Accounting for Violence: Marketing Memory in Latin America

Accounting for Violence: Marketing Memory in Latin America

by Ksenija Bilbija

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Offering bold new perspectives on the politics of memory in Latin America, scholars analyze the memory markets in six countries that emerged from authoritarian rule in the 1980s and 1990s.See more details below


Offering bold new perspectives on the politics of memory in Latin America, scholars analyze the memory markets in six countries that emerged from authoritarian rule in the 1980s and 1990s.

Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review - Macarena Gomez-Barris

“[T]he sum of the individual analyses in the volume signals important new methods and directions for the field of memory studies. This book is sure to have a decisive impact on scholars researching political violence, memory, forgetting, and commodification throughout the world.”
Latin American Research Review - Kristen Weld

"The book coheres well, and its individual contributions are superb. . . . [It] has intervened into an increasingly lively debate among memory scholars and practitioners." 
Journal of Latin American Studies - Katrien Klep

“In the case of Accounting for Violence, the broad range of cases explored in the chapters is both sobering and inspiring. Moreover, the volume’s excellent conclusion unites the chapters and raises larger questions, urging students and scholars alike to participate in the debate on the pressing concerns put forward by its contributors.”
From the Publisher

Accounting for Violence is a path-breaking book. Its topic is important, fascinating, and new to Latin American studies, where scholarship on memory has tended to concentrate on the vexations of acknowledging past violence; the travails of inscribing such events in legal, political, and social institutions; and, more recently, issues related to public space. Encompassing literature, history, advertising, cultural studies, philosophy, fashion, and television, Accounting for Violence ushers in a new wave of post-trauma scholarship.”—Marguerite Feitlowitz, author of A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture

“This is an innovative, remarkable exploration of themes related to memory in postdictatorial Latin American societies. Incorporating the best scholarship on the topic, the contributors to Ksenija Bilbija’s and Leigh A. Payne’s collection reframe memory within a market economy where remembrances are advertised, appropriated, and commodified. This is a truly interdisciplinary work, spanning the study of literature, film, testimonials, and urban space. It will certainly be a reference in the field for years to come.”—Idelber Avelar, author of The Untimely Present: Postdictatorial Latin American Fiction and the Task of Mourning


“[T]he sum of the individual analyses in the volume signals important new methods and directions for the field of memory studies. This book is sure to have a decisive impact on scholars researching political violence, memory, forgetting, and commodification throughout the world.”
Human Rights Quarterly - Teresa Goodwin Phelps

“I am grateful to the editors of Accounting for Violence for assembling these engrossing and informative articles…. By providing and analyzing examples, both good and bad, Accounting for Violence contributes to a better awareness of the dangers and a more sophisticated understanding of what is at stake.”

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Product Details

Duke University Press Books
Publication date:
The Cultures and Practice of Violence Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

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Marketing Memory in Latin America


Copyright © 2011 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5025-5

Chapter One

A Prime Time to Remember

Memory Merchandising in Globo's Anos Rebeldes

On the evening of 14 July 1992, an unprecedented event took place on Brazilian television: the premiere of the first serial drama ever to portray the political violence and repression that took place under the military regime. Airing on the Globo television network, the miniseries Anos Rebeldes (Rebel Years) transported an estimated thirty million viewers back to the authoritarian period through the fictional story of a group of high school friends who come of age during the most repressive phase of the dictatorship and whose fates become enmeshed with the political and cultural upheavals of the era. The plot revolved around two star-crossed lovers: João, a student activist whose youthful idealism eventually leads him to join the armed struggle, and Maria Lúcia, an individualist with little patience for political crusades. Not only did the drama feature a member of the resistance as its romantic lead, it also explored subjects rarely discussed before on the small screen, particularly torture and censorship.

