The rise and fall of the Neymar banana
What looked like a soccer star's spontaneous gesture against racism has become the target of criticism in Brazil
It was such a quick, forceful and seemingly spontaneous gesture that it was impossible not to get emotional watching it. Our guts immediately responded: if only we could hit back at the injustices of the world by taking a metaphorical bite out of them. Dani Alves eats banana like someone chewing up racism, ran one headline in this newspaper.
And so began The Banana Incident. As Spanish journalist Delia Rodríguez notes: “a viral phenomenon is like a bomb of emotion.” And the video footage of Barcelona’s right-back calmly picking up a banana thrown at him from the stands and biting it before getting back on with the match had emotion to burn.
But just a few hours later, the Brazilian media revealed that the online campaign #somostodosmacacos (we are all monkeys) created by Neymar (with 4.7 million followers on Instagram) in support of his Brazil and Barcelona teammate Alves was actually thought up by a marketing company ahead of the incident.
“Together with the player and his team, we created this out of need,” explained Guga Ketzer, vice-president of Loducca, the agency that came up with the idea, in statements to website Meio e Messagem. “A few weeks ago, Neymar and Daniel Alves suffered racist taunts […] And he decided that it was necessary to create a campaign.” At first it was going to be Neymar who would eat the banana, as he explained to Veja magazine, but Alves got there first.
Alves has told BBC Brazil that he was aware of Neymar’s campaign and that his colleague would publish the picture, before the incident during the match against Villarreal on Sunday.
Racism experts kept repeating that no, we are not all monkeys
By now, dear video watcher, you might be finding those initial emotions you felt cooling off a little.
The marketing professional behind the scheme has responded to the criticism: “To try to belittle the campaign because there is an agency behind it is to be as prejudiced as the fan who threw the banana. This is not a campaign to sell anything,” said Ketzer, who declined to take calls from EL PAÍS.
Meanwhile, the Neymar meme kept growing, enlisting support from other soccer players but also from television hosts, singers, and even Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
All the while, activists and racism experts kept repeating that no, we are not all monkeys, and that appropriating the insult does not end the problem. They also noted that soccer stars who earn six figures do not get killed by being dragged from the back of a speeding vehicle, or tied to a post in the name of popular justice.
In a display of quick thinking, Brazilian TV host Luciano Huck (who is white) has begun selling t-shirts bearing the hashtag #notodossomosmacacos (we are not all monkeys) on his website. There are images of good-looking white models wearing them. Faced with a flood of criticism, the online store has posted a message stating that 100 percent of proceeds from the sale of the shirts will go to charity.
At the same time, the smile of those moved by Dani Alves’ gesture continues to fade.