Brazil Hacker Culture

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In 2003, I was invited together with members of other brasilian groups to the 4th edition of the Next 5 Minutes festival. Me and Ricardo Rosas would be part of a panel called "New landscapes for tactical media". My invitation was a result of the participation of Projeto Metá:Fora and MetaReciclagem in the Brasilian Tactical Media Festival, early that year. We have discussed my participation in the metáfora mailing list for a while, and a lot of ideas emerged trying to relate brasilian cultures, collaboration and all that. Watching others' presentations, I wrote the  small text below in paper, but got only 5 minutes to talk, and well, it was my first presentation in english - I was a little nervous and could not quite reach the point. I'm publishing it here with some corrections, but with the date of the last version of the text in the wiki.

Another fortunate outcome of the session was meeting people from Sarai for the first time.

Brazil is a Hacker Culture

Liganois que eu vo catah os garrancho e mandah um salve pros mano.
I believe that talking about tactical media, free software, fostering community integration through communication and the hacker ethics won't bring you anything new, if you don´t know how those ideas really fit Brazilian culture. So let´s have a brief look at Brazilian culture. Sorry, I won´t tell you any amazing tales about the jungle, beach or soccer.

Brazilian culture is a hacker culture. It has been this way since the colonial era, more than two centuries ago.

Perhaps everything started with black people being kidnapped in West Africa and sold as slaves in Salvador or Rio. They were then officially forbidden to practice their own religion. So they invented their own culture and mixed their ancient African gods with Christian saints. To the eyes of the landlord, they were Christians. But they were really venerating their own gods. That culture-hack grew into Umbanda, a religious language that nowadays has elements of African, Christian, Indigenous, Oriental and Gypsy cultures. That is one of the first brazilian cultural hacks.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Brazil was already a free country. However, we lacked a culture of our own. Artists didn´t want to keep on being identified as "Portuguese colonial" artists. Almost all of our native indigenous culture had been crushed during the colonial period. Some intellectuals, aware of what was going on in Europe, started creating art based on early 20th century modernist concepts, but heavily based as well on African, indigenous, and folk cultures. That movement has been called the ''Antropofagia'' (cannibalism), meaning that Brazilian people devoured foreign art and culture in order to create our own. That is Brazilian cultural hacking.

In the late sixties, a group of artists first started mixing world counterculture with local art. Some of you might already have heard something about Caetano Veloso or Tom Zé, who were part of the Tropicalist movement. Such a movement has been the founding stone for many things that came afterwards, promoting the dialog and integration between Brazilian and global cultures. You could find echoes of contemporary international art, but it always had a local taste. That was Brazilian cultural hacking.

From the end of the period of military dictatorship, in the mid-eighties, until now, the Brazilian economy has been in a continous crisis. Because our employment laws are extremely hard to comply with because of the high taxes involved, people had to create alternate ways to survive. The "camelôs" - the informal street vendors of the cities - are the extreme example of that pirate economy: mobile, unlicensed sellers of nearly everything you might need, which can be found anywhere.

Camelôs offer anything from food to pirated CDs, from clothes to burglary or stolen goods. Currently, nearly half of Brazilian workers work for the informal economy. A completely autonomous economic cycle has been created, independent of government incentives and money from big corporations.

For the elite and the middle class, entrepreneurship and hard work are usually though of as something only for poor people. But getting rich using government money for private purposes isn´t much of a crime, either, in their eyes.  The camelô and the independent agent - a kind of freelancer who doesn´t pay taxes - keep on selling their products and services and are an important part of brazilian culture. Another example of Brazilian cultural hacking.

And what about tactical media? Well, you say, let´s listen to those people. Most tactical media projects that involve media production by poor people - you know, those " give them a camera" projects   have not been able to produce any critical content. All they have created has been a parody or simulacrum of traditional mainstream media. Why is that so? Don´t they want to get listened to? I don´t think so.

The problem is that a hacker culture is not that comfortable with the idea of a public. Perhaps they don´t want to reach an audience. Perhaps they could use the media to talk to each other. Maybe with people in a similar situation somewhere else in the world. I just don´t believe that the traditional forms of media - those forged in the midst of the industrial age, be it the press, advertising, graphic design, whatever - are the best way for those people to communicate.

You could try it: ask anyone at a favela what he wants to say to the world. It is most likely that you would get a "get lost" or a "I don't care". I mean, you can't just walk in and tell them: "this is what you should do to improve your life quality". They are survivors, and they are proud of it. They know much more about life than many of you.

You could then say, "ok, let me see what you want to say to people in the other side of town". The answer would probably be the same. "All right", you say, "what would you like to say to your neighbours?". Then, he might tell you " yeah, I have something to say to my neighbours: mind your own bussinesses!"

The fact is, people who live at poor neighbourhoods, or at least the people I have met in those places, ''don´t want to say'' anything. What they do want is to ''talk''. They want to ''chat''. They want to ''interact'', to engage in conversations. Indeed, if you walk in a public telecenter right now, you would find some people filling out their resumes for some employment agency, one or two actually reading something, but most of them, say more than sixty percent, typing in chat rooms. People want to talk to each other.

They won´t access the Library of Congress or the Open Courseware from MIT. They don´t want somebody else´s knowledge. They already have their own. That´s Brazilian cultural hacking, also.

So what´s left for tactical media in such a culture? Well, if you think of "media" only in terms of local newspapers, community radio and funny low-end videos to show in Europe, forget it. We don´t need it. No, we don´t need an audience. Now, if you are talking about tactical media in terms of using communication to integrate people, so they can share information that really matters to them, well, that´s a good start.

You know, it´s not about bringing more people to the information age, but about transforming technology so it can actually improve their quality of life, somehow.


Written by FelipeFonseca,

Inspired by HernaniDimantas, TupiNamba, Maratimba, Paulo Ricardo Colacino

(Lightly edited by BlogalVillager , 13-9-03)

Created 09/07/2003
Last modified 11/19/2003
Edited again and published in Mutirão da Gambiarra 31/05/2008