Old and New Carnivals



Carnivals give rise to protests that resemble acts of civil disobedience, insubordination and resistance

“Carnival, holy madness\ blossoming of the body in a sudden rose,\ flame, comet, laughter, pure laughter\ the pure freeing oneself from the prison\ that each one carries in their freedom,\ watched, measured, recorded” (Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Love is learned by loving).

Carnival as an escape valve and instrument of social control

The old carnivals persisted with all their glamorous in most Brazilian cities until the end of the 1960s, with parade of blocks and revelers in its main arteries and lively dances in clubs, especially in “high society”. It was at a time when traditional morals prevailed, taught in religious schools, generally intended for the more well off, where people prayed every day.

This moral was inspired by the Catechism of Christian Doctrine of Pope Pius X, dated 1904 and intended especially for youth, having been adopted by the end of the 1950s by the Catholic Church in Brazil. In it it is said that "deserves hell (suffering "without any relief", for all eternity) who has committed a single mortal sin." For example, anyone who desires, even fleetingly, the wife of his neighbor would be subject to this punishment – ​​for inflicting the Ninth Commandment – ​​(1951, p. 15, 44 and 45).

But similar catechisms remained in force in many religious institutions even into the XNUMXs, with priests and nuns constantly warning their pupils of the risk of suffering eternally under the yoke of Satan if they slipped up.

In this context, carnivals provided youth with an escape valve, albeit limited, in the face of the prevailing moral rigidity. In them, one could enjoy special moments of pleasure, which is why their music and charm are contagious. And, above all, because they provide more freedom to approach the opposite sex, dodging, among the confetti, streamers and perfume launchers and the inescapable parental vigilance.

However, in that golden era of club carnivals, the expansion of spaces of freedom had limits due to the family and class character of these carnivals. Parents, children and boyfriends, even older ones, would “play” together, under the supervision of the former.

This example illustrates the omnipresence of the family bond in social life, in a society, at the time, still marked by pre-capitalist relations, even in the market.

That kind of bond extended to the marketplace. There were establishments in which certain clients, for example family doctors, did not pay for their services. The same occurred with the owners of these stores, for whom consultations were free. As it could not be otherwise, capitalist modernization led to changes in the moral concepts and practices described above.

Indeed, already in the remote year of 1848, Marx pointed out, in the Communist Manifesto, changes that occurred in this context, with the advent of capitalism, emphasizing that “the bourgeoisie ripped from the family relationship its touching sentimental veil and reduced it to a simple relationship of money”.

Thus, since the 1980s, street carnivals have taken the place of those that took place in clubs, diluting family ties, but preserving – through, for example, blocks separated from the mass with isolation cords – the distance between classes.

More recently, other forms of entertainment have emerged, such as the Big Brother program, which also contribute to breaking the “moving sentimental veil” to which Marx alluded. The participants of this reality show they are chosen according to the criterion of profitability, with their relationships mediated by fierce competition, since only the winner will be allocated a hefty financial reward (RAMOS: 2013).

It can be seen that the transformations of the capitalist economy have a direct impact on the ethical content of social relations and on the praxis that realizes them. They are, preponderantly, determined by the strength of the market, which leads to the search for status and wealth, And, more recently, legitimized by theologies, such as prosperity, which considers them unequivocal signs of proximity to God.

In this new context, the celebrations of Momo progressively lose their spontaneity, undermined by injunctions of a mercantile and political nature. Thus, in 1935, during the government of Getúlio Vargas, the State intervened in carnivals, with the mandatory registration of schools and samba and through official awards. Likewise: “musical genres previously marginalized were conveniently domesticated and began to enjoy the status of the ideal soundtrack for the “festival of Brazilianness”, submitted to a civic and nationalist orientation” (LIRA: 2013, p.210).

Carlos Drummond de Andrade, in his poems, also identified the distortion of carnival manifestations to favor the market: “Ah, yes, the sambista and his school, reveling for tourists, and the distinguished\ Judging Commission. Points! More Points! Questions, more questions!\ Ugly fight in this official program that digs and governs\ the Carnival.\ They reveled for the others. They didn't leaf for the taste, for the grace, for the\ orgasm of leafing (1987: p.157).

Frei Betto, on the other hand, identifies in carnival a vehicle for the sublimation of class antagonisms, through “a great ritual in which we offer Momo on the altar of joy, in the pantheon of allegorical floats, our rebelliousness disguised as a party, to the delight of the lords of power who , from the top of their cabins, champagne bursts, happy, because the ritual sublimates the direct confrontation: the people down there, disguised as kings and queens, while up there they actually reign. In addition to having control over souls, they enjoy Dionysian naked bodies” (BETTO:2008).


