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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Across The Pond and Beyond - Xuxa

Sometimes when I plot these entries out (I usually do them about three or four weeks in advance), I don't necessarily plan for each entry to have the same recurring theme to run for days.

And yet, for the third entry in a row, that theme seems to pop up like one of those moles in a Whack-A-Mole game.

The theme being not judging a book by its cover.

We're taking a bit of a break from the holiday fun and festivities for a bit. Don't worry, I've got quite a few holiday-themed entries lined up yet. December's only just begun after all. I mean, I suppose our subject has had a few Christmas themed albums and shows at some point during her career, right?

The reason why I chose to make this entry non-Christmas themed is a sound one.

In all the months that I've had the Across The Pond And Beyond feature up and running, I've featured subjects from a variety of countries. Britain, Spain, Australia, Japan, Ireland, Wales, Scotland...there's quite a few that I have brought up in this spot.

I'm going to introduce a new country to this blog entry.


And why not? Brazil actually has quite a few topics that we can bring up. Brazil is a force in the world of soccer. Brazil also has some of the best beaches in the world.

They even have their own version of America's Next Top Model...or at least had one.

Today's subject happens to have had a lengthy career in the world of entertainment, both in her native Brazil and for a brief period, the United States. And, our subject had gotten a lot of scrutiny from people over the years who claim that maybe she wasn't the best role model for young children given her past dalliances with more adult forms of entertainment. And our subject almost walked away from it all after a devastating event with could have been incredibly catastrophic, but didn't.

I suppose you want to know who I'm talking about in this blog entry. Well, you probably have seen it up above in the title anyways...but I never said that keeping people in suspense was my strong point.

Our subject for today is Brazilian children show hostess Maria de Gra├ža Meneghel, who usually goes by the stage name of 'Xuxa' (pronounced Shoo-Sha), a name given to her by her brother.

Born in 1963 in Santa Rosa, Brazil, Xuxa's family moved to the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1970, when she was seven. A few years later, Xuxa was discovered by a publishing company that specialized in printing fashion magazines, and at the age of sixteen, she appeared on the front cover of a Brazilian magazine, kicking off her modeling career.

Seems pretty innocent, right? And if Xuxa had just stuck to modeling for fashion magazines, it probably wouldn't have been such a big deal.

But then things started happening in her personal and early professional life that got the proverbial ball of criticism rolling.

When Xuxa was just seventeen, she began dating famous soccer player, Pele, who at the time was in his early 40s. The relationship somehow managed to last five years, ending for good in 1986. A little bit on the uncomfortable side I must admit, but they say that when one finds true love, age isn't much of a factor, and in this case it wasn't. A couple of years later, she dated someone more close to her age, Formula One driver, Ayrton Senna from 1988-1992. Sadly, Senna was killed in a racing accident in 1994.

So, okay, her personal relationships were somewhat exploited in the media, and they painted her in some rather ugly colours, but that's what tabloids do with celebrity couples all the time.

But then in 1982, when Xuxa was nineteen, she made the decision to pose for the Brazilian version of Playboy magazine. And anyone who has ever read a Playboy magazine knows that the magazine is filled with women who don't really wear a whole lot of clothing...if any at all. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing though. It's not my business what people do with their personal lives, and if they want to pose nude in a magazine, then more power to them. But considering the negative rap that Playboy magazine, and similar magazines like Playboy get, some people would get a little intimidated to pose in a magazine wearing nothing at all. Not Xuxa though. She went into that shoot, took dozens of pictures for the magazine and was published in the pages. It wouldn't be until years later that Xuxa would begin to regret that decision, but we're getting to that.

Throughout the 1980s, Xuxa would continue her career by starring in a variety of South American produced films. Mostly comedy films with Brazilian comedy troupes and similar themes. Though a couple of these films would also be a bit controversial in nature. In one such film, Xuxa portrayed the role of a prostitute, and the film could best be described as being a soft core pornography film.

