In October 1969 General Emílio Garrastazu Médici assumed the Brazilian Presidency.
Whilst measured at that time by a specious economic “miracle” which failed to touch the majority of the population, his tenure would be the most brutal phase of 1964-85 Military rule, marked by a surge in political repression, torture, summary execution and censorship.
At this point countless political activists and artists had gone into forced or voluntary exile, and armed resistance had been all but crushed. Médici’s government responded with the slogan “Brazil: Love it or leave it”.
It is an era that far-right President Jair Bolsonaro considers a golden age, and which his kakistocratic government seeks to restore, socially and culturally.
Médici’s rule coincided with the consolidation of the Globo Television network, established with huge investment and technical assistance from Time Life, which was utilised during the dictatorship as a means of societal control, as depicted in the 1994 documentary “Beyond Citizen Kane”. Political blacklisting by Globo could practically end an artist’s career, and only those most established, such as Chico Buarque, could survive such institutional censorship. The pattern of political vindictiveness continued long after the end of Military rule.
Médici would famously and successfully exploit his country’s 1970 FIFA World Cup victory to popularise the regime. Jair Bolsonaro tried to emulate this at 2019’s Copa America, flanked by his disgraced Justice Minister Sérgio Moro, who had delivered him the presidency through a lawfare attack on electoral frontrunner Lula da Silva.
A parallel Brazil that military elites imagined could be found in in European-style resort towns, such as Gramado in Rio Grande do Sul, and Campos do Jordão in the mountains of São Paulo state, which grew in complete denial of Brazil’s innate, syncretic indigenous and Afro-descendent characteristics. These municipalities feel like Alpine theme parks, sometimes equipped with ski-lifts to nowhere, and remain popular tourist destinations. (82.5% of Gramado’s electorate voted for Bolsonaro at the 2018 election, 77.15% in Campos do Jordão).
Despite the neofascist regime tightening its grip, Brazil’s ideological left would win the cultural war, through its literature, film, and visual arts and popular music. This hegemony would be an undercurrent in the eventual ascendence of the Workers Party to power in 2003.
Yet, parallel to this there was an explosion of imported US-style Evangelical and neo-Pentecostal churches in the country. Their emergence can be traced all the way back to the time of Médici, when the Nixon administration had specifically identified the rise of left-wing catholic liberation theology in Latin America as a future threat to the United States national security. Two decades later the Evangelicals were already wielding cultural and political influence, and now, after half a century, they occupy significant positions of governmental power for the first time.
Now, as the progressive nation building project of the Workers Party era is dismantled, the cultural war is hitting the arts hard, with cinema under particular threat.
National film agency Ancine is under pressure to back only projects that fit into the Government’s view of history, with a documentary already in production which shall depict the slow coup of 2013-18 as a glorious right-wing uprising. This repeats the propaganda of the 1960s which insisted that the Military Coup of 1964 was called a “Democratic Revolution”. In 2013, when such language began to again be used in public by right-wing politicians, such as defeated 2014 Presidential candidate Aécio Neves, it was interpreted as a signal that another coup was on the way.
The politics of anti-corruption have gone hand in hand with the re-emergence of Brazilian fascism. Operation Lava Jato (Carwash), run in partnership with the US Department of Justice, and central to that eventual coup, deployed cultural propaganda designed to foment and harden public opinion against the Workers Party and the left as a whole.
Two Lava Jato themed movies and a “loosely based” Netflix series, directed by José Padilha, were launched in election year, and were attacked for their deliberate misrepresentation of events, and disregard for ongoing trials, in particular that of Lula da Silva. Padilha had earlier directed Tropa de Elite (2007) and sequel Tropa de Elite 2: The enemy within (2010) which even then stood accused of promoting fascistic attitudes.
This type of hysteria was taken to its extreme in movie O Doutrinador (The Indoctrinator) whose release was deliberately scheduled between the first and second rounds of the 2018 presidential election. It followed a radicalised Federal Police officer, who sets about mass murdering corrupt politicians. O Doutrinador was an adaptation of a cartoon strip which emerged before the June 2013 mass protests, which are considered by many to have been the opening act of the coup that would come.
In Brazil, even mild social democracy is attacked as “communism”. Reactionary TV host and comedian Danilo Gentili helped normalise Bolsonaro by inviting him onto his late night talk show in 2015, with the then fringe congressman walking onto the set to the sound of the Star Wars Imperial march. Now in power, the Bolsonaro clan appear regularly on tv quiz and variety shows.
Beyond the propagandist entertainment which helped power Brazil’s far-right shift, its reactionaries now in government are attempting to construct their own parallel reality, with flat-earth revisionism of the dictatorship period and the Coup of 1964 central to it.
Actually called Brasil Paralelo, (Parallel Brazil), it is a project linked to astrologer turned philosopher king of Brazil’s far-right, Olavo do Carvalho, and it is stepping up the production of books and films that seek to rewrite both the country’s distant and recent history, which it believes have been manipulated in a vast “Cultural Marxist” conspiracy.
Rejection of this notional “Cultural Marxism” and an infantile embrace of “political incorrectness” (which for them encompasses violent misogyny), are the closest thing to a coherent ideology they have.
The New York Times recently published an investigation into the role that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm role had played in the radicalisation of Brazilians, and found that proponents of such extreme-right conspiracy theories had replaced Globo and Newspapers as the principal news source for many people.
Thus, beyond the usual conversation about social media manipulation, this lay bare a neocolonial relationship, namely the ability of tech giant Google, which works in all manner of collaboration with the US government, to significantly alter the political scenario in an enormous country. The power to make a population of over two hundred million people act counter-intuitively, against their own interests.
In the words of former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, everything that is rational is being attacked.
Brazil is now akin the losing side of a kinetic war – a war that the majority of its population does not perceive. Dismantling of an emerging power is policy, in a country governed by a termite infestation.
The principal beneficiary of this societal catastrophe is foreign capital.