Brazil In The Time of Dictatorship
Is there freedom in a time of dictatorship? Yes, of course, there is. The assumption is that the censors are omniscient and omnipotent, but the truth is that they are not. In fact, they are often very dim and slow. My first introduction to Latin American media was through the book Latin American Journalism by Michael B. Salwen and Bruce Garrison. This book contains many factoids that were useful with respect to my professonal needs, but the most memorable paragraph for me is this one:
During the height of the Brazilian military dictatorship of Gen. João Baptista Figueiredo (1979-1985), one political satire and humor magazine, Pasquim, developed an ingenious ploy for publishing criticisms of the military that got by the censors. Whever the magazine meant to criticize the Brazilian dictatorship, it simply substituted the word "Greek" for "Brazilian." At the time, Greece also had a military government. Pasquim published numerous articles of gross human rights abuses by the Greek military government. It took government authorities a year to figure out that the magzine was publishing criticism of the Brazilian government to a select segment of the audience that understood the ploy.
The book did not say what happened to the publisher, editors and writers at Pasquim.
Among the contributors to Pasquim was the singer Chico Buarque. From Brazzil:
When a student was shot and killed in Rio in 1968, it resulted in a protest march in which Chico participated. Along with his growing popularity among Brazilians, his problems with the government grew. Seeing him as a rebel causing "dangerous" thoughts, the military censors prohibited many of his works—contributing, of course, to their popularity ...
Days after the Institutional Act No 5 on December 13th, which strengthened the military government's grip on the population, he was detained at his house and taken to the military barracks and questioned about his participation in the 100,000 person march as well as the scenes in Roda Viva considered subversive.
Likely because of his family background, he was treated less harshly than other dissidents of the military. Thus, with authorization from a Colonel Átila, whom he had to ask permission to leave town, Chico left Brazil in January and attended a large trade show for the phonographic industry held in Europe. After its conclusion, he went into a self-imposed exile in Italy ...
From time to time he contributed to the political satirical O Pasquim in Brazil with articles. O Pasquim was, at the time, one of the landmark periodicals of Brazilian journalism. In 1970, Chico Buarque had had enough of exile and returned to Brazil amidst a grand scale welcome at the airport with the attendance of a large crowd of people, press, and cameras—a spectacle arranged on the initiation of Vinícius de Moraes, to show the military how much he was missed in Brazil and demonstrate that they were not to "mess with him." ...
It was not long, however, before Chico was in trouble again with the censors. The single Apesar de Você, (In Spite of You), surprisingly passed the sharp eye of the censors and sold over 100,000 copies. That is when it must have dawned on somebody that the lyrics were highly political. The mighty seemed to have missed what everybody else in Brazil knew without a doubt, namely that the você, you, in the song referred to general Emílio Garrastazu Médici, then president of the republic, in whose government were committed the worst atrocities against the opposition to the regime.
Upon being interrogated, Chico was asked who você was. His response was, "It's a very authoritarian woman." After this episode, his songs were always besieged by censors.
Using the Portuguese words for "shut up" (cale-se) and "chalice" (cálice) allowed Chico Buarque to sing about the military's oppression under the guise of a bible story in the song "Cálice."
Is there perhaps a lesson here for China? I detect the same sense of black humor and bitter irony in this item from InMediaHK (March 22, 2005) on the shutting down of the university bulletin board systems:
[translation] Over the past two days, the SMTH BBS (now an intranet) has shown a trend in that more and more people have resorted to quoting Chairman Mao's sayings in their posts and comments. It has come to point where there seems to be a Sayings programming machine, whereby entire articles are based upon certain quotations of Chairman Mao. Thus, for any subject in any section of the board, people can find paragraphs upon paragraphs of Chairman Mao's sayings.
Some of these are plain silly, but quite funny all the same, as in this 'mis'-statement: "You must let students read novels during class, you must let students nap during class and you must treasure the bodies of the children. The teachers should talk less, and let the students watch more. I think that the student that you are talking about may have a future. He does not attend meetings on Saturdays, and he has the courage not to return on time on Sundays. When you go back, you can tell this student that it is too early to return to school by eight or nine o'clock. He can come back at 11 or 12 o'clock. Who told you people to hold meetings on Sunday nights anyway!?"
And then there are other comments which are dark hints, such as this straight quote: "To rely solely on policy commands, to forbid people to make contact with unusual situations, to bar people from contacting ugly conditions, to ban people from approaching wrong thoughts and to prohibit people from looking at evil people cannot solve the underlying problem." (1957/3/12 Speech at the Chinese Communist Party National Congress on Propaganda)
Some users oppose and feel negative about this trend because it disrupts the orderliness of the boards. But there are others who believe that this is a form of protest which uses 'authoritative' texts within the accepted system of language to question and attack the existing reality. Furthermore, from the viewpoint of cultural researchers such as John Fiske, the so-called masses have the ability to produce and create anew from certain crucial elements within the existing culture in order to escape from or struggle against that hegemonic culture.
Whereas it was possible to ban all mentions of the Greek colonels in Brazilian media, how might they ban all mentions of Mao Zedong in Chinese media?