Anos Rebeldes is one of a growing number of Brazilian telenovelas, miniseries, and other entertainment programs that have revisited the turbulent period of the authoritarian regime. As Latin America's dictatorships recede further into the past, stories about them are increasingly becoming fodder for "must-see TV," and not just in Brazil, although the trend is most evident there. Brazilian telenovelas (or novelas, as they are commonly referred to) and miniseries are particularly well-suited as vehicles for marketing memory because of their characteristic realism and long tradition of discussing and interpreting controversial political and social issues. They serve not only as "an echo chamber ... for public debate" but also as "a central forum for the construction of the idea of nation." Furthermore, by incorporating perspectives and social actors normally ignored by newscasts and other programming, novelas and miniseries have helped democratize Brazilian television, and even national culture.

Even as far back as the dictatorship period, Brazilian scriptwriters - many of whom came from the political theater—found ways to explore subjects banned by government and internal censors, often by creating microcosms that served as allegories for the nation. This tradition of engaged programming has only strengthened since the transition to democracy. It has also been commodified with the advent, in the early 1990s, of what the Brazilian television industry calls "social merchandising," the institutionalized practice of using telenovelas and miniseries to raise awareness about pressing social problems and issues related to public health and safety (such as domestic abuse, gun control, drug addiction, organ donation, and missing children) while boosting the broadcasting network's profile as a socially responsible corporate citizen. Social merchandising applies the marketing principle of product placement (known as "merchandising" in Brazil), in which the conspicuous display or mention of a specific commercial good is deliberately woven into the plot of a telenovela or miniseries in exchange for a negotiated fee. The difference in the case of social merchandising is that the "product" being promoted is a message, issue, or behavior rather than a consumer item, and no monetary transaction takes place.

In lieu of direct financial gain, networks profit indirectly from social merchandising by boosting their public image, which translates into larger audiences and more advertising revenue. The technique thus exemplifies media scholar Jesús Martín-Barbero's assertion that Latin American telenovelas have a tendency to turn social demands into motives of profit. While promoting worthy causes is certainly a noble goal, it also serves as an effective strategy for connecting with viewers as consumers.

Social merchandising not only explores social problems, it also presents strategies for resolving them that can be emulated in daily life. It works by integrating a given issue into the plot or subplot of the novela or miniseries in question, thereby turning the fictional characters into credible "public-opinion-forming agents" with whom viewers can easily identify or empathize. The way social merchandising is developed varies depending on whether it is to be inserted into a telenovela or a miniseries. Novelas, which typically have 180 to 200 episodes and last an average of eight months or longer, are considered relatively "open" works: only the first twenty chapters, or episodes, are taped in advance, whereas the others are written and produced while the program is on the air. As it progresses, the script of a telenovela constantly incorporates audience feedback and current events into the plot. Social merchandising in novelas must therefore remain open-ended as well, "continu[ing] as the story unfolds, perfectly integrated with the central plot and parallel threads that are developed." A miniseries, although similar in basic structure, is more compact—averaging 25 installments and a run of four to six weeks—and the script for the entire program is usually written in advance, meaning that any social merchandising must be determined prior to airing. Moreover, miniseries are traditionally shown in a later time slot and target a more sophisticated audience than novelas, thus permitting "scenes of greater realism and impact."

Social merchandising has proven to be an effective means of promoting public awareness about a variety of contemporary issues. In 1995, the Globo novela Explode Coração (Bursting Heart) launched a campaign to help real-life parents find their missing children. The parents made appearances on the program to ask the fictional characters (and viewers) for help locating their sons and daughters. By the end of the novela's run, more than seventy-five children had been successfully located. When, in 2001, another Globo production, Laços de Família (Family Ties), chronicled the saga of Camila, a young leukemia patient in desperate need of a bone-marrow transplant, Brazil's National Cancer Institute registered a fifteen-fold increase in bone-marrow donations, a phenomenon that became known as the "Camila effect." Social merchandising has even been credited with helping pass legislation. The 2003 novela Mulheres Apaixonadas (Women in Love), which included a subplot that dramatized the plight of older Brazilians, was praised by one senator for pressuring the congress to pass in six months a bill protecting the elderly that had previously been stalled for five years. The same novela also became known for its success in raising public awareness about the national debate over gun control.

