Book Chapter
Introduction: Power and Joy

Christopher Dunn’s history of authoritarian Brazil exposes the inventive cultural production and intense social transformations that emerged during the rule of an iron-fisted military regime during the 1960s and 70s. The Brazilian contracultura was a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that erupted even as hardline forces ascended. Focusing on urban, middle-class Brazilians, Dunn reveals previously ignored connections between the counterculture and Brazilian music, literature, film, visual arts, and alternative journalism, which created new understandings of race, gender, sexuality, and citizenship amidst oppressive political conditions. 

Book Title
Contracultura: Alternative Arts and Social Transformation in Authoritarian Brazil
Book Author(s)
Christopher Dunn
Medium of Publication
Paperback / softback
Place of Publication

Chapel Hill

Number of Pages


Joy erupted in laughter as well as mockery, in parody and circus as well as in the human body in search of the plenitude of pleasure and delight in one’s own pain. . . . Those in power became, contradictorily, optimistic and sad. Those who opposed the regime were at once sacrificed and joyful. —Silviano Santiago, “Poder e alegria” (1988)

Authoritarian military rule in Brazil between 1964 and 1985 coincided with an astonishingly effervescent period of cultural production and social transformation. To the multiple forms of state violence, censorship, and everyday forms of repression justified in the name of “national security,” Brazilians resisted in ingenious and numerous ways.Almeida and Weis, "Carro zero pau-de-ara," 327-28 This book is about those young Brazilians who responded to authoritarian rule with attempts to rethink the idea of liberation during a period in which “the utopian verve” of the 1960s had come to an end throughout much of Latin America.Sorenson, A Turbulent Decade Remembered, 8. To varying degrees, these young Brazilians identified with and took inspiration from the international counterculture, or contracultura, as it is known in Brazil. To understand the Brazilian counterculture, one must take into account the sense of profound disillusionment with the failure of emancipatory projects of “national liberation,” the rise of a right-wing military regime, and the crushing defeat of the opposition. As suggested by literary critic Silviano Santiago, cited in the epigraph above, Brazilians also cultivated a sense of joy, sometimes imbued with humor, even as people were “sacrificed” by political repression and violence. Although the regime asserted a triumphalist discourse of patriotic nationalism, which reached a peak in the early 1970s, its leaders often appeared as dour bureaucrats. Those in power were, as Santiago notes, simultaneously “optimistic and sad.”

Several poems from the 1970s might help us to understand the emotions, impulses, and commitments among Brazilians who came of age under authoritarian rule. They are exemplary texts of poesia marginal, a poetic movement known for its colloquial informality and confessional tone. According to one critic, poesia marginal was characterized by its antitechnicism and anti-intellectualism and the politicization of everyday life.Carlos Alberto Messeder Pereira, Retrato de epoca, 92. The marginal poets often (but not always) positioned themselves in opposition to the formalist and famously erudite concrete poets of São Paulo. Poesia marginal’s do-it-yourself ethos would inspire thousands of young Brazilians, with various degrees of literary talent, to write and self-publish in the 1970s and beyond. In some ways, poesia marginal was a kind of literary wing of the Brazilian counterculture. Published in the milestone anthology 26 poetas hoje (1975), Francisco Alvim’s poem “Revolução” (Revolution) captured the sense of disillusionment among intellectuals of his generation:

Before the revolution I was a professor

When it came I was fired from the university

I began to demand stances from myself and others

(my parents were Marxists)

I’ve gotten better—

Today I don’t mistreat myself

Nor anyone elseBuarque de Hollanda, 26 poetas hoje, 18. Unless otherwise stated, all translations from Portuguese to English are by the author.

In contrast to 1960s-era belief in the power of culture and the revolutionary vocation of artists and intellectuals, Alvim’s poem is about self-critique, disengagement from organized politics, and a reorientation toward personal behavior. Alvim’s poem foregrounds the ambiguous and contested meaning of its title—revolução. The word evokes, of course, the historic aspirations of Marxists, like his parents, for whom social revolution appeared visible on the horizon in the years immediately before the coup. The generals who came to power in 1964 recognized the rhetorical power of the word “revolution” and appropriated it to justify the implementation of a repressive national security state and an economic program of authoritarian modernization. Emptied of its historic association with national liberation and social transformation, Alvim invokes it ironically—the hopeful time “before the revolution” when he was a university professor. The “revolution” was, in fact, a catastrophe: Brazil fell under the rule of a right-wing military regime, and he lost his job, along with other prominent intellectuals who were fired from their posts due to their political convictions and activities. A period of frustration ensued, as the poet submitted himself and others to ideological critique, seen in retrospect as an unhealthy compulsion driven by personal resentment. The final three lines seem to reinforce a sense of melancholic retreat, as the poet seems to say, “I’m just working on myself.” In its focus on retreat and self-healing, Alvim’s poem almost suggests a kind of narcissism proper to what Walter Benjamin called the “melancholy Left”—a brooding, debilitating attachment to a loss or defeat that hinders or prevents any recovery.Benjamin, "Left Melancholy," 306. Yet the final lines may also be read as a transcendence of Left melancholy in suggesting a process of release and reorientation. The poem suggests, in this way, a third reading of “revolution,” as a process of individual liberation at a time when conditions for collective mobilization were limited. As the U.S.-backed regime violently suppressed dissent, politics were pushed increasingly into the realm of private life. It was time, as the poem suggests, to care for oneself and develop empathy for others.