So, when Xuxa expressed interest in creating a show for children, parents immediately raised their red flags in shock and horror. According to some parents, Xuxa was not the type of person that they wanted to see hosting a children's show at all. She liked to pose nude, they said. She made adult films, they said. She dated men who were old enough to be her father, they said.

But, here's the thing. Kids loved Xuxa. When Xuxa debuted her very first children's show in 1986 on Brazil's Globo TV network, (a program entitled Xou de Xuxa), it immediately became a hit with kids.

From the success of the program came a slew of children's albums that Xuxa recorded. Much like other children's shows in North America such as Sharon, Lois, and Bram's Elephant Show, the songs heard in Xou de Xuxa were pressed into albums, and sold in stores all across South America. The album sales were huge in Brazil, with her third album selling three and a half million copies worldwide.

Below is a clip that can be found of the show Xou de Xuxa. This one's from 1988.  The quality's not that great, and I'm afraid that I don't speak Portuguese at all, so I can't translate what Xuxa is saying, but you can get an idea of what the show was like back then.

One thing that I immediately notice is how much action and excitement there is on the program. Look at the audience, and the dancers, and the people in costume, and how excited they are to be there. In all the years I used to watch children's shows, I had never seen one so loud and colourful as this one. It kind of made me wish I was Brazilian, because back when the show was in its prime in Brazil, I was in the show's target demographic.

Something else I noticed though was that Xuxa's outfits on the show were a bit elaborate and cut very short! Yeah, it is true that Xuxa didn't look like the host of a children's show...more often than not, she looked as if she should be dancing at a Rio de Janeiro night club after hours. But, again, there's a lot of cultural differences between North and South America, and maybe Xuxa's look at the time was deemed appropriate enough. At least she was wearing clothes, so that's something.

But with the success of Xou de Xuxa bringing Xuxa fame from a younger audience, Xuxa was beginning to realize that maybe posing for Playboy and acting in films for an adult audience maybe wasn't the right way to go. During the early 1990s, Xuxa launched a campaign to try and buy back all of the film negatives, tapes, and other things from Xuxa's past so that they couldn't be seen by her new audience. It was a valiant effort, and she even had help from her ex-boyfriend Pele to try and get everything back. Unfortunately, with the Internet gaining more and more popularity, and people being able to scan and post these images on websites all over the world, it was only inevitable that the pictures would somehow leak out.

And of course, parents complained that Xuxa's past dalliances with Playboy magazine, as well as her tendency to kiss young boys on their cheeks during the taping of Xou de Xuxa, were not qualities that they wanted to see on a show for children.

But this is where today's life lesson comes into play. Yeah, she did have a rather eventful past where she did a lot of experimentation. But then again, haven't all of us had those experiences at one point? It's unfortunate that the Brazilian media made such an example out of her, but I think that her past shouldn't really have mattered in this case. Looking back on it, she didn't really do anything that was considered to be sadistic, and she didn't kill anyone, so really, who is anyone to judge what someone did in their youth and young adulthood?

Xuxa rebranded herself, marketed herself towards a younger crowd, and the kids loved her. I'll be the first to admit that while I didn't understand one word she was saying, she did put on one hell of a show. And Xou de Xuxa ran for six years, wrapping up in 1992.

Following the end of Xou de Xuxa, Xuxa attempted to expand her fame into other nations including Argentina, Spain, and even the United States. The American version of the show (simply called Xuxa) was filmed during the summer of 1993 and began airing in September of that year. I actually remember watching one episode of the American version and being completely absorbed in it. The show aired insanely early on the ABC station that aired it (I think it was on at 7:30am), and the only reason why I was up early enough to watch it was because I was up all night throwing up with the stomach flu. It was the only show I can think of that made the words “GLOOP TIME” a household expression.  Take a look at a clip below.

TRIVIA: Ventriloquist Jeff Dunham once worked on the set of Xuxa.

