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Carnival in Bolsonaro's Brazil


At the Baffler website, Sammy Feldblum reports from the first Carnival celebration in Brazil since the election of right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro. The very communities that make Carnival so joyful and subversive are the same ones that Bolsonaro belittled and demonized to help get himself elected. During this Carnival, they stood in defiance of Brazil’s rightward shift, celebrating diversity, pleasure, and exuberance. Here’s an excerpt:

There were anti-Bolsonaro slogans, as well, but Carnival tended toward a celebratory resistance, shutting down major roads with hundreds of thousands in dance—a grand expression of the “festive left,” in a Brazilian term both disparaging and cheeky. But the culture itself is anti-law-and-order, anti-hierarchical, unrepressed: anti-strongman. Rodrigo de Magalhães, a Carnival pro, explained the emotional appeal: “In the last four years, since everything has started to go crazy here, Carnival has become a time of venting our emotions. So it is a happy time, and we also express our frustration, and violence, and promiscuity. We have no other way to do anything, so we get it out during Carnival.”

In a vastly unequal society girded by brutality, the festival is an upwelling of public spirit. It is garish, glittery, sexy, and loud. That makes the celebrations brilliant content for both the forces of egalitarianism and the forces of order, who see a depravity sure to jump the confines of festival season. The best response to Bolsonaro’s “golden shower” tweet—aside from golden shower costumes that cropped up the next day—came from socialist state representative Marcelo Freixo, who also posted a video online. In it, a young girl sits on her dad’s shoulders, packed in a crowd. For half a minute, she dances with her arms and belts out the lyrics to the bloco’s marching song. It is a scene I witnessed dozens of times over the week, if never quite so exquisitely. Orderism can take festivity as its political enemy, and in doing so win some votes. But when the orderists pick a fight with exuberance itself, it is a fight they cannot win.

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