While Alvim’s poem recommends introspection, other poems from this period celebrate erotic release and revelry in the face of repression. In “20 anos recolhidos,” the poet Chacal (Ricardo de Carvalho Duarte) dispenses with the first-person confessional voice of the sort used in Alvim’s poem and adopts instead an impersonal exhortative voice that appeals to his generation, which came of age as the dictatorship entered its most violent and repressive phase. The title suggests that the poem is highly personal, as Chacal was, in fact, twenty years old when he published this poem in his first collection, Muito prazer, in 1971. The adjective “recolhidos” is multivalent, suggesting twenty years “recalled,” as if to take stock of his life up to that point; but it could also mean twenty years “confined” or “withdrawn,” a state from which the poet now liberates himself:

the time has arrived to love desperately



the time has arrived to change styles

to change clothes

it arrived late like a train that’s

late but arrivesBuarque de Hollanda, 26 poetas hoje, 217.

In the face of authoritarian violence and stifling repression, Chacal calls for an erotic, Dionysian gesture of release and self-affirmation. As the regime stimulated patriotic euphoria, dissenters needed to reclaim joy in a liberating way. Chacal’s poem is not about future promise but rather about acting in the here and now, as announced in the opening line, “the time has arrived.” But the time for what? Chacal’s poem is not a call to arms or even a call to protest. Instead, it points to new ways of being in the world based on the release of erotic energy. In referencing style and clothing as markers of the catharsis, Chacal suggests that consumption played a central role in this emergent youth culture. The poem also calls attention to the question of periodization: the Brazilian counterculture reached its height in 1972, not in 1968, thus his metaphor of the trem atrasado that is late but inevitably arrives.

Writers with the poesia marginal movement, as noted above, also engaged with quotidian interpersonal politics. The poem “Vã filosofia” (Vain philosophy) by Leila Miccolis, a leading female voice in the poesia marginal movement, explored the tensions and contradictions between political ideology and everyday behavior. The revolutionary Marxist ideals that mobilized left-wing intellectuals in the 1960s were at odds with deeply ingrained cultural habits, patterns, and roles that reinforced patriarchal class society:

You talk a lot about Marx,

About the division of labor

About grass-roots organizing

But when you get up

You don’t even make the bed.

As an activist in the feminist movement, Miccolis wrote the poem as a gendered critique of the left-wing male intellectual, who rails on about the division of labor and grassroots organizing but leaves domestic chores to wives or girlfriends. The poem can also be read more broadly as a critique of class privilege enjoyed by both male and female leftists, who depended on the labor of poor domestic workers, often black women, to maintain the house. “Vã filosofia” affirms an ethos of congruency between ideals and life practice that assigns primacy to everyday behavior over lofty pronouncements about a future utopia. Her poem captures with wry humor the notion that “the personal is political,” one of the key principles of second-wave feminism in the United States. In different ways, these poems convey a generational process, from disillusionment with the revolutionary project to the joyful defiance of personal liberation and, finally, to a rethinking of everyday politics.

On Counterculture

The term “counterculture” has been used in diverse historical contexts to refer to individual and collective resistance to political authority, social conventions, or established aesthetic values. It first appeared in postwar U.S. sociological literature as a counterpoint to the category of “subculture.” John Milton Yinger’s definition of what he called “contraculture” emphasized “conflict with the values of the total society.”Yinger, "Contraculture and Subculture," 629. He hypothesized that the formation of “contracultures” was a response to deprivation and frustration among lower-class and marginalized populations.Ibid., 634-35 While subculture maintains a more or less neutral stance toward society at large, counterculture designates a broader oppositional movement in conflict with the dominant society.Braunstein and Doyle, Imagine Nation, 7. With emphasis on personal transformation, countercultural movements typically assign primacy to “consciousness-raising,” a process of mind-expanding self-critique that embraces new ideas and perspectives. For some people, this process was aided by the consumption of mind-altering drugs, especially marijuana and hallucinogens such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. For others, countercultural consciousness-raising involved a radical critique of “the West”—understood in terms of European and Christian civilization—and the embrace of Asian, African, and Native American cultures and religions.

