PRESS 75-76 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8HA, UK or PO Box 9779, London SW19 7ZG, UK and 244 Madison Ave. #116, New York, NY 10016, USA
Copyright © Lisa Beljuli Brown 2011
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
Cover image ‘Nilzete watching thetelenovela, A Indomada, Santa Cruz, January 2000’ © 2011 Lisa Beljuli Brown
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Brown, Lisa Beljuli. Body parts on planet slum : women and telenovelas in Brazil / Lisa Beljuli Brown.  p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN-13: 978-0-85728-797-7 (hardback : alk. paper) ISBN-10: 0-85728-797-4 1. Poor women–Brazil–Social conditions. 2. Slums–Brazil. 3. Television soap operas–Brazil. I. Title. HQ1542.B76 2011 306.4–dc23 2011033939
ISBN-13: 978 0 85728 797 7 (Hbk) ISBN-10: 0 85728 797 4 (Hbk)
This title is also available as an eBook.
For Mary Hurley
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Final Feliz
TheodicyandIdeology:EverybodyNeedsan Ideology to Live’
TheMeekShallInherittheEarth;ButintheMeantime They Shall WatchTelenovelas
Suffering Soaps; Fragmented Bodies
The Politics of
the Vagina
The Redemptive Womb
The Invisible Back
IllustrationsTable: Women Respondents GlossaryBibliographyIndex
ix xvii
21 59 67 81 99 121
125 133 137 139 149
Janie grows up with her ex-slave grandmother in the yard-room of a kindly, wealthy white family in rural western Florida. She plays all the time with the four white children. One day a roving photographer takes a picture of the five children:
“So when we looked at de picture and everybody got pointed out there wasn’t nobody left except a real dark little girl with long hair standing by Eleanor. Dat’s where Ah wuz s’posed to be, but Ah couldn’t recognize dat dark chile as me. So Ah ask, ‘where is me? Ah don’t see me’. “Everybody laughed… ‘Dat’s you…don’t you know yo’ownself ?’… Ah looked at de picture a long time and seen it was mah dress and mah hair so Ah said: “‘Aw aw! Ah’m coloured!’ “Den dey all laughed real hard. But before Am seen de picture Ah thought Ah wuz just like de rest. (Zora Neale Hurston 1937)
RereadingBody Parts on Planet SlumJanie into mind this icon of  brought 1 Hurston’s novel of more than fifty years earlier. The impoverished women of thebairrosof Salvador with whom Beljuli Brown lived and worked are also the descendants of African slaves. I want to ask: how similarly and how differently from Janie do these women find themselves, mirrored in the white, middle-class heroines of the soap operas that play day in, day out on broken-down televisions in overcrowded shacks? As the book’s title indicates, slums are our future. Indeed, our future is already behind us; the ‘slumification’ of the planet is outstripping all predictions. What this book portrays and the theses it argues are thus urgent, general rather than particular. Lisa Beljuli Brown refers to the so-called ‘mirror-stage’ in the theory of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan; here I want to reopen the discussion through
1 I would like to thank my daughter, Polly Rossdale, for explaining to me the main similarities and differences between Brazilian and North American slavery and for finding this half-remembered quotation fromTheir Eyes Were Watching God(1937).
the icon of fictional Janie, not being able to find her ‘coloured’ self in the white family snapshot. Where on a spectrum of constructed identities are we to place thebairro’sFrancisca who, when Lisa first meets her, is a lively 18-year-old with three children, one deaf and unable to speak, and an unwanted fourth soon on the way? There is her gutsy friend Jacqui, her sad friend Rosane; or Nilzete, mother of 11 who, at 36, feels she is ‘finished’, her life over and heaven to be 2 welcomed. An ‘identity’ spectrum ranges from having a clear sense of one’s own identity as an individual with gender, race, ethnicity etc., through Janie’s failure to recognize herself in her own picture, to knowing one’s ‘poor Black self ’ only as the ‘rich White other’ on a TV screen, which, like the photograph, acts as a mirror giving a wholeness to the subjective experience of existing as disparate ‘body parts’? Are the experiences of Hurston’s Janie and the women of thebairrotwo sides of the same coin, or do they at least fall along the same mirroring continuum? InLacan’s ‘mirror-phase’, the baby is still at the stage of ‘body fragmentation’. It is an uncoordinated flailing of body parts – spoon in ear, porridge in hair – that suddenly sees its whole body caught, in perfect stillness, in a mirror. Pointing to the mirror, its mother helpfully says, ‘Yes, that’s Johnny’, thereby creating a sense of an ego that, Lacan contends, is only misleadingly a gestalt; it is the ego as an image that is forever ‘alienated’. But supposing that the whole you (alienated or not) is either unrecognizable (Janie), or someone else (Francisca et al.)? When Lisa Beljuli Brown asked me to supervise the PhD thesis from which this book emerged, she was a young Cambridge graduate sociologist with interesting experiences outside the academy in Central American political theatre. I was returning to university teaching after 25 years as a practising clinical psychoanalyst. Along with this extramural consciousness, what we shared was a commitment to the knowledge that a ‘gender analysis’ not only shed light on the women who had been ‘hidden from history’, but also on the history that had excluded them. The theory and practice of a gender analysis inBody Parts on Planet Slumchanges one’s views concerning these topics. It is not a closed but an open project, so this preface aims at a further dialogue with Lisa and her readers. It is in the spirit of continuing conversation that I now want to ask some further psychoanalytical questions of what started as a predominantly sociological study. But before this, it is important to record that, like the subjects of all significant studies, this subject breaks the boundaries of any discipline that must initially be brought to it. So, as a gender analysis must, Lisa has asked her questions and proposed her explanations from an interdisciplinary
2 For comparable conditions of motherhood in sub-Saharan Africa, see Colette Berthoud, ‘Who Would Be a Mother’ (trans. Julie Stoker),Le Monde Diplomatique(January 2000).