Carnival as a manifestation of counter-hegemony

A broader view of carnival, as well as other popular forms of entertainment, shows that they can also embody counter-hegemony.

Club carnivals were replaced, as we have seen, by street carnivals, the more traditional ones being those in Olinda and Salvador and the more recent ones, those in São Paulo and Belo Horizonte, which are increasingly impersonal and massified. Under the aegis of capital “everything that is solid dissolves in air and everything that is sacred is profaned” (MARX: 1998, p. 8).

Currently, in many carnivals, practices and values ​​that are not shaped by forms of relationship dictated by the market flourish, foreshadowing the advent of a more solidary society that may, later on, replace the current ones, governed by money. In the aforementioned cities, old Momo festivities are reinvigorated, but drained of the moralism that characterized them.

In them, freer relationships and truer affections are rescued, giving rise, especially in carnivals, for revelers to have fun and fraternize, without the heel of repressive morality or market values. They are spaces where the exercise of individual autonomy is combined with spontaneous relationships of friendship and genuine artistic-cultural affinities on the part of those who cannot attend the official party. But this does not lead them to renounce their status as subjects of the Momo festivities, calling into question the hegemony of the mercantile logic of the cultural industry.

As Viscardi et alli points out: “Any resemblance to the dispute between the people and the elite and the attempts at hierarchical demarcations, frequently broken by the classes with less economic power, should not be considered as a mere coincidence, but as examples of a struggle in the field of culture, based on counter-hegemonic forces that oppose the scenario of carnival reduced to the condition of merchandise” (VISCARDI: 2013, p. 20) .

Recent and current carnivals spread counter-hegemonic values ​​that reach a political dimension, becoming a stage for denouncing injustices and demanding reparation. Since slavery, slaveholders have always tried to put limits on this popular festival. Gil and Caetano fully understood its libertarian dimension by exalting, in one of their compositions, “samba, father of pleasure, son of pain, the great transforming power” (ALENCAR: 2019).

An example of this is the samba plot by Mangueira, champion of the 2019 Rio carnival. Paying a moving tribute to Marielle, its lyrics recall that “there is dark blood trampled behind the framed portrait (SAMBA: 2019). Choosing as the theme of its parade the denunciation of false heroes of nationality, exalted in official literature and in most textbooks, Mangueira provided a magnificent demonstration of counter-hegemony, translated into the intimate relationship between protest, carnival and democracy.

In that same vein, in 2020, the plot of this school told the story of a Jesus with “a black face, Indian blood and a woman’s body”. Criticizing Jair Bolsonaro, without mentioning his name, the plot in question concludes by saying that “There is no future without sharing, nor is there a Messiah with a gun in his hand” (MANGUEIRA: 2020).

Carnivals, especially in times of crisis, give rise to protests that resemble acts of civil disobedience, insubordination and resistance. The greater the gap between institutional leaders and the desires of the common man, the more citizens – in this case, revelers and their blocks – find in popular festivities a space for the exercise of freedom of criticism, without the censorship of authoritarian rulers and their followers. minions.

*Rubens Pinto Lyra He is Professor Emeritus at UFPB. Author, among other books, of Bolsonarism: ideology, psychology, politics and related topics (CCTA/UFPB).


ALENCAR, Chico. revelry of resistance. Ruby's Blog. https://com.br

ANDRADE, Carlos Drummond. Love is learned by loving. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 1987.

BETTO, Friar. Labyrinth and Carnival. São Paulo: Folha de S. Paul, 5 Feb. 2008.

MANGUEIRA criticizes Bolsonaro for talking about Messiah with gun in hand. Folha de S. Paul, 20. Feb. 2020.

MARX, Carl. Communist Party Manifesto. São Paulo: Cortez Editora, 1998.

NETO, Lira. Getúlio: from the provisional government to the Estado Novo🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2013.

Pius X. Catechism of Christian Doctrine. João Pessoa: Archdiocese of Paraíba, 1951.

RAMOS, Alina. Pre-BBB speculation becomes a lucrative business for celebrities. Folha de S. Paul: São Paulo, 10.1.2023/XNUMX/XNUMX.

SAMBA Enredo 2019: story to lull grown-ups to sleep. www.letras.mus.br.

VISCARDI et al. Carnival: between class contradiction and the spectacular media product. Scientific station. Juiz de Fora, nº 9, January-July 2013.


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