Although social merchandising is a potent tool, one must be careful not to overstate its influence on the Brazilian public: people are not just passive receptors of ideas, and television portrayals are more complex than they appear, often conveying multiple and contradictory messages that people respond to in different ways depending on what they bring to their viewing. Nonetheless, the concept provides a useful framework for analyzing the transmission or mediation of memory in Brazilian telenovelas and miniseries like Anos Rebeldes by illuminating how social and political messages are conveyed on commercial Brazilian television. Indeed, Globo's 1992 miniseries engaged in a kind of merchandising—a merchandising of memory—by advocating the need to remember the authoritarian past and repudiate the crimes committed by the military regime. "Memory merchandising," as defined here, is the marketing of a corrective version of a contested past in a serial television drama by using characters who act as memory agents, as well as historical or documentary elements (such as video footage and photographs, newspaper articles, music, etc.), and other devices that educate the viewer about "what really happened," or otherwise authenticate the story being told. Far from imposing a single meaning or interpretation on its "host" (the serial drama into which it is inserted), memory merchandising promotes one set of messages among the many others that are transmitted in a given novela or miniseries.

The notion of "memory merchandising" raises questions about entertainment television's suitability as a vehicle for transmitting memory: What limitations do commercial, aesthetic, and political agendas impose on how telenovelas and miniseries engage with the past? Who profits—and how—when stories of repression and violence are transformed into media spectacles for mass consumption? This chapter explores how the memory of the dictatorship was packaged in key scenes of Anos Rebeldes, and how the miniseries itself was marketed to the Brazilian public. The case of Anos Rebeldes helps shed light on how the Globo television network, known for its historic ties to the military dictatorship, has made over its image from authoritarian ally to champion of democracy and model corporate citizen.

Globo's Extreme Makeover

Globo pioneered social merchandising in Brazil, as it likes to remind its audience periodically through frequent public relations campaigns. In 2003, for instance, the network broadcast a series of self-promotional advertisements touting its role as a socially responsible corporate citizen and highlighting the success of its social merchandising under the slogan "Globo's novelas have greatly contributed to the recovery of citizenship." According to network spokesman Luís Erlanger, the purpose of the commercials was "to portray what Globo has stood for over the years," adding that "if anyone has the historical legitimacy to talk about social responsibility ... it's Globo."

Like the commercials to which he was referring, Erlanger glossed over a significant chunk of his employer's history: for the first twenty years of its existence, Globo enthusiastically supported a military regime that brutally repressed civil society with violence, censorship, and fear—a record that can hardly be construed as "socially responsible." Under its founder, the late Roberto Marinho, the network regularly extolled the regime and its projects while censoring information about the torture, murder, and political disappearance of the government's opponents. Marinho justified keeping the public in the dark by declaring that censorship was "a good thing when it comes to [fighting] terrorism."

Globo's complicity with the dictatorship has been well documented; however, it is also important to stress that the network is not—nor has it ever been—a monolith, and that its relationship with the military governments was far more complex and dynamic than is generally acknowledged. Despite its close ties to the generals, throughout much of the dictatorship period Globo hired novela writers who were known critics of the regime (many of whom came out of political theater, as previously noted) and granted them at least some degree of autonomy to express their political views using allegory. Moreover, even Marinho sometimes found himself at odds with the regime, resulting, on one occasion, in the explosion of a bomb at his private residence. Still, on the whole, Globo showed a marked tendency to support, rather than to challenge or contest, the dictatorship and its abuse of power.

The military governments repaid Globo's loyalty by tacitly permitting, at least for a time, an illegal joint business venture with the Time-Life Corporation, from which the Brazilian network derived tremendous financial and technical advantages over its competitors. They also granted Marinho preferential treatment in the distribution of licenses and state-funded advertising contracts. By the time the military relinquished control of the government in 1985, Globo had established a virtual monopoly over the national television industry; more than twenty years later, it remains Brazil's leader in terms of audience ratings and advertising revenue, although rival networks, particularly Record, have become increasingly competitive in the past decade. Like its counterparts elsewhere in Latin America, the Globo conglomerate has been consolidated upon the popularity of its prime-time telenovelas and miniseries.

