The social background to the Carnival is that it was once considered to be a riotous, disorganized and essentially anti-authoritarian expression by the people that the government was forced to accept because of its popularity but which it did not positively condone. The Rio Carnival found its roots in the 1830's when the city's rich imported the practice of holding balls and masquerade parties from Paris. Gradually, over the next century, the festival took on the shape that it now holds, acquiring elements derived from African and South American Indian cultures.
It is this mixture of cultures into a remarkably diverse and yet recognizably unified "Rio Carnival" that is the prime social characteristic of the celebration. The Carnival is the reason that Rio de Janeiro is famous throughout the world. Indeed, it may be the only thing that most people know about the city. This influences both the social and economic identity of the city, for better or worse. Thus while the original idea came from France, the cordoes were introduced by the Portuguese in the late 1800s. The cordoes were groups of people who danced through the streets playing music and generally celebrating. They are known today as blocos, and consist of people who dress in theme costumes and celebrate Carnival in a specific way. Certain neighborhoods are associated with certain blocos. In a social aspect that stems from a number of different traditions, a "fat man" is elected to act out the role of the Rei Morno, or the "King of Carnival" (Cowley, 2002).
In recent years, cultural changes within the world as a whole, and within the developed world in particular, have been reflected within the social makeup of the Rio Carnival. For example, many different travel companies advertise the "Gay Rio Carnival" in which "the beaches are loaded with eye candy as far as the eye can see . . . people joke that everyone seems a little gay during carnival" (zoom, 2007). Small gay festivals have become a part of Carnival, and may be regarded as part of a sub-culture of hedonism in which this city, known for its surprisingly permissive attitudes vis--vis social mores, becomes even more accepting during this celebration of freedom.
There is a great mixture of factors going into the social impact of Carnival upon the city in particular, and the country in general. As Teissl puts it:
Carnival is all the little festivals and parades
in the streets and favelas, Rio de Janeiro's
poor quarters. Carnival is also masked balls, elegant
and often uninhibited - even debauched, where one sees
fewer masks but plenty of skin, And Carnival is a
time for competition in which countless participants
pay thousands of dollars for luxurious and fantastic
costumes. But Carnival is also a time of fraternization, tolerance, and genuine human friendship.
So variety and indeed a degree of contradiction exists within Carnival. Thousands of dollars may be spent on a single costume for a rich masked ball while in some neighborhoods that still attempt to celebrate Carnival the average yearly wage may not reach that amount. This contrast can be seen in two main ways. One, more positive manner is to regard it as showing just how universal the feelings and atmosphere surrounding Carnival is. Thus, within this interpretation, "Carnival" is a transcendent social structure which