Brazil, year zero: State, gender, violence

Image: Kazimir Malevich


Excerpt, selected by the author, from the recently published book

For whom do we cry? This question has been reiterated so that we can think about the lives that matter, which are subject to mourning and crying. I would, however, like to twist this question: what makes us laugh? Who are we laughing at? In times of social perplexity, memes proliferate at the same speed as viruses and worms. The episodes “Bolsonaro versus Mandetta”, “Bolsonaro & chloroquine” became raw material for the production of memes.

In another text, I pointed out that we live in a high moment of the abject in institutional politics. There is no consensus on how to name Bolsonaro: from crazy to perverse, from trash to worm, there is a considerable gradation of concepts from political theory, psychoanalysis, adjectives and expressions of pure indignation. There is no consensus. It will be?

I review some of the memes I've received in recent days. In the first, Bolsonaro is represented as a teenager, a paquita. He is using a shorts very tight, a short T-shirt and a jacket.

The T-shirt advertises chloroquine. The poster boy for hydroxychloroquine is transformed into a silly teenager, with a naive and, at the same time, sensual look.

Second meme: Bolsonaro embodies an old lady who is sitting and has a grumpy facial expression, dressed in luxurious attire and with a royal crown on her head. Here, Bolsonaro becomes the Queen of England. The context refers to the little authority that the president had over the management of the former Minister of Health, Henrique Mandetta, in relation to decisions involving policies to combat and prevent the COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing is more unfortunate than using the figure of the powerful Queen of England to signify the absence of power. They are wrong. Symbolically, politically and economically, the English royal family is not a decoration.

Third meme: Bolsonaro, with his gaze fixed, wears a wig à la Marie Antoinette, the lipstick stylized in the shape of a heart. The phrase: “Crazy Queen. Carlota Chloroquine”. The reference is to Carlota Joaquina, but the design also opens space for us to identify the Queen of Hearts from “Alice in Wonderland”, a character who preferred to be feared rather than loved in the management and maintenance of her power. Wickedly cutting off the heads of unfaithful subjects was routine punishment in her kingdom.

Fourth meme: two girls dressed in blue are holding hands. One has the face of Trump. The other, Bolsonaro's. The two would be twin sisters. The political affinity of the two presidents is recognized, but why identify them as two girls?

With every absurdity of Bolsonaro, an army of memes invade the networks. A considerable part of them will interpret the facts linking them to madness, childishness, instability and poor decision-making capacity. That is, Bolsonaro brings together all the negative attributes identified with the feminine. But Bolsonaro is not a woman, so they turn him into a transvestite. An idiotic adolescent transvestite, a crazy transvestite, a screaming transvestite who, because she is a transvestite, only performs, but her power is null.

I don't know who made these memes, but I do know that they are widely disseminated by "left-wing" people - the quotation marks here are to suspend this political identity - who say they are linked to an ideology

of human rights and social justice. In the desire to use “lighter” mechanisms, to quickly communicate an idea to denounce Bolsonaro’s atrocities, they become reproducers of violence against women, this place occupied by unstable, uncontrolled and childish bodies and subjectivities, dictates the memes.

The resource of devaluing the opponent or the political enemy by identifying him with feminine attributes is not limited to the “comrades” of the left. In the midst of a crisis between governors and Bolsonaro, I come across memes from his supporters that disqualify the governor of São Paulo, João Doria, for his lack of masculinity, extravagant clothes – read feminine – and his excessively delicate performances. During the 2018 elections, it was sectors of the left that used the same resources (“João Doria is a fagot”) to deny him credibility.

Now, it is worth asking those who say they are opposed to feminist and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transvestite, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex (LGBTTTI) struggles and who insist on dealing with the determinism of social class: if gender and sexuality are not important to interpret the system of oppression, why do you insist on devaluing Bolsonaro by linking him to the feminine? What escapes your unconscious through laughter?

When we move in the field of moralities, there is considerable intersection between what we call the “right” and “left”. Humor can and has been an instrument in the fight against tyrannies, for the exercise of freedom, as Mikhail Bakhtin analyzed referring to carnival.

Not so long ago, black bodies were repeatedly exposed in an effort to provoke the same effect that people try to achieve by linking Bolsonaro to images of women. How not to remember the episode of The Diplomatic World that was forced to apologize for displaying racist cartoons of “left” professionals on its first cover?

If, in front of Bolsonaro, we are faced with the abject, it seems that these memes put things back in their places and allow us to see the social structure of genders and sexualities with a unique clarity, that is, in the absence of a name, I appropriate what is socially recognized as devalued to, in a singular mimesis operation,

say: look how crazy, childish, unstable he is. He is, in fact, a woman (or a transvestite). And in the supposed posture of denunciation and engagement, through laughter, I end up reinforcing the order of social structures that continue to justify the deaths of women, transvestites, transsexuals and female gays. It is an operation similar to those that take place in penitentiaries: the rapist becomes a “little woman” for the other prisoners. It becomes liable, therefore, to be raped by all men. In the apparent “justice” announced here – avenging the woman who was raped – we are faced with a hyperbolic form of violence against the feminine.

Who are you laughing at? These memes are the symptoms of a society in which the feminine continues to take the place of the abject, and incorporating it into Bolsonaro is the guarantee of many likes and shares on social networks.

*Berenice Bento is a professor at the Department of Sociology at UnB.


Berenice Benedict. Brazil, year zero: State, gender, violence. Salvador, Editora da UFBA, 2021, 258 pages.



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