Friday, February 12, 2010


The weekend has come. The Sambadromes are ready. The time-honored ritual is set to begin: Carnival, the big party before the Catholic holiday Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, when you’re supposed to give up something until Easter.

Ash Wednesday is not very fun, getting some ashes smeared on your forehead in preparation for weeks of self-denial, so Carnival has become a big deal all over the world, with paganism bubbling up through the mix. In some places it has developed into something powerful and strange that goes beyond the original meaning. In Brazil it’s mutated into a world of its own.

Imagine Thanksgiving Day parades all over the country, happening all weekend, with the organizations that make the floats and outfits competing with the bands and dancers, so it has a World Series/Superbowl intensity. Not only is there international media coverage, but the tiny cameras that are carried everywhere take it global. You don’t have to go to Brazil -- Google and Youtube can make any part of the planet into a Sambadrome.

Not only is the Carnival getting into the technology -- the technology is getting into the Carnival. A new kind of street-level macumba is plugged into a satellite-connected Web. This is more than William Gibson’s “the street finds its own use for things," but Carnival is taking over the street, and through cyberspace, asserting itself into the real world.

More of the floats include large moving figures, like giant robot gods. Well, actually they’re more like automatons – they don’t have cybernetic brains, yet. It won’t be long though. Pretty soon giant robots gods will patrol the landscape, doing their god stuff. Maybe, if we take care of them, they’ll take care of us.

Meanwhile, this weekend, I’ll be tuning in to the Sambadrome spectacle, looking out for glimpses of the new world that’s coming, to a lively, energetic beat.

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