“Power Emanates from the People," or Political Allure in Brazil

by on Jul.20, 2013

There are unexpected parallels in Johannes’/Shaviro’s definition of allure from a few weeks ago to the protests still happening throughout Brazil.  Just as the secrecy of poetry rouses anxiety—leading to the benchmarks of accessibility or distance as critical antidotes—the unruliness of demonstrations continues to perplex politicians and journalists.  Few seem able to grasp an uprising with no leaders or packagable program beyond the demand for better public services.  As if to check off this blog’s keywords, the protests are often criticized for being contagious, violent, and disorderly versions of what happens in more developed nations.  The TV news cycle has been pretty much the same every night, following a “peaceful” or “festive” march with endless footage of looting and vandalism by masked youth.  When left-leaning commentators, including the President, denounce protestors’ rejection of party affiliation (and, in many cases, the entire party system), they’re likewise targeting a kind of civic disobedience and immaturity.  Yet, as in other countries, the protests grow with no end in sight precisely because they defy established politics.  Their allure has even eclipsed the spectacle of soccer, that opium of the masses, as hundreds of thousands march against exorbitant spending on the World Cup.

A phrase in the Brazilian Constitution, of all things, might shed light on the protests’ allure:  “Power emanates from the people” (“O poder emana do povo”).  If Shaviro thus argues that allure spreads “in the very flows and encounters of everyday existence,” the etymology of “emanate” as that which “flows out” hints at the extent to which Brazilians’ unrest is as seductive and enigmatic as art.  As everyone likes to point out, social media has revitalized this emanation, allowing anyone to physically invoke the masses.  But there’s no denying the power—and, more importantly, the mystification of power—in the congregation of bodies themselves.

Takeover of the National Congress in Brasilia

In a sense, the protestors’ looting and destruction of public and commercial property is part of this irrational embodiment of power.  By rivaling the neoliberal state’s ransacking of the commons, it makes a spectacle of the flow of bodies attempting to reorient the flow of capital.  Police brutality in response to the Free Transit Movement (protesting against a transit fare hike), after all, was what originally galvanized the masses.  Images like this one of a journalist shot in the eye with a rubber bullet set off widespread dissent because they uncloaked–and made intolerable–a violence that politicians/corporations could shroud until it was inscribed on the eyeball of the messenger herself.

Now it’s the people’s turn to rework politics through their own brand of obfuscation, transformative as it may be.  The play of shadows flooding the streets is irresistible.

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