Jair Bolsonaro was targeted by many Carnival parties

I’ve never thought I’d telephone a political scientist to talk about pornography and the act of a “golden shower.” However, in Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, anything is possible.

In case you’ve missed the latest controversy stirred up by Brazil’s president, a quick summary. On Tuesday evening, Mr. Bolsonaro used his official Twitter account—the same one he uses to make official announcements of policies and government measures—to post an explicit video to “denounce” the moral laxity of Carnival. The footage shows one man, barely dressed, standing atop a newspaper stand and masturbating anally. Then, a second man begins urinating on the first man’s head.

“I don’t feel comfortable showing this, but we have to expose the truth so the people can be made aware,” the president wrote. “This is what many Carnival street parties have turned into.”

The post unsurprisingly gained a lot of attention, but the coup de grâce was a subsequent tweet from the president, asking “what is a golden shower?” If you don’t know by now, we’ll let you google the term.

While I’m by no means condoning the behavior of the two men featured on the lewd video published by the president, it means that Mr. Bolsonaro has completely missed the point about Carnival. This year alone, almost 600 parties took to the streets of São Paulo, with an estimated 12 million people taking part—often from the early hours in the morning. It would be impossible not to have this sort of incident.

After all, Carnival—which generates a much-needed economic boost to Brazil’s major urban centers—is all about transgression. “In other times, people were baffled by Rio’s Gay Gala. The mere fact of being a gay ball was eye-catching. Today, that same event doesn’t get headlines, as homosexuality has stopped being seen as taboo,” wrote political scientist Claudio Couto.

Bolsonaro’s Olinda giant doll was booed

Every year, revelers film and share scenes like the one Mr. Bolsonaro shared on Tuesday. What’s new about this case is that the video went viral through an official tweet of the country’s head of state. It’s doubly detrimental to the country. On one hand, in the minds of those easily swayed by the president’s point of view, it could reduce Carnival to the actions of two individuals. For the rest of the population, it turns Jair Bolsonaro into a laughing stock.

“It was a predicted move,” ponders Mauricio Santoro, a professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, and a columnist for The Brazilian Report. “Jair Bolsonaro was targeted by millions of revelers, sometimes in a very aggressive way. He and his family responded by calling out Carnival as a celebration lacking morals—as a way to discredit his critics.”

Mr. Bolsonaro’s antics seem to echo those of Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcello Crivella, who is also a bishop in one of Brazil’s largest evangelical denominations—and one highly intolerant to the Afro-Brazilian culture.

Divided country and low popularity

Carnival in Brazil is—and has always been—political. Historian Luiz Antonio Simas even calls it “Brazil’s most political party, by far.” Simas literally wrote the book on Carnival’s social role in the country.

During Brazil’s first republic, Carnival was a gateway for Black Brazilians to celebrate their independence and recently-gained freedom from slavery. Today is the moment where sarcasm, humor, and political transgression all come together. And heads of state are usually in the firing line.

In Olinda, a huge doll depicting the president was intensely booed. In Belo Horizonte, the police tried to censor an anti-Bolsonaro parade—only to spark reactions from public prosecutors and stir up the debate about freedom of speech. In Rio and São Paulo, countless revelers dressed up in costumes making references to scandals involving the Bolsonaro family.

“Such an intense reaction usually comes after long, intense crises—such as the 2016 impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. Mr. Bolsonaro took office less than three months ago. The intensity of the mocking shows to what degree Brazilian politics has become strained,” says Mr. Santoro.

According to the first opinion poll of the Bolsonaro era, the new president kicks off with less support than his predecessors (excluding Michel Temer and Itamar Franco, who became presidents after impeachment processes, and not through regular elections). Thirty-nine percent of Brazilians approve his debut in power—a huge drop from pre-inauguration numbers when as much as 75 percent of people believed he’d do a good job in the presidency.

A breach of decorum

On her Twitter account (where else?), political scientist Mara Telles mentioned that the president might have broken the rules of his office—which would make him impeachable. She cited the article about “crimes against the public administration” (which officially cost Dilma Rousseff her job in 2016). Among them is acting “in an incompatible fashion with the dignity, honor, and decorum of the office.”

Of course, Mr. Bolsonaro won’t be impeached for his obscene tweet, but the episode shows how unprepared the president—and his acolytes—seems to be. “People expect he will bring real answers to their complex problems. His moral crusade won’t help him one bit if he doesn’t help bring down the unemployment rate and put Brazil back on the path of growth,” says Mr. Santoro.

Mr. Santoro sums up the futility of the president’s move: “He wants to tame Carnival? Good luck… Not even the military dictatorship managed to do that.”

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BY Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.