The Saint-Makers, Past & Present

The year was 1985 when Dias Gomes, an important Brazilian playwright, was finally allowed to air his telenovela Roque Santeiro (Saint-Maker). Brazil had just been freed from a military dictatorship that lasted 21 years. The Institutional Act Number 5, known as the AI-5 (*see comments), which was supposedly the military’s response to a fifty-thousand strong march in Rio de Janeiro to protest the murder of a student by a member of the military, had been in effect back in 1975, when Roque Santeiro was originally supposed to air.

Among the consequences of the AI-5 was the censorship of music, film, theater and television, as long as they were thought to be subverting political and moral values. The telenovela Roque Santeiro was based on a theatrical piece, also by Dias Gomes, called O Berço do Heroí (The Hero’s Cradle), which had been censured and prohibited under the AI-5. The telenovela would have been shown in 1975 on the Globo network and already had several episodes recorded, in addition to having already been announced on TV. However, on the day of its premiere, Globo received a government notice censuring the telenovela.

The reason behind the censorship? Apparently, a conversation was secretly recorded in which Dias Gomes assured the person on the other end of the line that Roque Santeiro was just a way to deceive the military, adapting O Berço do Herói for television audiences, with slight changes that would make the military think they weren’t so similar.

The story of Roque Santeiro takes place in the fictitious impoverished town of Asa Branca in the Brazilian Northeast, where the main character, also the namesake of the series, was worshiped as a saint. As an altar boy, he was allegedly killed 18 years prior defending the church, meanwhile a large landowner and the mayor of the town had been profiting off the poor residents from the popularity of the saint and the myth that surrounds him. One day, Roque returns alive and with the mission of saving his people.

WIth a basic understanding of the storyline, one can understand why the military would not want the millions of viewers of Globo’s nightly telenovelas to see the underlying meaning behind a local hero that fights for his people. The interesting thing for me is seeing that when under overt influence of a military decree such as the AI-5, the government saw telenovelas as able to influence the viewers. Fast-forward to present day, to a Brazil that is democratically run and very little mention is ever made of how modern telenovelas, made by powerful people, are influencing the average viewers’s thoughts and beliefs. I wonder if Brazil is in need of a real-life Roque Santeiro to save the viewers…

Originally written for Street Smart Brazil.

Monitoring internet usage in Brazil

As France just approved its version of a law to monitor Internet usage (Hadopi – High Authority for the Broadcast of Content and the Protection of Rights on the Internet) under the veil of stopping illegal downloaders from having Internet access, Brazil has its own version in the works.

The “Lei Azeredo” which was approved in the Senate mid-year in 2008 and on its way to being approved as an official law, criminalizes thirteen acts made possible by the Internet. The criminalization is just the veil under which Internet usage would be monitored by law and kept on record for three years, including what sites you visited, when and for how long. As with most laws internationally, the “positive” side is highlighted while the negative side is tucked away in the back somewhere in fine print.

Critics are comparing the “Lei Azeredo”, named after the Senator Eduardo Azeredo, to the AI-5 (Institutional Act 5) which is one of the principal signs of a military dictatorship in Brazil. The AI-5 was authored in 1968 and gave permission to the President of the Republic of Brazil to ignore checks and balances and suspend the political rights of any citizen. While invoking such a resemblance might be seen as going too far, it is very important to always search out the hidden ramifications of any law that is a threat to liberty. Often times, citizens consider “being informed” as watching the news and reading the newspaper in order to understand multi-faceted and complex laws when in reality, they are merely being herded like sheep.

“When you consult specialists, you would see that there isn’t any kind of threat being made against freedom on the Internet, there is no spying being done online. The objective is to combat crimes”, affirmed the Senator.

Apparently, the Senator knows how to invoke something from his own arsenal, the “expert religion”, which depends on experts and authorities to give the people their ideas and opinions. What is important here is to think for yourself and to begin to ask yourself fundamental questions such as, “what is a law?” Perhaps you may see that the terms legal and illegal don’t always coincide with right and wrong, that they are merely terms for acts and ideas which lawmakers deem to be right and wrong.

– Adam