Contrivance and Controversy as Brazilian Media Cover Urban Violence

In Brazil last week, it was difficult to find blogs that did not post about the debate over the causes of urban violence. It all began on the web when people “pre-released” the leaked copy of the film ‘Elite Squad’. By now the polemic has reverberated and evolved into a complex chorus of disparate voices expressing themselves through diverse media — all of it reported, commented upon and amplified in the real time conversations of the Brazilian blogosphere.

This round of the discussion was triggered by an article published in a leading São Paulo newspaper (Folha de Sao Paulo) by Luciano Huck, a TV star reporting his distress over having been robbed of his Rolex with a gun pointed to his head. The star may now regret having triggered a huge controversy by evoking the name of ‘Capitão Nascimento’ — Elite Squad's torturer policeman protagonist — as the solution to the violence of Brazilian streets.

Perhaps as an example of new strategies being developed by newspapers to compete for readers in the new digitally networked environments, Folha invited the rapper and blogger Ferrez — an active voice from Capão Redondo, one of the most violent communities in São Paulo — to write a kind of response to Huck's essay for publication in the same “Tendencias/ Debates” [Trends/Debates] section.

Ferrez's response asserted that a fair deal came out from Huck's encounter with his robbers, as the rich guy kept his life while the unprivileged guys got the Rolex. As far as we can tell, Folha's strategy worked and bloggers turned the Huck vs Ferrez ‘clash’ into the hit of the week for Brazilian media, although many are not exactly happy with the resulting debate.

Fiz o texto, a pedido do coordenador de artigos Uirá Machado, que trabalha na Folha. Ele me mandou a carta de Luciano Huck, sobre seu assalto no Jardins. Coloquei o nome de: Pensamentos de um “correria”, , e com minha mente literária e ingênua fiz uma ficção onde o ponto de vista eram dos ladrões. Quando enviei o artigo para ele, que foi escrito em 5 horas, me mostrei preocupado por ser quase um conto, e podia fugir do estilo do espaço Tendências/Debates, mas o texto foi publicado.
Sobre o texto na Folha de São PauloFerrez

I wrote the text at the request of the article coordinator Uirá Machado, who works at Folha. He sent me Luciano Huck's letter about the assault at the Jardins [a wealthy district of São Paulo]. I titled it as, “Thoughts of a ‘Runaway’ “, and with my literary and innocent mind I created a piece of fiction where the point of view was from the thieves. When I sent the article to him, which was written in 5 hours, I was worried that my tale could be out of the style expected for the Trends/Debates section, but it was published anyway.
Sobre o texto na Folha de São PauloFerrez

Está estabelecida a luta de classes. Bastou o apresentador branco e rico escrever um texto-desabafo para que centenas se revoltassem contra a cara de pau do sujeito que tem tudo na vida e ainda a audácia de reclamar apenas porque, no sinal, levaram seu estimado relógio, presente da diva que é também sua mulher, e que vale uma kitinete. Como polêmica é bom, a solução midiática (porque outra não há) foi chamar o Ferrez para tecer o contra-ponto sob a ótica do ladrão. Aí é que o bicho pegou definitivamente. Onde já se viu fazer a apologia do crime. Lugar de ladrão é no xilindró – ou, como prefeririam muitos, a sete palmos. Tudo muito explicável e legítimo, mas também raso e hipócrita. Huck, Ferrez, você, eu, o Renan e o LulaBlônicas

It is the established class struggle. The white and rich TV showman writes a complaint in the newspaper which was enough to cause a revolt of hundreds over the insolence of the guy who has everything in life and still has the audacity to protest just because his beloved watch — a gift from the diva who is also his wife and which costs the price of a little appartment — was robbed at the red traffic light. As there is nothing like a good polemic, the media solution (as there is no other) was to call Ferrez in order to stitch in a counter-point from the thief's point of view. But then the whole thing definitely blew up. How can you allow an apology for crime? The place for thieves is in prison — or, as many would prefer, six feet under. Everything is very explainable and authentic, but it is also shallow and hypocrital.
Huck, Ferrez, você, eu, o Renan e o Lula

As visit stats and the number of blog posts on the issue were soaring Folha decided to call in another blogger to publish in its ‘Trends / Debates’ section, this time a well known right wing watchdog. He had already declared in his blog that there could be no debate with Ferrez, who he described as, ‘someone who supports death as a tool for social justice’. But that declaration could only make him the perfect one to blow hot air at the already inflamed debate.

