“It’s Not Just 20 Cents”: A Study of Media Representations of the Social Movement in Brazil

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It all started with a spike in transportation fares, Brazilians were outraged with the 20 cents increase, leading to a ticket price of R$3,20, the equivalent of $1,60 US dollars. However the reason for the flooding of Brazil’s streets with thousands of protesters was due to the citizens’ broader frustration with the government regarding not only inflation, but also corruption and an overall lack of public services, especially with the 2014 World Cup being prioritized over basic needs. Brazil needed a change and the  “It’s not just 20 cents revolution” was an unauthorized, unofficial, un-institutional collective action of ordinary citizens that sought to change lives nationally while possibly causing a larger global impact. (Reed, xiii)  The intent of this paper is to explore the tactics used by the social movement to spread their message, to investigate the role of social media in these demonstrations and to study the multiple perspectives of media representations. In addition, this analysis will be written from a Brazilian’s standpoint, and though facts from two different viewpoints will be assessed, the overall argument might lean towards that of the protesters. The final focus will be on the creation of an artifact that is characteristic of the movement and its realm. By producing an interactive brochure exclusively for the movement, straightforward facts would be released and distributed in the streets to help keep protesters on the loop on the current issues being questioned as well as on what is occurring all over the nation, thus improving their tactics for a more objective and effective protesting.

National Context:

Brazil claims to be a democracy, a form of government where supposedly all citizens participate equally, though usually indirectly in state affairs and law proposals. However Brazilians were not really feeling as if they were part of any decision-making, and the raise in bus fares served as a catalyst for change. The fact is that Brazil’s emerging economy has been attracting global attention, and a clear sign of this is the country hosting major global events such as the World Cup and the Olympics in 2014 and 2016 respectfully.  Yet the problem lies in that fact that the country is focusing too much on the global level with lavish investments on international sporting events instead of locally. (The Guardian) Following the military dictatorship that swept the nation in 1985, Brazil has achieved a slow yet progressive economic growth that has provided them a spot as one of the biggest developing economies alongside Russia, India and China. However, despite the tremendous growth in the recent decade, the low to middle class Brazilian population hasn’t seen many improvements in their standards of living. (The Week)

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Moreover, this national discontent comes from a given cultural context, where Brazilians pay extremely high taxes, one of the highest in the world. It has been found that the percentage of Brazil’s GDP that goes to taxes is similar to that of major European countries such as Germany and the UK, adding up to 36% (the comparable figure for the United States is 25%). (CNN) Yet the population does not see where their money is being applied since it is definitely not in the country’s education, health care, transportation and sanitation given their precarious condition. Through this cultural lens we are able to identify one of Reed’s point about what composes a social movement: unsatisfied citizens. (The Art of Protest, xiii) So the next factor to be considered would be a collective action that seeks to change the world by challenging cultural and social codes.  These unsatisfied citizens, who were triggered by the 20-cent fare hike, went to the streets to voice their concerns and frustrations, to show their vitality while also expressing a sentiment of dissatisfaction with a strong feeling that the political figures that rule their country no longer represent the greater population. Perhaps these manifestations are the most truthful sign of democracy in Brazil lately.

What started as a response to a single action from the government on June 13th, escalated tremendously, as onlookers perceived the brutality in which the police were responding to the protests as unacceptable, thus providing a stronger incentive and motive in going out in the streets and joining the cause. The result was a collective outrage that took São Paulo’s main highway, Avenida Paulista and reflected on several cities throughout Brazil. On the following Monday, June 17th, more than 100,000 people took to the streets nationwide to express their frustration; on the following week up to a million demonstrators took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro in an overwhelming statement that the ongoing protests, which had taken over the country for the past few weeks, were about “more than just 20 cents”. (Common Dreams) Similar demonstrations were reported in over 80 cities across the country with a total turnout estimated at roughly 2 million people. The manifestations spread and swept the nation, growing beyond Brazilian’s expectations, and consequently losing focus of a clear objective. The statistics mentioned by Common Dreams (one of the few websites that captured the truthfulness of the movement) was a cry for justice coming from a whole nation, not as a response to the increase in bus fares but towards the inequality and corruption that has taken over Brazil in the past decades.

