Anti-Corruption Sentiment and Popular Culture in Brazil

The Guardian recently ran an interesting piece on a Brazilian graphic artist who has created a comic series that offers a unique socio-cultural insight into anti-corruption sentiment in Brazil:

While Brazil’s real-life political drama is more commonly compared to House of Cards, a comic strip called The Awakener offers frustrated Brazilians an even darker kind of fantasy.

As the fallout from the epic corruption scandal at Petrobras, the state-run oil company, implicates legislators across the range of Brazil’s political parties, the death-dealing crusader’s radical solution to the country’s political crisis is finding a growing audience.

The brainchild of the Rio de Janeiro-based graphic designer Luciano Cunha, the comic strip started life on Facebook in March 2013, just months before the mass demonstrations of June that year, which marked the beginning a new era of turmoil in Brazilian politics.

The story actually offers some important insight into the effects of the current situation and controversy around corruption and politics in Brazil. On the one hand, the strip reveals how, for some, anti-corruption is not merely a question of anti-PT sentiment, but of the broader hypocrisy of Brazilian politics. This is likely in part because the strip actually pre-dates not just the current scandals, but the 2013 protests, where the platform of anti-corruption was more systemic and not partisan in the ways more recent protests against corruption have been.

Additionally, the story shows the very real effects of corruption on everyday lives:

[Cunha] moved first into advertising, and then to the communications department of Petrobras, where he used to arrive hours early to work on the comic.

Then in November, he was fired. The company, which announced its biggest loss on record on Monday, has fired tens of thousands of workers over the past 18 months.

Because of a long system of graft, bribery, and kickbacks, likely going back to the 1990s and crossing presidential administrations as politicians and corporations acted with impunity, the fact that these scandals are finally emerging has had a profound impact on Brazilians not just politically, but socially. Cunha’s story of job-loss in the wake of the revelation of this systemic corruption is a story tens of thousands of Brazilians have experienced in very real, material ways, reinforcing a sense of economic uncertainty that many believed had disappeared for good with the Brazilian boom of the 2000s.

Indeed, it might be that generalized, non-partisan experience of the loss of a job and material well-being that makes Cunha’s comic book so fascinating. That both the left and right see it as politically biased reveals not so much its actual political stance as the systemic nature of corruption, and the fact that, by imagining a world where popular justice is violent and swift, Cunha’s work has alienated parties of all stripes even while resonating with the public. That is not to say it is necessarily a good thing, but it does reveal the ways in which the current scandal is resonating in society more generally and beyond the level of political demonstrations or slogans.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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