O artigo do tal é irrespondível. Vou eu lhe dizer que o crime não compensa? Ele tem motivos para acreditar que sim. Lênin mandaria que lhe passassem fogo -não sem antes lhe expropriar o relógio. Apenas sugiro ao jornal que corrija seu pé biográfico: ele é um empresário; o bairro do Capão Redondo é seu produto, e a voz dos marginalizados, o fetiche de sua mercadoria. Ir além na contestação de seu libelo criminoso seria reconhecê-lo como voz aceitável na pluralidade do jornal. Eu não reconheço.
Reinaldo Azevedo in Rapper?! ArghBlog do Orlando Tambosi

The article from that one cannot be given a response . Will I be the one to tell him that crime does not pay? He has elements [that cause him] to believe that it does. Lenin would order his death, not without expropriating the Rolex first. I will just ask the newspaper to correct his bio: he is in fact an entrepreneur, the Capão Redondo sector is his product, and the voice from the periphery is his fetish merchandise. To go further in responding his criminal libel would be like recognizing him as an acceptable voice in the newspaper plurality. I don't acknowlege this.
Reinaldo Azevedo in Rapper?! ArghBlog do Orlando Tambosi

Folha's interplay with the blogosphere has surely raised enough eye-balls and provoked enough trackback links to characterize it as a successful initiative for the newspaper, but some bloggers and even some traditional media pundits have been criticizing the move.

Luciano Huck foi para a capa da última edição de Época. Antes esteve nas Páginas Amarelas de Veja, duas vezes na primeira página da Folha e foi assunto de quase sessenta mil ocorrências na Internet. Por que a celeuma? O apresentador achou que deveria protestar contra uma violência da qual foi vítima e, como é uma celebridade, teve tratamento VIP. Então um escritor da periferia achou que deveria defender o ponto de vista dos marginais, botou a boca no trombone e também foi para a primeira página. À primeira vista tudo isto parece um debate democrático, troca de idéias dentro de uma sociedade pluralista. Não é. A imprensa fixou-se nos aspectos mais sensacionalistas, como a chamada na capa da Época – Ele Merecia ser Roubado? – o público leitor foi na onda e manteve a mesma entonação. Dai para o linchamento e o canibalismo foi um passo. Quando se simplifica o debate como agora acontece, é inevitável que a resposta coletiva seja ainda mais simplista e ainda mais grosseira. A brutalidade que hoje se nota em alguns blogs e nas seções de cartas dos leitores não acontece por acaso. Alguém fez vibrar um diapasão, a multidão percebeu o tom e procurou a mesma afinação. É evidente que Luciano Huck não merecia ser roubado, ninguém merece ser roubado, nem mesmo ladrões. Mas um assunto sério como este não merece colocações tão ingênuas e tão desatinadas.
Alberto Dines in Sociedade do Espetáculo (de mau gosto)Flanar

Luciano Huck - Época
Did he deserve to be robbed?
What the debate over Luciano Huck's assault shows about the Brazilian soul

Luciano Huck has gone to the front page of [the weekly magazine] Época's latest edition. Before that he was on Veja's [weekly magazine] yellow pages [main interview section], two times on Folhas first page, and was the subject of almost 60 thousand hits on the Internet. What caused the brouhaha? The TV star decided he should protest against a violence where he was the victim, and as a celebrity, he got VIP treatment. Then a writer from the edge thinking he should defend the thieves’ point of view, blew it off and also reached the first page. It does seem like a democratic debate at first sight, an exchange of ideas in a pluralist society. It is not. The media has focused on the most sensationalist aspects. As we can read from the lead on Época's front page — ‘Did he deserve to be robbed?’ — the readers catch the wave and keep the same tone. From there to lynching and canibalism was just a step. When you simplify the debate as it happens now, it is inevitable that the collective response becomes even more simplistic and crude. The brutality which we today notice in some blogs and in the letter sections are not a coincidence. Someone vibrated the tuner and the crowd has perceived the sound and followed the same tuning. It is obvious that Luciano Huck did not deserve to be robbed, nobody deserves to be robbed, not even thieves. But such a serious matter does not deserve such naive and immature discourses.
Alberto Dines in Sociedade do Espetáculo (de mau gosto)Flanar

In this age of viral posts, mass participations and chaotic information in which both angels and demons seem to fly into our faces, the landscape of popular discourse is rapidly expanding in often confusing ways that can challenge the most established conventions of what is truth and what is contrivance and what are the legitimate bounds of public discourse. There will be many mainstream and alternative media intitiatives (and manipulations) seeking to gain a center stage in this new environment. As the debate rages, we can only draw the obvious conclusion — the new digital cultures of the Information Age are changing both the media game and its players at every level.

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