Last January, a councilor from the PL of Fortaleza recorded a video, which quickly went viral, attacking the Pinacoteca do Ceará for exhibiting supposed works against Christian morality and the proper training of children. Without explaining that such work is in areas with specific signs about the indicative age classification, following parameters of federal rules, the Liberal Party parliamentarian, whose president was recently arrested involved in the coup acts of January 8, 2023, accused the PT, responsible by the government of Ceará and, consequently, by the management of the Pinacoteca, using typical hateful rhetoric, to use an agenda of customs in an electoral manner. After all, despite the exhibition with such works being open for more than a year, the councilor causes controversy at the beginning of 2024, when there are municipal elections in the country. Coincidence?

These actions are a kind of afterthought of what the American sociologist James Davison Hunter diagnosed in the book Culture Wars: the Struggle to define America, published in 1991 and without translation in Brazil. Appropriating the German expression Kulturkampf (cultural war), a concept used by the campaign against the influence of the Catholic church carried out by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, between 1871 and 1878, Hunter observed how his country was polarized in demonstrations against abortion, against art and against feminism, to name a few. More recently, campaigns defaming electoral processes and anti-vaccine processes can also be observed in the context of cultural wars.
More than a simple opposition between conservative or progressive proposals, the agents of this war use logic that rejects science and even common sense, characterized by denouncing non-existent dangers based on false information. In short, it is a crusade that aims to avoid any form of autonomy for citizens so that they are subject to the neoliberal system without question and using the sensation of panic as a method – a strategy with an emotional appeal, therefore difficult to counteract with rational arguments.

In Brazil, Olavo de Carvalho (1947-2022) was one of the great spokespersons for these wars, influencing thousands of people and even appointing state ministers at the beginning of the Bolsonaro government. It is, as Hunter states, the contest for the present and the future: “Ultimately, the battle for this symbolic territory reveals a conflict over worldviews – over what standards our communities and our nation will live by; about what we consider to be 'of lasting value' in our communities; about what we consider a fair representation of our times, and so on.”

Culture wars, however, are an explicit strategy of conservative movements that have lost control of the narrative in the field of culture and art, in which libertarian and progressive ideas have come to dominate debates, especially since the counterculture movements of the 1960s/ 70. As such values ​​are intrinsically associated with left-wing parties, it was necessary for conservatives to seek strategies to question this field and, therefore, advances on identity issues, Paulo Freire's pedagogy of the oppressed, contemporary art, vaccines and abortion, to name the main focuses of these wars.

However, the effective objective, even if based on customs, is simply to seek to deconstruct the charm of the left's libertarian proposals through fear: “They will destroy our families”. This motto, however, is as appealing as it is fanciful, after all, in Brazil today, 48% of Brazilian homes have women as the head of the family, to cite a figure that shows how the traditional equation of mom and dad is increasingly in question.

There is no doubt that Bolsonaro's election in 2018 was largely built on the backdrop of cultural wars, such as the “denouncements” of the gay kit or the “dick bottle”, fake news generated precisely to spread the panic. The recent attacks on the Pinacoteca do Ceará, in this sense, are very similar to the combined attacks on the arts in Brazil in 2017.

In this single year, on the eve of the presidential elections, at least three Sesc actions were victims of hate speech – a performance in Brasília, a play in Jundiaí and a speech in São Paulo by Canadian Judith Butler, in addition to an exhibition at the Art Museum Moderna in São Paulo and another at Santander Cultural in Porto Alegre. The Free Brazil Movement (MBL) led these actions to spread lies, one of the pillars of support for Bolsonarism at that time. The accusations are exactly in the format described by Hunter for the United States: “They observe some artistic object in isolation, decontextualized from the artist's broader aesthetic project, and consider it obscene, pornographic and lascivious.”

In this case, the sociologist took as a basis the controversies that involved artists such as photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) with his last retrospective organized in his lifetime, The Perfect Moment, which would be exhibited in several North American museums and had its itinerary in Washington canceled, after fierce attacks from the American Family Association.

Returning to Brazil in the 21st century, the use of social networks in a synchronized manner played an essential role in the attacks on the arts in 2017, something very similar to what happened with the coup attempt on January 8, 2023. The violent way in which works of art were destroyed at the headquarters of the Three Powers, in Brasília, attests to how the campaign started years before was essential for the mass formation of cognitive dissonant.

At the same time, attacks on culture serve as smoke screens, which seek to divert public attention from relevant facts, such as what occurred on March 8, 2023, when the most voted federal deputy in Brazil with 1.492.047 votes, Nikolas Ferreira, took to the stand on Women's Day with a female wig and made a transphobic speech. A Bolsonaro supporter, the deputy had just returned from the conservative CPAC conference, in the United States, where Eduardo Bolsonaro was also present, who took criticism of trans culture as one of his strategies. His action was on the cover of newspapers and competed with the stories about the jewelry received by Bolsonaro irregularly.

The neoliberal resumption, which began with the 2016 coup under the leadership of speculative financial capital, has been financing groups that propagate themselves as defenders of liberal values, but, in reality, are willing to defend all types of censorship and attacks on artists, one of the segments that, almost unanimously, denounced social dismantling. It is no coincidence that one of the first acts of President Michel Temer was to abolish the Ministry of Culture in 2016, an action that was quickly revised, due to pressure from artists and the resulting negative repercussions.