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Media representation: Two sides of the same coin

 The manifestation itself is already enough reason to attract the media’s attention, since it has been the largest since pro-democracy demonstrations in the 1980s. The media simply cannot ignore 1 million people in the streets of Rio de Janeiro plus the other millions that joined the cause across the states. Hashtags such as #vemprarua (come to the streets) and #ogiganteacordou (the giant has awaken) became trending topics on social media throughout the country, hence raising awareness and at the same time inviting people to join the revolution. In addition, further consequences of these manifestations were the closing of various main streets and highways due to the great number of people that took over the streets, consequently causing an endless amount of traffic in large metropolitan cities such as São Paulo and Rio. The result of these actions caused the news media to report on the demonstration and its “disturbance”; by creating a spectacle, the media had to pay attention to these opposing movements, which in turn shifted hegemony, thus disrupting the social order. (The Art of Protest, 50)

Though the demonstrations were mostly peaceful, there was a minority who opted for violence and aggression, smashing windows and teller machines. Such acts were pertinent to the Black Bloc tactics for protests, where individuals dressed in black, masks, sunglasses and any other piece of clothing that covered their identity and protected them from pepper-sprays and gas bombs while they committed acts of vandalism. Contrary than most think, Black Bloc is not an organization, it is rather comprised of individuals who support anarchism—a stateless and self-governed society, which use the same tactic within a manifestation, thus appearing as if they are a single group. However, Fantastico a Brazilian TV news program aired by Rede Globo, portrayed the segment covering the manifestations in the following way: “During a week marked by violent protests in São Paulo and in Rio de Janeiro, our reporters were able to draw a profile of Black Blocs”. The first erroneous thing about this headline is that as previously explained, Black Bloc is not a group but a tactic used by various individuals. Second of all it frames the protests as violent, when in fact they were largely peaceful with only some incidents of vandalism. Thirdly, it leads people to believe that the Black Blocs were the protesters when in fact this is not true; they don’t even fight for the same cause.

Though reported incorrectly, the Black Bloc participants certainly added to the protests featured on mainstream media.  News stories are usually 90 seconds long and for this reason, reality has to fit this rather simplistic frame. Gitlin argues that violence is usually the factor that attracts most attention, especially because the media selects what is to be shown and the angle the news story will be approached. (Gitlin, 27) Therefore the best way to fit into these frames is by making a spectacle. Of course peaceful manifestation that attract millions of people to the streets gets covered, however the focus is on the minority that opts to be violent, such as the so called “Black Bloc” individuals, who were not even there to support the cause but to actually make a scene by damaging public structures such as bus stops, traffic lights, traffic signs and so on.  This media framing tactic can be traced back to the Battle of Seattle, where Reed recounts in her text that the corporate media chose to use traditional mass media to focus on the Black Bloc’s involvement in the protest, which unlike the larger non-violent demonstrations, decided to break certain store windows and vandalize storefronts with graffiti. As we can see, the media strives for hegemony, and it does so by creating mass consent. Therefore if people are scared of what they see on television or in the front pages of newspapers and magazines, they will be against the manifestation and hegemony will be restored and preserved.

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As Sarah Thornton would argue, there is a symbiotic relationship between social movements and news bodies, given that movements depend on media and media uses movements to frame the reality they want to present to its viewers. (Thornton, 129)  Though creating a spectacle does attract the media’s attention, it also allows them to depict the manifestation however they want, which as previously discussed, is usually under a negative light. For example, the problem with the Black Blocs tactic and participants is that they take away from the integrity of the manifestation, and even scare people in the streets and distance those who were planning to join the cause for the true underlying reasons. It is certain that such acts are very attractive to the media, as they are able to frame the whole demonstration as violent and disorganized, thus creating this sense of “otherness” described by Stuart Hall. Hall argues that in language, we are only able to understand a concept when there is an “opposite”. In other words, society can only recognize a movement as different or as going against the mainstream.  The way these differences are highlighted to us is through media representations, which in turn create a process of “other-ing”, clearly establishing a line between society and the subculture or social movement.  As Gitlin argues, the media is extremely selective as it emphasizes certain themes and scanter others and marginalization is a framing device often used by the media, showing demonstrators to be deviant or unrepresentative. (Gitlin, 27) So Globo is able to draw the line between normality and the concept of  “otherness” by framing the movement in a violent way where citizens who are simply absorbing the news and are not part of these protests do not want to be associated with the vandalism they see on TV, and more importantly they do not want to support these protests as they feel they are not a correct depiction of either the citizens or the country. As a consequence, some people choose to distance themselves from the current political and social uprisings by alienating and belittling the movement as a whole.

