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Save the Galvao – the World Cup and good natured global taunting

It’s a bit of a cliché to say that Americans don’t understand football, and especially don’t understand the importance of international tournaments like the World Cup. But sometimes we literally don’t understand what’s going on.

As I write this post, “CALA BOCA GALVAO” is the top trending topic on Twitter. Galvao refers to Carlos Eduardo dos Santos Galvão Bueno, who announces Brazilian national football team matches on Rede Globo, a massive Brazilian television network. As Raphael Tsavkko Garcia explains on Global Voices, Galvão Bueno’s style of announcing is deeply unpopular in Brazil, and Brazilian twitterers have been posting their dissatisfaction: “Cala boca, Galvão” translates as “Shut up, Galvão”, and the phrase has been heavily in use since the global tournament started.

But that’s not obvious to non-Portuguese speakers, and, as Garcia reports, Twitter users started asking each other, “What’s Cala Boca Galvão about?” Brazilian users have been quick – and mischievous – in their responses. Some have spread the rumor that the phrase is the title of Lady Gaga’s newest single. But the really fun response plays on the wired world’s willingness to participate in meaningless online activism.

The above (extremely well produced) video urges Twitter to save the rare and endangered Galvão bird – which appears to be a green parrot – whose feathers are used to produce Carnival headdresses. The video claims that every tweet including the phrase “Cala Boca Galvão” will lead to a $0.10 donation to a foundation dedicated to saving the bird.

The posters for the campaign feature a different Galvão bird – perhaps the Galvão bird in its spring plumage? – but emphasizes the charitable intentions of the campaign to save this noble creature. And the Galvão Institute is passionate about spreading the word about the Galvão bird on the web and Twitter… and is fearless about addressing the darker side of Galvão extinction – the terrible trend of Galvão abuse that’s disproportionately affected Argentine footballers.

Perhaps realizing the success of one meme over another, the supporters of the Lady Gaga Galvão campaign realized that the Lady Gaga single was, of course, designed to support this precious natural treasure. Turns out that it’s harder to fake a forthcoming pop hit than it is an ad campaign – there are at least a dozen proposed “Cala Boca Galvão” singles on YouTube, none of them very convincing – this acoustic version might be the least likely.

It’s hard to tell just how many non-Portuguese speakers have been persuaded by these campaigns to tweet “CALA BOCA GALVAO” – the New York Times offers the story of one misinformed Minnesotan – but it’s probably safe to say that you can’t go wrong overestimating the willingness of good natured, but misinformed, Twitter users to do the right thing so long as it involves zero cost or energy.

One of the most fascinating features of Twitter is “trending topics”, because it’s a window between the way you’re using the tool and how the rest of the world is using it. As Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas demonstrated in a recent talk at Personal Democracy Forum, many trending topics are disproportionately popular with black users, a surprising reminder to many Twitter users that African Americans are better represented on Twitter than they are in the overall US population. Like Facebook, Twitter provides a picture of the world shaped by your chosen circle of friends (see Eli Pariser on filter bubbles), but unlike Facebook, it offers an intriguing glimpse into the conversations you may not be participating in.

danah boyd writes about the ways in which social media forces us to cope with invisible audiences. We think we’re speaking just to our friends, but we’re being heard by lots of people we can’t see. (My favorite example of this is in old media, not new: CNN commentator Jack Cafferty reffering to the Chinese as “goons and thugs” and being forced to appologize to a large, unseen Chinese audience.) The Galvao example suggests the emergence of a different phenomenon – toying with an unintended audience. Brazilians weren’t looking to enlist Americans in their campaign to shut up a football commentator… but once the opportunity to have fun with an audience that’s unintentionally, uncomprehendingly eavesdropping presents itself, who could resist?

In my talk at ROFLCon, I offered the hope that we could start building Internet memes that allow us to laugh together, rather than laughing at each other’s inadequacies. The Brazilians offer an interesting twist on this idea – actively making fun of another country’s incomprehension. It doesn’t bother in the way Engrish does, perhaps because implicit in the teasing is the invitation to find out what “Cala boca, Galvão” means. Or maybe that it’s simply that this is a pretty gentle meme – shouting down a boring, cliched, old broadcaster is exactly what new media is for.

(The next meme the Brazilian twitterati are engineering is significantly less gentle. Given the zoological success of the Galvão Bird campaign, we’re now being urged to save a rare species of whale, the Geisy Arruda whale. Arruda is a young woman who was expelled from a private university in Sao Paolo for wearing revealing clothing. (The idea of expelling a student for wearing a miniskirt in a country known for dental floss bikinis seems pretty absurd, but Brazil is not the only country whose popular culture suffers from internal contradictions…) She’s now suing the university that expelled her. The photos online of the young woman suggest that she’s quite beautiful, but perhaps larger than the average Ipanema bathing beauty. And so this new campaign – currently #2 on Twitter trending topics – appears to be an internet version of an unkind fat joke.)

If I were clever enough, I’d want to respond to the Brazilian challenge with an absurd English-language meme designed to aggravate local prejudices. For instance, did you know that the vuvuzela was engineered by the CIA to produce frequencies that are particularly disconcerting for experienced footballers? I read on Wikipedia that the vuvuzela was a joint project between African nations and the US team designed to help young, inexperienced teams win, and put the experienced ones at a disadvantage. How else do you explain Spain losing to Switzerland, and Brazil letting North Korea score a goal? (Oh, it’s not on Wikipedia anymore? The CIA must have edited it, because they don’t want the real football nations to know the truth about the sinister nature of the vuvuzela and the Jabulani ball…)

Is global taunting the first step towards global communications? Perhaps it’s not as absurd as it sounds. The World Cup is an invitation for people from all corners of the world to talk smack to one another… and if you watch Twitter traffic during matches, you can find some deeply amusing smack. (My favorite example so far – when Denmark scored an own goal against the Netherlands, I watched several Arab friends remark that it was clearly divine retribution for Muhammed cartoons. They were joking, the Danes who read the comments and groaned knew they were joking, and the exchange stayed well on the fun side of the taunting line.) Most of the time, we rarely talk across linguistic and cultural lines – if our first step towards a common conversational ground is good natured ribbing about the global game, perhaps that’s a first step towards something deeper.

13 thoughts on “Save the Galvao – the World Cup and good natured global taunting”

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  10. Hello Ethan Zuckerman,
    I’m Midori, come from Taiwan. And I intrested in this talk on Ted.
    I have some question about “CALA BOCA GALVÃO” that you said at first.
    I want to know, how Galvao become hallucinogenic properties? Becase I don’t know why Galvao–a sort of a parrot– be abused by people?
    Thank you very much!:-)

  11. Hi Midori – Cala Boca Galvao was a joke. It was a phrase Brazilians used to tell a sports reporter to shut up. The whole bit about the parrots was a joke they played on the rest of the internet.

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