Philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote that the aim of totalitarian education is not to instil convictions, but to destroy a populations capacity to form any. As one of the most prominent intellectuals in Nazi Germany, she had reason to fear its advance. So too, it would appear, do Brazilian creatives, following the announcement of Roberto Alvim, Brazil’s Minister for Culture, on Thursday evening.
“Culture will be national and heroic,” he snarled “or else it will be nothing”.
The announcement was accompanied by the allocation of 20 million reais for cultural projects that emphasise “the motherland, the family, the courage of its people and their profound connection with God.”
It wasn’t long before the Twitter Police began to investigate Alvim’s statement. In announcing the new cultural agenda, Alvim had swapped his usual brand of Old Testament tough talk for the chilling words of Hitler’s Minister of Propoganda, Joseph Goebbels.
An outpouring of public pressure ensued, in which Alvim was removed from his post and government strategists clamoured to distance themselves from the video.
And yet the notion that this is even slightly off-message for the Bolsonaro government requires stern examination.
The personification of white, male power, Bolsonaro has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight. A ‘political outsider’ despite his 27 years of parliamentary experience, he cannot be seen to be governing. Instead, he relies upon more-qualified minions, the Ricardo Salles’ and Roberto Alvims of the world, to deliver the reforms that will pave the way for his binary vision of Brazil.
And so it was that just hours before the video’s release, Alvim could be found side by side with the President in his weekly address, receiving compliments and back-slaps for his “bold new vision of national art”.
For older Brazilians, this will all sound eerily familiar. From the critical underfunding of cultural institutions to the slow degradation of artistic subjects in universities, Bolsonaro is following a tried-and-tested agenda to return Brazil to the cultural winter of his 21-year dictatorship.
The slow creep of censorship comes at a the height of interest in Brazilian art, with nominations at this year’s Oscars (Democracia em Vertigem / The Edge of Democracy) and prestigious titles secured at the Cannes Film Festival (Bacarau — Juri Prize).
So unnerved were the Bolsonaro government by the new documentary that a boycott ban was issued via the pro-Bolsonaro Whatsapp groups that proliferate fake news and debate among loyal supporters — an instant form of communication of which Goebbels could only dream.
Like any fascist, Bolsonaro naturally fears arts ability to subvert the status quo, creating futures and ideas that soar above the fickle constraints of politics. And so he’ll continue to use whatever leverage he can to stamp out that which he deems degenerate — the right to imagine new realities, to empathise with others and to ask inconvenient questions.
That Brazilian artists will go on creating goes without saying. Whether they’ll be able to continue to do so without repercussions is another. This month, we invite you to indulge in one of the many Brazilian series on Netflix, from Petra Costa’s Oscar-nominated documentary (Edge of Democracy) to the dystopian world of ‘3%’. In doing so, we save ourselves from a future in which expression is only permissible insofar as it serves the instruments of power.