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Another aspect that the media chose to focus on was the protesters’ aggressive behaviors towards the police. As mentioned before, there was indeed a minority who clashed with the police, however the police was also responsible for some vicious acts directed to the people. Yet it is important to keep in mind that policemen represent authorities, the ones who are supposed to ensure security and the overall well being of the population, and for this reason the media must illustrate the brutal acts of these men as a self-defense mechanism and as a preservation of the citizens’ safety, which conveniently justifies their actions. (28-29) The picture above circulated in multiple social media platforms as appalled citizens furiously criticized this officer’s misuse of power and argued that this scene did not justify his actions and behavior. In a declaration for The Guardian, the protester Alessandra Sampaio explained, “We had been tranquil, then suddenly they started firing gas into the crowd. People were scared and appalled. They are cowards! They wanted to disperse the crowd regardless of who it was. I’m very angry. It was a real abuse of power.” Victor Bizerra, a law student, also said that the police response ‘was like something from the dictatorship era,’ saying, “These are bad days for Brazil. The police were acting just like they did 30 years ago.” (The Guardian)

Due to citizens’ responses, the newspaper O Globo published a declaration from the chief police, admitting that the officer did in fact operate with excessive safety measures, “especially when considering two policemen were captured confronting just one unarmed single woman. Certainly their actions do not explain anything” (O Globo) Furthermore, to complement the information featured in this article, the journal said there were 100 thousand people in the streets, when in fact there were 300 thousand people in Rio de Janeiro on the night of June18Th. As we can see the mass media did admit to an error by responding to protesters’ frustrations regarding this picture that was circulating in social media, yet neglected the real number of protesters on these demonstrations in an attempt to diminish the citizens’ power. Furthermore, as Gitlin explains in this text, this is an example of under-counting—a framing device used by the media that focuses on a disparagement by numbers, to purposely depreciate the news event, or in this case the social movement. (27-28)

In general, the mass media representations discussed are extremely selective in what they choose to transmit to the viewers. More than that, the media tends to frame demonstrations mainly through marginalization, which in turn makes by standing citizens feel like they are not represented by these protesters, hence causing the sense of “otherness” explained by Hall.  The distancing between these two groups is crucial to the media, as they often seek to maintain hegemony by creating mass consent. And how do they do that? Through fear, by making citizens feel their safety is endangered as these vandals take the streets, by focusing on the conflict and not the consensus the movement eventually seeks, thus creating this sense of otherness. However, the crucial point here is that reporters borrow angles and questions, and as news stories spread from medium to medium and information must reach broader audiences, specific frames become the truth, thus normalizing specific angles that are usually unfavorable to the movement. (Gitlin, 98-101)

Social Media’s Role and DIY Culture:

Social media is a form of communication used to share information, yet more importantly, nowadays it has become a more advanced and sophisticated “word-of-mouth” tool. Social media’s role in the Brazilian social movement became apparent when protestors launched a Facebook campaign called “World Cup for whom?” raising awareness and attracting attention to the government’s exorbitant spending on the sports event while disregarding basic needs and infrastructure to the population. Furthermore, protesters have also used Facebook invites to bring people together for demonstrations and to encourage them to fight for their country. In addition, websites such as Vemprarua.org (come to the streets), which started as a hashtag #vemprarua, were created to gather information about protests throughout Brazil and also offer a collaborative map, providing the people with information on where the manifestations were taking place in various cities, hence facilitating their joining in the cause.

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Moreover, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have helped people disseminate information such as protest times and places, in addition to giving practical advices on how people should behave in the streets and how to keep safe, as well as tips of safe locations in which protesters can seek shelter when demonstrations became too aggressive. Furthermore the uploads of pictures of citizens who suffered any brutality from the police such as excessive exposure to gas bombs and pepper-sprays, allowed people to report acts of violence throughout Brazil. For example, “The collaborative site No Movimento (In the movement), which emerged during the protests, publishes images from demonstrations all over Brazil, also including a list of volunteer lawyers offering legal aid for protesters in need” (Global Voices).

Social media has also shown to be useful in portraying a different viewpoint than that being showed by traditional mainstream mediums. Similar to the journal O Globo reporting erroneous statistics regarding the number of activists, Globo News (the country’s largest TV news channel) reported a total of 300 thousand activists instead one million people that went out to the streets of Brazil on Monday June 17th—they tried to frame the movement less impactful than it was, thinking that it would be a one-time thing. Yet this was brought to our attention by the social media, which was the vehicle that voiced citizens’ frustrations and enabled the exchange of information from multiple sources. In this case, people were able to confront Globo News’ coverage regarding their statistics and their attempt to weaken the force of the movement. By sharing the correct information online, demonstrators were able to uncover the significance of the protests and the lack of authenticity of traditional media coverage. As a result, the media in Brazil, particularly Globo had to change the way they reported these social movements, from depicting it as momentary and extremely violent to a substantial and overall peaceful protest. Similarly to the zines (fanzines) from the punk culture, social media allows citizens and active protesters to define reality in their own terms rather than those of the dominant culture. In addition, social media provide a space for people that are part of this social movement to openly express themselves, share different opinions and information without the framing of traditional mediums. (Duncombe)