In October 2017, Piauí magazine reporter Bruno Abbud published an article after having access to two months of conversation in a WhatsApp group from Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL), called MBL Mercado, which included at least 158 ​​employees from institutions such as Banco Safra, XP Investimentos and Merrill Lynch, to raise funds for the group and “take the executives' agendas to public discussions and closed-door meetings that MBL members would have with politicians and national leaders”, according to Abbud in reporting.

In two weeks, the group raised R$50 from investors, but donations are also made in miles, which guarantees free plane tickets to neoliberal activists.

The content of these conversations reveals some strategies behind the motivations of this group that attacks the “degenerate art” of the beginning of the 21st century.
The exchanges of messages date back to the time when the then mayor of São Paulo João Doria (PSDB) launched himself as a candidate for president of Brazil, which the MBL leaders celebrated and defended: “With or without psdb. The alliance that can elect you is in the pmdb of agro and mbl evangelicals. Our work will be to unite this group in a common project”, posted Renan Santos, one of its founders.

It is precisely this alliance of “neoliberals” with reactionary sectors, such as evangelicals and ruralists, that aims to defame cultural agents, in terms of what happened throughout 2017. If there was no confiscation of works or exhibitions to ridicule the avant-gardes of the time, Just as when the Nazis came to power, the “propaganda” against contemporary art continues stridently, as it does now in Ceará.

And the battlefield is on social media, the most suitable place to bring together moralistic groups based on fake news, generating what is called “post-truth”, the word of the year 2016, according to the English dictionary Oxford. According to its definition, it is a noun “that relates to or denotes circumstances in which objective facts have less influence in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal beliefs”.

Of course, rumors have always existed, but the strength of false truths currently stems from two factors: the use of social media and the bubble that forms around groups with the same opinion. The algorithms used by Facebook, for example, mean that its users tend to receive information that is in accordance with their own point of view, reinforcing the idea that the shows defend pedophilia and giving the impression, to those who have such an opinion, of that everyone agrees with him. On the other hand, WhatsApp ends up being another source of fake news, as people who receive information through this application tend to believe what they read, as they receive messages from friends or relatives, without checking their veracity.


This is, in fact, a global phenomenon that occurs even in societies with good levels of access to information through newspapers. Brexit, for example, was approved due to rumors that remaining in the European Union was costing Great Britain US$470 million per week. One of those responsible for this campaign would be the British company Cambridge Analytica, partially owned by the American investor Robert Mercer, defender of conservative agendas.

The company would also have been in charge of Donald Trump's first campaign for the US presidency and, among its activities, would have been the attempted leak of 33 emails from then-candidate Hillary Clinton, as reported by Julian Assange. In exchanges of messages on the MBL WhatsApp group with the financial market, it was even suggested that João Doria (PSDB) hire Cambridge Analytica for his campaign for the presidency, which ended up being dismantled by the party itself.
In the United States, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, sons of an oil businessman, are considered other possible financiers of liberal movements that use fake news. In Brazil, members of the MBL would be related to institutes sponsored by the Koch brothers.

Facebook, the encouragement of discord and moral exhibitionism

Diverse analysts, such as James Ball, in the book Post-Truth. How Bullshit conquered the world, point out how fake news was important both for Donald Trump's victory, in the USA, in 2016, and for Brexit, in England, in the same year, results of deliberate strategies by agencies with expertise in the area and who deceive public opinion with campaigns with exaggerated and even false content. In Brazil, there is no doubt about the impact of fake news on Jair Bolsonaro's election, disseminated mainly via WhatsApp, as revealed by journalist Patrícia Campos Mello, unlike previous cases, where Facebook was the most used media for sharing information.

With all this, the debate on the control of social networks becomes increasingly urgent, considering that it is already becoming consensual that Facebook has become a network based on the exploitation of “the human brain's attraction to discord”, as points out the North American journalist Max Fisher, in the book The Machine of Chaos. How social media has reprogrammed our minds and our world. According to him, “social media technology has such a powerful pull on our psychology and our identity, and is so prevalent in our lives, that it transforms the way we think, how we behave and how we relate to each other.”

Social networks, especially Facebook and Instagram, have become breeding grounds for criminals, stimulated by algorithms that enhance hate speech. Miguel Lago, in an article in Piauí magazine in February 2023, “Arrest the profiles!”, pointed out how these networks were essential for the 8J: “Never has a Brazilian historical event been recorded from so many angles and cameras. (…) Even before the press and authorities understood what was happening, millions of Bolsonaristas watched the invasion through the attackers’ cell phones. It’s almost as if everything was being done by profiles solely with the intention of creating content for social media.” It is no coincidence that the councilwoman who attacked the Pinacoteca do Ceará speaks through her cell phone, from inside the exhibition itself, as did the crazy people on January 8th.

Because it is exactly this mixture of discord encouraged by social networks and campaigns against culture that “defenders” of good customs use. If this is a war that is here to stay, it needs and can be minimized with some type of control on the networks, a more than necessary debate, even more so now with the sophistication of Generative Artificial Intelligence.

However, more than some type of control, the progressive camp needs to continue with its actions in the field of culture that values ​​libertarian agendas. Against the “cabinet of hate” the best strategy is the “cabinet of love”. ✱

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