Part Fun House, part Sesame Street, maybe even a couple of shades of Barney the Dinosaur was mixed in there too, I don't know. But I sat through the whole episode with a mixture of puzzlement and interest. It was by far one of the strangest shows I had ever seen, and I don't even know if I fully understood what the show was about, even though the show was in English. It was a show that like the Brazilian version was filled with lots of excitement, fun, songs, and games.

And immediately after watching the show, I threw up, providing a whole new meaning to the phrase 'Gloop Time'.

Regardless, it was a decent attempt at a kids show, but somehow American audiences weren't impressed. The show managed to barely last until 1994 before the plug was pulled. However, while Xuxa's popularity in the United States didn't resonate well, her star in Brazil continued to rise with two brand new shows. In 1994, Xuxa Park premiered in Brazil and was once again a hit. About a year later, a show for more adult audiences called Planeta Xuxa debuted, and that show featured celebrity guests, musical groups, and more adult discussion. And in 1998, Xuxa gave birth to her one and only child, a daughter, and she embraced motherhood. It seemed as though the early 2000s would be Xuxa's golden moment.

And then came the events of January 11, 2001.

It started off like any normal day on the set of Xuxa Park. Xuxa was taping a show with an audience of about 300 people, most of them young children. She was doing a dance number in front of a large colourful spaceship. She would do the number, enter the spaceship as part of the act, and then the show would end for the day.

But then this happened.

If you watch the clip closely you may see a stage hand attempting to put out a small fire that started around the spaceship set, but for whatever reason, the fire grew out of control and engulfed the whole stage. A quick evacuation effort by the crew of the set resulted in no fatalities, but twenty-six people suffered burns in the blaze which destroyed the whole soundstage. Xuxa was devastated over the fire, and she felt horrible for everyone who had gotten hurt, even though the fire was nobody's fault (it was started by an electrical short circuit).

Xuxa Park was eventually taken off the air shortly after the fire, and everyone who was hurt in the fire recovered from their injuries. Still, Xuxa felt badly, and it took her years to return back to the stage again. Fortunately, in 2005, Xuxa returned to television to present the television show Xuxa TV, a program that as of right now is still airing today.

But I think that's something else that we should also talk about. The fact that Xuxa cared so much about her fans. Days after the fire, Xuxa was visiting the victims of the fire as they recovered from their injuries almost daily, and she wanted to make sure that they were all right. Of course, some people will claim that the only reason she did that was so she wouldn't get sued, but looking as various articles I've read on this fire, I don't buy that. I think she genuinely cared for the children who were hurt.

And it's not the first time that her love for children has been shown publicly. In 1987, Xuxa loaned her image for a campaign urging parents to vaccinate their children against polio. That year, 97% of all Brazilian children received the polio vaccination. Two years later, she established the Xuxa Meneghel Foundation, a foundation designed to help children.

As recently as 2007, Xuxa met with the president of Brazil to discuss starting up another national campaign designed to stop children from experiencing physical or emotional abuse through bullying at school and in their own homes.

Xuxa's commercial success has admittedly been hit and miss. Certainly her acting skills have been widely panned in the media, as four of her movies (in particular with her 2000 film Xuxa Popstar) are currently ranked as some of the lowest rated programs on the Internet Movie Database. Yet her musical career has garnered her much success, including her winning a Latin Grammy Award for best children's album in 2002. In total, Xuxa has recorded almost ONE THOUSAND songs during her whole musical career.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that Xuxa's path to stardom in her native Brazil may have been a bit unorthodox, and certainly she had to encounter a lot of criticism along the way. She even faced tragedy head-on. So for her to come out of all that to become a success, and to be loved by so many children all over the world is nothing short of remarkable.

So, really, when you look back on it all...the past doesn't really matter. All that matters is the person one becomes now.

A pretty heavy lesson talked about today, but one that we should take with us.

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