a social tsunami

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By Luiz Costa Lima*

The insufficient repudiation of the connivance of the constituted powers with transgressions of civilizing norms is largely due to the way in which social communication is organized.

For the written, oral and visual media audience (press, radio, TV) the term “tsunami” has become part of the common vocabulary. Understood as a catastrophe caused by natural forces – earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides in the earth's crust –, causing gigantic waves that destroy streets, neighborhoods, villages, very little can be done against it. Even worse: even less can be done so that it does not also have repercussions on society. Can anything beyond a secure warning system actually be done? With a minimum of optimism, in the best of cases, it is possible to gather factors that, known as dispersed, do not appear united.

In fact, our tsunami society already begins with this dispersion. In such a way thetsunami social” has taken root among us that it is urgent to understand its motivations. Irresponsibility of the authorities in the face of disasters such as Brumadinho, which, moreover, in repetition of the same company responsible, same irresponsibility of a football club that prepared boys to become football stars, who would give them fabulous contracts, killed in pre-adolescence due to the disregard with which they were treated, these are not isolated or uncommon accidents: our country has been defined by the lack of compliance with the norms that were supposedly part of its codification, exacerbated by the connivance of the constituted powers.

Carrying out the rigorous scrutiny, independently of those reported by the television media, which last only as long as the reported tragedy looms at the moment, requires more careful attention. Let's start by checking the space where the phenomenon begins to be generated.

The first factor concerns the way social communication started to be done. Until the decade following the end of the Second World War, the most frequent means of communication was written, the newspaper; in his line, the book played a fundamental role. Since then, and with increasing intensity, visual communication has prevailed, through the advancement of television technology. In appearance, the ease of their contact would only bring advantages. The biggest expense with the purchase of a television set is quickly surpassed by the transmission speed of what happens around the world.

Being in tune with the world should feel euphoric. It is not often asked what price was paid for the advantage. In order not to be hasty, let's take the concrete case of the telenovela. It is evident that it already evolved from another media genre: the radio soap opera. Its traits were already shown in the enhancement of oral language. In relation to fiction written in prose, the radio soap opera was characterized by the syntactic simplicity of the characters' speech, the direct tone of their interventions, above all by the sentimental dominance of the plot. Such traits, in turn, are emphasized by auditorium programs passed to TV. In them, the simplicity of the formulation no longer has a sentimental tone as a correlate, but a mocking, hilariously rude tone. Everything is worth doing to conquer the masses. It is not enough that the language be that of everyday life, but that it be as sculpted as in the daily lives of the great masses, especially those from urban origins.

The two cases considered serve as a paradigm for the most frequent television communication. It is obvious that your newscasts cannot be sentimental or delivered in a sleazy tone, but must find verbal equivalents. The most effective way is to find that match in a format that is assumed to be factual. The news then becomes the vehicle for massive socialization of facts, taken as the strict truth. As such, it would be impartial, neutral and contrary to speculative. Well, it doesn't take much reasoning to understand that the supposed factual transparency is superficial and fallacious, since the necessarily particular interest of its sponsors immediately rises against it.

In short, the interest of private property imposes itself on the composition of a simplified language subordinated to the factual order. This is still not enough to outline the first factor that stands out here because the consequences of private property are exacerbated by the oligopoly regime, without restrictions in a country like ours. It should therefore be emphasized: if a mass media compulsorily has a very accessible language, capable of being absorbed by the most marginal of populations, if, moreover, it is integrated into an oligopolistic system, the facilitation of its resources will be at the service of the private interest that presides over it. (A longer examination would point out that the small channels show that TV does not need to be confused with this paradigm. Even because they are equally private, they need to oppose the blatant exploitation of added value and their opportunity lies in the exploration of neglected themes and materials by the majority channel).

Let us now look at the connection with a second factor. Its temporality is much broader than what has been pointed out with regard to media communication. I am referring to the relationship, in Brazil, between intellectual activity and its public. Having had their upbringing dependent on the slave regime means that, from the point of view of the general population, work was seen and understood as synonymous with servitude. The free man was confused with the landlord. Now, from the second reign, intellectual activity was imposed as an exercise of freedom. What sector would it address if not a very limited public, little used to the consequences of free work?

Due to the numerical and qualitative restriction of the public, our intellectual activity had a concrete, immediate and easily apprehensible target: the formation of an idea of ​​nationality. As Machado de Assis well understood (cf. his essay on “The Instinct of Nationality”), already narrow by itself, it went little beyond the literate white. Hence the observation that imposes itself: intellectual activity among us never achieved effective public recognition. The names that were quickly consecrated became (and continue to be) the condition of myths, that is, fame replaces their penetration, their recognition exempts the receiver from knowing them better. The marginality of intellectual activity tends to increase in periods of economic crisis, such as the one we have been experiencing. Instead of examining it, let's take it as a passing point, it being understood that, without it, the two factors would not interact in the way we have pointed out.

See how this second factor works in the most recent period of media dominance. I highlight a few proofs. In the mid-1960s, the average print run of a book was 3.000 copies. It now decreases to 1.000 or less. More recently, there has been news of the closure of some size publishers, such as Cossac Naify, while a few other large ones almost reduce their titles to novels and candidates for safe purchase. Not to mention bookstores: they close and become scarce.

It is not necessary to be clever to relate the decrease in book circulation with the advance of television broadcasting. It is accentuated with the disappearance of culture supplements from newspapers – so the public is not even informed of what is published and the circulation of books becomes even smaller.

The combination of the factors raised serves for the rapid formulation of what we call tsunami Social. The consequences seem evident. Let's just add: the electoral reality recently experienced went beyond the purposes of the media agenda. Media agents did not foresee that the rhetoric they spread was likely to take an unforeseen direction. Through the repetition of their slogans “give time to the new, renew”, “connect, reconnect”, they sought to work towards the victory of the academic right. Reality applied the leg lock that TV extols in wrestling matches and, in combination with the preaching of evangelical pastors and the decisions of certain judges and judicial chambers, provoked the victory of a right wing that defended a full and angry.

* Luiz Costa Lima is Professor Emeritus at PUC-Rio. Author, among other books, of The control of the imaginary & the affirmation of the novel (Companhia das Letras).

Article originally published in the magazine eutomy.

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