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Is Nomad's World Cup favela area 'racist?' Owner isn't changing it

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Photo: Video by tmj4.com

Is Nomad's World Cup favela area 'racist?' Owner isn't changing it

By Jay Sorgi. CREATED Jun 11, 2014 - UPDATED: Jun 12, 2014

An author of a book criticizing much of the operation of FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil, and the effect it's having on the society of that nation, called a Milwaukee bar's World Cup party area "racist."

The owner of the Nomad World Pub has responded, saying that setup was "not by any means offensive or making light of it," and that he vetted the concept through "Brazilian customers, Brazilian fans" who patronize the bar.

"I was shocked," said Mike Eitel, who owns the Nomad, on 620WTMJ's "Wisconsin's Afternoon News."  He said he would not, for now, change his display. 

"I'm still blown away by the whole thing...I know there's a lot of controversy in Brazil, socioeconomic disparity. We're not trying to offend anybody. We're trying to celebrate that passion. It is the home of the most passionate soccer fans in the world. We're expressing that in solidarity with them, not trying to offend or belittle."

Dave Zirin, a sports reporter for The Nation, criticized the party area's setup which was meant to resemble the favela neighborhoods in many Brazilian cities.

 

"This has to be seen as a teachable moment," explained Zirin, who also joined "Wisconsin's Afternoon News."

"Dressing up your bar as a favela, it just seems like one of those things where someone should have stepped up and said 'This isn't the best way to market the Nomad for the World Cup.' "

In Zirin's book, "Brazil's Dance with the Devil," he delves into the organization of the World Cup and Olympics to be held there over the next two years, and how the cost of it is affecting Brazil's citizens in many ways.  Zirin talked to many favela residents in Brazil who are fighting against being displaced by the government's efforts surrounding the two events, along with what he says are incredible injustices against the people there.

"If you know anything about life in the Favelas, particularly right now at the start of the World Cup, it's marked by poverty, by horrific levels of police violence and by a state of military occupation, actual tanks sitting in the favelas so foreign tourists feel safe when they walk by," Zirin said.

Here are some of Zirin's tweets about the Nomad's set-up and others he-retweeted Wednesday morning:

Hours after these tweets, Zirin chose not to criticize the purity of the Nomad's desires with their World Cup display.

"I don't want to impune the motivations of any of the managers at the Nomad.  This isn't about calling them out, specifically, or thinking they had any ill intent," he said.

Still, Zirin added, "By trivializing the favelas for profit, that's not harmless.  It serves as a way at best to foster ignorance about the favelas, and at worst, to foster a benign contempt for the realities of how people live in Brazil."

Eitel told me Wednesday morning, and later told "Wisconsin's Afternoon News," that his intent was pure with the display.

"If the favela as a backdrop to the World Cup is being found offensive to people, that was not the intent," Eitel said when he first found out about the criticism.

"We have Brazilian friends coming in to hang out all month.  They view it more as a tribute and an interesting thing to do...take a blighted, unused parking lot and breathed some activation into it."

He said this is at least the fourth World Cup where the Nomad has tried "to enhance the experience" for fans.  They did a similar display for the South Africa World Cup in 2010, "with little or no controversy that I'm aware of."

"We had a ton of volunteers, a lot of collaboration, a lot of artists, craftsmen.  We built (the Brazil display) in about three days."

Eitel added that "We have a strong Brazilian fan base...they thought it was a really amazing tribute.  They thought it would be a really cool backdrop.  They thought I was insane for doing it, but not for a controversial aspect.  It was, 'Why are you putting so much effort into it?' "

That effort, according to Eitel, was to "make an interesting space tied into Brazil, more of a tribute to the spirit and culture.  A lot of the football passion is born on the streets in the cities.  It's part of the culture of Brazil and always has been," said Eitel.

"That sentiment...it's great to hear (Eitel) say that," Zirin responded.

"If they view this as a kind of tribute,  they should know better than to do things like put up clothesline and hang laundry out to say 'Hey, look at the poverty.'  It's got an ugly ring of things that have been controversial in recent years, like wealthy fraternities holding 'plantation parties' or 'pimps and hoes parties' and sort of saying, 'Let's relish in someone else's pain for the purposes of our titillation' instead of actually trying to educate people. 

"If you're going to do this...have some literature there for people about what favelas are actually like.  Have a bowl where people can throw in their spare change and give something to some charities down there."

To Zirin, even if the Nomad's intent is pure, he says they are "trivializing favelas for profit."

"The idea of trying to profit off it in Milwaukee, it's almost like the definition of the ugly American. 'Let's get a little taste of it here, and by the way, you can also have a beer and a shot here with your favela experience.'  There has to be a better way of doing this.' "

When asked if he would take the display down, Eitel said that at least for now, "I don't think so."