- Brazilian Propaganda: Legitimizing an Authoritarian Regime by Nina Schneider
As a young person in West Germany in the 1980s and 1990s, Nina Schneider studied the Nazi dictatorship because it was a major part of her school curriculum. Her studies led her to consider how her forbears could have prevented the Nazi seizure of power. When she became an exchange student in Rio de Janeiro in the 1990s, she found, to her surprise, that the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964–1985) was not part of the curriculum. Her Brazilian teachers ignored the entire period. These contradictory but formative experiences led Schneider into the scholarly pursuit of trying to understand why societies come to live under dictatorships and, concurrently, to the examination of propaganda. Both the Third Reich and the Brazilian military dictatorship employed propaganda to justify repression.
Schneider has produced a focused and rigorously analyzed study of the Assessoria Especial de Relações Públicas (AERP) and the Assessoria de Relações Públicas (ARP), two government-run propaganda organs that produced short films, radio programs, and other propaganda material between 1969 and 1979, that is, during the dictatorships of Emilio Garrastazú Médici (1969–1974) and Ernesto Geisel (1974–1979). Official propaganda began after the military rulers issued a decree (Ato Institucional Número Cinco) in December 1968 that abolished civic rights across the nation and imposed [End Page 433] political censorship. The author identifies three types of propaganda—subliminal, blunt, and aggressive. Most of the material produced by the AERP and the ARP could be characterized as subliminal. That is, the films and radio programs emphasized the "miracle myth" of military rule, with an emphasis on the traditional values of economic progress, social mobility, hard work, and duty. Brazil, under dictatorship, was allegedly a place of youth, promise, and harmony, but never a place of repression, torture, and racial discrimination. A representative film released in 1971 showed young white Brazilians working together to climb the Gávea Rock in Rio and from the summit admiring the stunning Carioca landscape. A voiceover announced, "Time for action—time of the young. Time of a young country—now" (34).
As the Brazilian economy slowed after the precipitous rise in global oil prices in 1973, Schneider noted that blunt (or direct) propaganda became more apparent. Broadcasts specifically credited the Geisel regime for building homes and increasing employment. The AERP and the ARP actually came under criticism from the National Intelligence Service (SNI) for producing propaganda that was not considered aggressive enough in praising the military for hunting down subversives. The Brazilian authorities who justified violence by pointing to the spurious Communist threat relied on business interests and major television and newspaper outlets to make their specious points.
The subliminal aspect of official Brazilian propaganda raised important questions in Schneider's mind. The respective heads of the AERP and the ARP, Col. Octávio Costa and José Maria Toledo Camargo, supported the military intervention in 1964 but apparently resisted entreaties to glorify military leaders and rationalize torture and murder in their propaganda pieces. Should such men be perceived as moderating figures or complicit collaborators? To be sure, their propaganda ultimately legitimized military dictatorship.
Context also matters to Schneider. Many of the broadcasts focused on common-sense themes like not mixing drinking and driving, crossing streets at corners, practicing good hygiene, and having children vaccinated against diseases. Nonetheless, Schneider has concluded that such films "operated as a silent form of pro-regime propaganda, as they perpetrated values that aimed to justify the regime" (113). But democratic societies often sponsor such public health campaigns. Schneider has also noted that the differences between authoritarian and democratic propaganda can be less distinct than one might expect.
Schneider conducted impressive archival work in preparing this study. She also interviewed key actors in the propaganda machine. Her text is supplemented by numerous photos, or "stills" from the propaganda films. These stills are most evocative. She further includes a useful glossary to assist the reader in identifying the many acronyms and...