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 *This image circulated on multiple social media yet the original article could not be found

Another outcome regarding the two sides of the coin presented in social media versus mainstream media led some demonstrators to create a group called N.I.N.J.A., a Portuguese acronym for National Independent Journalism and Action Narratives. This group consisted of people circulating through the streets with smartphones, to report not a single story but a collection of voices through live streaming on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, allowing independent media to gain some space in a sphere dominated by few mainstream giants. “One recent day, young Ninja reporters stream live video of police shooting tear gas at a group of protesters in São Paulo. […] That night, Ninja Media’s viewership soared to 200,000—still far smaller than any major TV network but enough to be shared with 3.5 million viewers on Facebook, according to a measure Facebook uses to help gauge the number of times users share their messages” (The Wall Street Journal).

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Newspapers changed their approach to the demonstrations; first, they highlighted protester vandalism, then they questioned the police’s brutality.

Lastly, by creating their own media, these activists were able to act as producers rather than merely consumers, thus encouraging others to do the same while resisting the predominant influence of the media on society. Though by defining themselves against society they also determined they were part of a group, of a social movement, consequently contributing to the sense of “otherness” often created by mainstream media. (Duncombe, 68) Nonetheless, dominant media often tends to negatively portray the social movement as violent and the reason why Ninja media was able to cause an impact and attract so many viewers is due to the fact that they managed to tap a sentiment that traditional media outlets didn’t. While Globo focused on the violent aspect of the manifestations and the Black Bloc’s vandalism, Ninja reporters provided viewers with a different perspective than that which was being showed, focusing on the power of the crowd in the streets, their eagerness to change the country’s inequality, corruption and unfairness, and the authorities’ abuse of power thus allowing the audience to have a greater grasp of both sides of the issue. As we can see, DIY culture and social media’s starring role in social movements is undeniable and it seems like “its power to spur a movement, unite citizens across the globe, and provoke worldwide indignation has never been stronger” (Global Solutions)

Artifact:

The main online tactic that unified the movement was the hash tag #vemprarua, which consisted of a compilation of information, which varied from pictures and live videos to misleading news reports and the citizens’ objections. Yet because this is a manifestation that intended to take people in the streets in order to show the government how powerful citizens can be when united for a common ideology, I want to create a product that not only represents the movement but also characterizes street marketing, thus facilitating the dissemination of information within its own realm. For this reason I believe we must go back to traditional printing press techniques, which involves a low-cost production and relatively easy distribution of information, in addition to establishing a direct contact with people in the manifestation.

Furthermore, because the “it’s not just 20 cents” revolution started as a revolt towards the increase bus fares, yet ended up going further and challenging governmental matters such as inequality and corruption, people who were looking at the movement from the outside could not clearly comprehend what the protestors were fighting for exactly. As movements grow bigger, they tend to get disorganized and segregated, and for this reason I want to create an artifact that will unite common ideologies people are fighting for and communicate them in a relatively simplistic form. N.I.N.J.A media has already been able to concentrate on the misconceptions portrayed by the mainstream media through live streaming and reports on events on the Internet, yet I believe we must also focus on disseminating more accurate information about the movement in the streets, and a flyer or a brochure would be the best way to inform and interact straight with the people. Our target audience would not be just protesters, but also people who are curious about the historic event that took over the entire country. By distributing a paper containing straightforward facts, people would be able to become more unified in fighting for their ideologies while instigating their tactics to become more effective.

My artifact was inspired by anarchist zines, and they would be similar in the sense that they are marketed toward alienation and curious people who need to learn more about politics.  As Duncombe argues, “its function lay in offering a medium through which to analyze, articulate, argue for, and persuade others on political issues of the day. While the language may have been personal and subjective, the content and purpose were explicitly political”(33). Though the brochure would be written from the protesters’ perspective, it would not include personal stories nor would it contain such personal discourse as those featured in zines, given that it would also include multiple depictions of the movement.Firstly, the brochure will be printed double-sided, and when folded it will contain 4 sections in the front part. The idea is to portray four different perspectives of the movement: media, govern/police, protesters and the individuals that were involved with Black Blocs tactics. Inside the brochure, the reader will find quotes, facts and the four distinct outlooks on the movement. On the back, a timeline will be displayed regarding the events and the outcome of each manifestation until the event that led 1 million people out to the streets. Besides that, there will be info graphics, a short glossary and an index with trending hash tags. The goal of the brochure is to provide a base of information for people who are not politicized or for people who want to be informed about the movement in a more straightforward way.

