I know a lot of people, especially in cultural circles, who are prejudiced against soap operas. They criticize the stupid, easy plots, full of rehashed characters, "good versus evil" stereotypes and simpletons.
I have to admit that, nowadays, I don’t watch any of them — and I don’t have any particular opinion — but it is undeniable that many of these characters have influenced us somehow.
Let's start with Malu, Regina Duarte's role in the series Malu Mulher.It was the beginning of the 80s and my mother was trapped in a toxic, limiting and unhappy marriage.
It was thanks to those dialogues, in the energy of that unforgettable protagonist, that she found the strength to separate from my father.
She went back to work, studied English and in no time her salary had already leapfrogged that of many of the family’s male chauvinists.
She got into fitness, and was able to wear miniskirts without having to put up with any unkind remarks, she rebuilt her self-esteem, had a few boyfriends and, thanks to having become a more fulfilled woman, she also became — I believe — a better mother.
Years later, during my pre-teen years, I remember the obsession with Vale Tudo;A soap opera in which Regina Duarte played a poor, upright battler named Raquel Accioli.
Who doesn't remember her dreaming of a fairer country for everyone, especially for the underprivileged? Her daughter, the ambitious Maria de Fatima, full of prejudices, hated "those people" and would do anything for money and power.
If the series were adapted for today, Odete Roitman, another character memorable for "hating the poor", would certainly be applauding the lines of the super-minister Paulo Guedes.
In the last episode, the powerful millionaire (and bandit) Marco Aurélio, played by Reginaldo Faria, sent Brazil to hell while fleeing the country with impunity.
This went against all the principles of Regina Duarte's character in Vale Tudo; however, when we think about the real Regina in 2020, I wouldn’t even take the risk of asking her for a selfie.
I spent a good part of the 90s dressing up as Porcina (even if only to go from the bedroom to the kitchen), Regina's character in the soap opera Roque Santeiro. I had, in the children's version, her "turban tiaras" and exaggerated clothes.
The fiery widow was a real "lady", who extended her hand to be kissed. How nostalgic to see Regina making a Sinhozinho (master’s son) kneel before her, rather than serving this depressing Sinhozinho , the shame of an entire nation. Or, to be more precise, I miss when her "fiancé" was a Sinhozinho who existed only in an imaginary world.
But my favorite character appeared during my teen years: the spectacular Maria do Carmo. I was a student at a school for rich people and they spent their time snubbling me like I was a piece of trash. I swore to myself: "One day, these bastards will beg me for help, for a job (and to be my friend on Facebook!)"
Thank you, Regina Duarte, because I've already received many CVs from acquaintances from that epoque. Rainha da Sucata(or Trash Queen), in my humble opinion, was the best soap opera in the history of Brazilian public TV..
But our future Culture Secretary, due to take office on March 4th, is unfortunately no longer a Helena who does everything for love.
And I, one who places such importance on well crafted, well told stories, suffer when I see the face of so many heroines supporting a fascist, misogynist, ignorant president in league with militias (to cut a long story short).
A man who refers in such a grotesque and criminal way to one of the most serious and respected journalists in Brazil. One of the worst chapters of all time has turned out to be reality, a soap opera starring only villains.
When I was a child, at the time of the World Cup, I helped to paint the Brazilian flag on the street in front of my grandparents' house. I gathered a lot of people from the family (more or less everyone who lived nearby), like that I could spend more time playing with my cousins. We also made little flags and strung them across gates as decorations. When the match started and the anthem was played, we'd be piled up in the living room singing along with the players (who weren't yet billionaires and supporters of a genocidal president).
My grandfather would put his hand on his chest and my grandmother would ask, worried, "is it your heart?" but he was just being very patriotic. I, who had always been very emotional, cried like a baby and had my standard upset tummy, sick from happiness.
Then, when I changed schools, I found out that every day, after recess and before returning to class, we had to sing the anthem and watch the flag being raised. I have to admit that the mid-afternoon heat made me terribly sleepy, but we girls took advantage of the situation to hold hands with the boys we were lined up with. And the teachers let us do it, because they thought it was love for our country. I suppose you could say it was. A lot of romances started thanks to that.
At 20-something I entered the Young Creatives awards, the fantasy of any aspiring advertising executive. I got 11th place, and only the top ten would go to Cannes all expenses paid, for an endless schedule of amazing lectures and promising parties. I cried so hard for a whole morning. So much so that my boss at the time, Pedro Cabral, decided to send me on behalf of the agency and I stayed in a much better hotel than the flea-ridden one that the others stayed in (sorry about that!).