The characteristic that most distinguishes the post-transition Globo from its former incarnation under the military regime is its self-appointed role as a champion of democracy and of the average Brazilian citizen. The network's transition from authoritarian ally to democratic watchdog has been gradual, taking place over a period of several years. Many Brazilian media analysts identify a 1984 scandal involving the network as a turning point in this process. At the time, a nationwide campaign for direct presidential elections, known as the "Diretas Já" movement, was rapidly gaining momentum. In a period of three months, as many as ten million Brazilians participated in rallies throughout the country. Despite this outpouring of public support for the movement, the administration of General João Figueiredo opposed calls for an immediate return to civilian rule. Once again, Globo sided with the government by deliberately neglecting to report on the historic protest marches in its national newscasts, even after rival networks and the print media started giving the movement broad coverage. Public support for direct elections was so overwhelming, however, that Marinho's network soon found itself mired in a major public relations disaster: viewers signaled their discontent by changing the channel, and key commercial sponsors threatened to pull their ads unless Globo reversed its policy. The network subsequently shifted its support to the civilian opposition, and eventually became "a major factor in legitimating the new [democratic] regime."

In its own way, Anos Rebeldes also constitutes a landmark in Globo's stunning transformation from authoritarian mouthpiece to advocate of democracy. By becoming the first Brazilian television network to criticize the military dictatorship openly on prime-time television in its 1992 miniseries, Globo signaled its investment in the new democratic order. It also came off as hip and global. Through Anos Rebeldes, Globo marketed more than just an alternative version of the past: it marketed itself.

The Merchandising of Memory in Anos Rebeldes

According to Gilberto Braga, creator and head scriptwriter of Anos Rebeldes, the miniseries was originally conceived as a vehicle for promoting the memory of the authoritarian period so as not to repeat it. Although he has never explicitly referred to this intention in marketing terms, a kind of memory merchandising is evident in the development of certain characters as memory agents, and in the frequent insertion of historical and documentary elements between scenes.

The drama's passionately idealistic hero, João, is an agent of memory by virtue of the fact that he embodies the perspective of the left-wing opposition to the military dictatorship, a point of view long excluded from Brazilian television. This fictional character is modeled loosely on Alfredo Sirkis, a real-life militant and author of a memoir of youthful rebellion, Os Carbonários, on which the plot of Anos Rebeldes is also partially based. Published shortly after the 1979 amnesty law, Sirkis's memoir became an instant best seller, due in part to the enthusiasm of young readers who regarded it as a bible on how to become a revolutionary. Anos Rebeldes capitalized on the popularity of Os Carbonários, but ultimately liquidated the book's cult appeal by turning it into mainstream fare. João's role as memory agent is only partial: he represents the viewpoint and experiences of the leftist militancy, but does not explicitly serve as a mouthpiece advocating the need to remember. That function is left to the other major characters in the miniseries.

The character who most fully embodies the cause of memory in Anos Rebeldes is Heloísa, a friend of João and Maria Lúcia who is arrested and tortured for her involvement in the armed struggle; she also happens to be the daughter of Fábio Andrade Brito, a wealthy businessperson and loyal supporter of the military regime. In one of the drama's most powerful scenes, Heloísa confronts her father with the grim reality of her detainment in a military prison. When the ever arrogant Fábio dismisses the idea that a daughter of his could have been mistreated by the government, Heloísa unbuttons her blouse and reveals the signs of torture on her breasts. Her back is turned to the camera the entire time her wounds are exposed, a strategy that maximizes the dramatic charge of the scene by leaving the extent of her injuries to the imagination of the viewer, who sees only the look of shock and horror on the father's face.


Excerpted from ACCOUNTING FOR VIOLENCE by KSENIJA BILBIJA LEIGH A. PAYNE Copyright © 2011 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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