Conclusion:

The “It’s not just 20 cents” revolution in Brazil did not start out of nowhere; what truly drove the nation to rise into action was the long lasting battle in regards to the political context of corruption and dismissiveness with the Brazilian citizens concerning education, safety, sanitation and other basic human or civil rights. However the protests against the increase in bus fare caused the police to react violently against the demonstrations, hence triggering millions of citizens to take the country’s streets and voice their frustrations, given that neither the government nor the military were representative of the citizen’s well-being. In addition, traditional mediums did not represent the movement either, since they used framing techniques such as marginalization and under-counting to create a sense of otherness towards these demonstrations in order for them to maintain hegemony through mass consent. Though traditional mediums defend their own interests, social media is about promoting diversity through one’s individual or collective interests and voices. (Wall Street Journal) For this reason the rising role of social media was crucial in allowing independent media such as the N.I.N.J.As to break some of the power and influence of these few mainstream giants. As a consequence, people who did not feel represented by media giants sought alternative media, consequently instigating the cultivation of a DIY philosophy, which is where I believe my artifact would be helpful. As previously mentioned, this brochure would reflect the protesters’ viewpoint and would enable the movement to cultivate their own identity despite the framings of mainstream media “monopolies”. Finally, this social revolution’s goal was to create awareness towards the inequality and corruption that has taken over Brazil and to instigate change for a better country with more decent living conditions for its citizens, and the brochure would facilitate the communication of these goals and ideals that define the fight of this nation through the movement’s philosophy.

Bibliography:

Scholarly sources:

Duncombe, Stephen. Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture. London: Verso, 1997. Print.

Gitlin, Todd. The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making & Unmaking of the New Left. Berkeley: University of California, 1980. Print.

Hall, Stuart. “The Work of Representation.” Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage in Association with the Open University, 1997. 15-75.

Margo DeMello, Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community DeMello, Margo. Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community. Durham, NC [u.a.: Duke UP, 2001.

Reed, T. V. “Reflections on the Cultural Study of Social Movements.” The Art of Protest. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2005. 296-315.

Reed, T. V. “Will the Revolution Be Cybercast?” The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2005. 240-85. Print.

Thornton, Sarah. Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital. Hanover: University of New England, 1996. 116-62.

Other sources:

Chao, Loretta. “Brazil Protests Prompts Shift in Media Landscap.” The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 29 June 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323873904578570244226440374&gt;.

Hargreaves, Steve. “Rising Middle Class Fuels Brazil’s Protests.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 25 June 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://money.cnn.com/2013/06/25/news/economy/brazil-protests/&gt;

“In Brazil, the Mask of Democracy Is Falling.” ROAR Magazine RSS. N.p., 18 June 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://roarmag.org/2013/06/brazil-protests-real-democracy-movement/&gt;.

“Millions of Brazilians in the Streets: ‘It’s More Than Just 20 Cents’ | Common Dreams.”Common Dreams. N.p., 21 June 2013. Web. 11 Nov. 2013. <https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/06/21-0&gt;.

“PM Admite Que Policial Se Excedeu Em Ataque Com Spray De Pimenta.” O Globo. N.p., 19 June 13. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://oglobo.globo.com/rio/pm-admite-que-policial-se-excedeu-em-ataque-com-spray-de-pimenta-8741260&gt;.

Solecka, Hania. “Social Media Is Here To Stay.” GlobalSolutions.org. N.p., 29 June 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://globalsolutions.org/blog/2013/06/Social-Media-Here-Stay&gt;.

Underhill, Nick. “Brazil: How 20 Cents Sparked A Revolution – The Literati Collective.”The Literati Collective. N.p., 18 June 2013. Web. 11 Nov. 2013. <http://www.theliteraticollective.com/brazil-protests-how-20-cents-sparked-a-revolution-106/&gt;.

Wagstaff, Keith. “The 10-cent Revolution: Everything You Need to Know about Brazil’s Massive Protests – The Week.” The Week. N.p., 18 June 2013. Web. 11 Nov. 2013. <http://theweek.com/article/index/245757/the-20-cent-revolution-everything-you-need-to-know-about-brazils-massive-protests&gt;.

Watts, Jonathan. “Brazil’s Ninja Reporters Spread Stories from the Streets.” The Guardian. N.p., 29 Aug. 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/29/brazil-ninja-reporters-stories-streets&gt;.

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