I was in a phase where I loved my life so much, my work, the bright future beckoning and this opportunity (my first great professional recognition), that when I saw dozens of Brazilian flags along the French Riviera I was afraid that my heart would stop. I know that what I'm going to say will sound a little kitsch, but it's a long way from Tatuapé to the world, and it felt like I was walking on the moon and about to plant my flag proudly on its surface. After so many mornings serving my sentence like a convict and being bullied (because 1- I carried my lunchbox to school and 2- the lunchbox lid bore a leopard skin print), I admit that. I was moved by the proverbial wisdom that goes, "I am Brazilian and I never give up".
It was then that I decided I really wanted to be a writer, and it became my obsession to obtain the respect of the literary milieu, specifically within the closed circles of bearded boffins and feminists with posh school accents, I was proud to earn a few measly dollars for a translation. And once again I got sidelined. I hadn't studied Arts or Sociology at USP and I still dyed my hair blond. They hated me as much as they could until they realized I was actually really cool.
Once I was "accepted", there was an unforgettable barbecue to watch Brazil play. Although the letters CBF (Brazilian Football Federation) were already emblazoned on the players’ strips, it wasn’t yet a bunch of ignorant, fascist and disgusting people. I think it was the last time I wore green and yellow with a kind of romantic national pride, without fear of being associated with truncheon-waving Nazi-style nationalism.
Today I watch my country agonize in the cruel corridors of negligence. My anthem is used by criminals who fire shotguns at the windows of family homes in suburbs like Perdizes. My flag is brandished by demented people who criticize nurses and democracy. Pity upon you, poor psychopath who will never feel sorrow and despair.
Our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, will one day study what the history books should call the "one-third phenomenon". It was in Brazil, in the 20s of the 21st century. A man who lived under the protection of a notorious torturer, who taught children how to pretend to hold a gun using their hands, who told a woman that she did not even deserve to be raped. I foresee this progressive and democratic future and the disbelief of its children and teenagers: "And why didn't anybody make him leave, professor?" And the teachers, and perhaps children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren of this hideously ugly period, perhaps even the direct survivors of this dark phase, will simply respond: "Because of the one-third."
"History of Fascism in Brazil - The Bolsonora Era", chapter "Coronavirus": "And he ended up decimating tens of thousands of people by encouraging them to go out and meet their own death".
"But, professor, even with that the people didn't manage to bring down this clown?"
"No, because, as I explained in last class, and it was the subject of the last exams, in that period the so-called 'one-third phenomenon' managed to go down in history, in Congress, and everywhere."
Of course, the country wondered: what more could happen? What could be even worse than the worst thing that anyone could think, say, talk, do and be? Next to his exploits, Dilma's economic cockups and Collor's playboy shenanigans could be sold on the newstands as a "coloring-in history book". People were unable to sleep: what if he started to shit on our heads today? What if today he incited people to beat gays and women? What if he machine-gunned a labrador puppy outside a supermarket? What if he spread coronavirus among old, sick, slum dwellers? What if he made the main stories of the evening news disappear simply with the power of his macabre mind? What if he changed the whole Constitution, or tore it up, or tattooed a new Constitution on his chest with the simple words IT’S ME, GODDAMN. What if he strangled to death a pregnant woman from the suburbs just because she didn't want to be a mother? What if he placed the health of Havan’s stores ahead of the health of human beings? Wouldn’t that lead people to rise up and react? But wait a second, hasn’t he already done all that?
In any event, the "one-third phenomenon" rolled on, unwavering. Barbarity was renamed "the will of the people." Murder became "free trade." Fascism "Right-wing." Unscrupulousness was simply "what he does." Calling the saddest attacks on the foundations of our country "faith in God". Calling the most terrible, rotten and vile of our primal instincts "blocking previous policies". Calling filthy, unresolved and unquenched sexual fetishes "Conservatism". Organized crime was called "Crime for the whole family." Calling dictatorship and torture "no bargaining." No bargaining became "for the people". Calling perverted psychopathy "condensed milk on bread." Calling the big excuse for being an asshole "PT (Labor Party) rage". Calling the end of humanity "a fresh start."
"But, professor, were those in the 'one-third', stupid, filled with evil intentions, or were they simply sad and completely lost?" I wish I could hear the answer.
We, the "66.6" (the number of the beast: who would have known it!), are shouting "Out!!", while they, the "33.3", stick a stethoscope up our ass and command: "Say 33, say 33". I only hope I have a lung tomorrow and the day after.
And I hope you do too.
The bell rang for the end of the period. At last! Next class, we’ll see how this all ends.
These texts were previously published in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo
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About the author
Tati Bernardi lives in Sao Paulo. She is a writer, screenwriter and columnist, notably known for her work in the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. Her latest book published: Você nunca mais vai ficar sozinha (Companhia das Letras, 2020).
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