Jorge Mautner and Countercultural Utopia in Brazil


por Christopher Dunn


When Gilberto Gil, the Former Brazilian Minister of Culture under the Lula government, appeared at the 2003 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he came with a dramatic message for this elite international community of statesmen, intellectuals, and financial barons: "Either the world becomes Brazilianized, or it will be Nazified." It would be difficult to imagine a more dramatic claim for the moral value of a national project than Gil's statement, which posits a stark dichotomy between the promise of a harmonious "Brazilianized" world and one that devolves into fascism, ethic strife, and genocide. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a leader from any other country to make such a claim without causing a scandal or being dismissed as a patriotic crank. Other possible models come to mind for ethnically diverse democratic nations that have managed peaceful internal and external relations, but it seems unlikely that we will see any time soon similar exhortations for the world to be "Canadianized", or "Zambianized."

Gil's claim was even more remarkable given Brazil's notorious social inequality, its high levels of violence, and recent critiques of its race relations from both academics and activists. As one of Brazil's leading singers/songwriters of the last four decades, Gil himself made powerful forays into social critique, including denunciations of racial exclusion. Yet, as his statement in Davos suggests, he has also tapped into a celebratory discourse on Brazilian culture and society that extends back to the first colonial encounter. Together with Gil, Caetano Veloso was the leading voice of Tropicália, a multifaceted cultural phenomenon that erupted in the late 1960s with particular force in popular music. Tropicália represented an exuberant moment of countercultural affirmation in the face of authoritarian repression, as well as a frequently caustic reflexion on the impasses and failures of Brazilian modernity.

(texto completo em pdf)