One of the conceptual problems in using the term “counterculture” relates to context and periodization. Ken Goffman and Dan Joy have argued that countercultural movements are transhistorical, near-universal phenomena, providing examples that include Abraham, Socrates, Taoists, Zen Buddhists, Sufi mystics, Provençal poets, Enlightenment rationalists, American Transcendentalists, avant-garde artists, beatniks, hippies, punks, and cyberhackers.Goffman and Joy, Counterculture through the Ages, 29. While the sweep of their historical argument is compelling, the array of examples is so heterogeneous that it renders comparisons and connections difficult to sustain. Italian critic and novelist Umberto Eco has argued that, in anthropological terms, “there are no counter-cultures, just other cultural models.”Eco, Apocalypse Postponed, 120. He notes, however, that we may speak of counterculture as a modality of critique, or what he calls “a critical definition of the dominant culture.”Ibid., 124.

Despite its applicability to a wide range of contexts, “counterculture” generally refers to forms of social and cultural dissent in the United States, Europe, and Latin America during the 1960s and 1970s. The counterculture flourished primarily in the United States, with its strong tradition of individualism, its obsession with youth, and its highly developed culture industry. Young radicals in Europe tended to have stronger ties to left-wing institutions devoted to class struggle through established trade unions.Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture, 2. The civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s inspired and mobilized middle-class youth, who then went on to radicalize university campuses. Political activists and visionary artists created what Jeremi Suri has called a “language of dissent,” which drew on a growing population of university students who formed an “infrastructure of dissent.”Suri, Power and Protest, 88. New Left activists pivoted away from the labor movement and reoriented their struggles toward participatory democracy, racial justice, anti-imperialism, and dissident cultural politics. Dissident movements grew in response to the escalation of American involvement in Cold War proxy wars in Vietnam and Cambodia. Seeking immediate change, these young activists privileged direct action over coalition building and gradual reform.Ibid., 104. The New Left also embraced the notion that “the personal is political,” opening up a range of questions pertaining to everyday social relations.

Theodore Roszak’s The Making of a Counter Culture, published in 1969, popularized the term in the United States and Britain. Focusing on the U.S. context, Roszak argued that the counterculture was both a symptom of and a response to a sense of social alienation during a period of affluence and full employment.Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture, xv. Contrary to Yinger’s hypothesis that counterculture was a reaction to deprivation, Roszak argued that it was a middle-class rebellion of “technocracy’s children” in an age of economic growth and rationalization––a generational revolt among youth who rejected conventional ideas about what constituted the good life. The rationalization of human activity in industrial society produced a sense of malaise and disillusionment, particularly among youth, who began to question the political, social, and philosophical foundations of Western society. Roszak likened the counterculture to a Dionysian “invasion of the centaurs,” disrupting the civilized festivities of Apollo, the guardian of orthodox culture.Ibid., 42. Against the technocratic reason of industrial society, the countercultural centaurs embraced irrationality and cathartic emotion.

Roszak’s analysis owed much to the work of Herbert Marcuse, the German émigré affiliated with the Frankfurt School, who was widely read in New Left circles at the time. His most influential work, One Dimensional Man (1964), was a critique of modern industrial society in its ability to co-opt dissent and subversion, thereby neutralizing dialectical, or “two-dimensional,” transformation. The only way to resist this state was through a “total transcendence of the existing order,” what Marcuse called the “Great Refusal.” Manifestations of this total negation might include “dropping out,” creating communal spaces, rejecting consumer society, and eschewing social conformity. Marcuse once referred to the hippies as “the only viable social revolution” in the way they “rejected the junk they’re supposed to buy, rejected the war, and rejected competitive performances.”Cited in Miller, The Hippies and American Values, xxiii. Revolutionary agency, according to Marcuse, shifted from the proletariat to radicalized students, civil rights and black power activists, third world insurgents, and feminists.Dekoven, Utopia Unlimited, 28.

Contemporary scholars tend to be considerably more skeptical of the counterculture as a critique of technocratic society. Thomas Frank argues that the counterculture, far from instantiating a Marcusean “great refusal” from the margins, emerged from the ideological nerve center of “one-dimensional society.” Whereas Roszak acknowledged that consumer society took advantage of generational conflict and youthful rebellion to sell products, Frank argued that consumer society actually generated this ethos of dissent. The counterculture was a product of Madison Avenue innovations in the realm of advertisement that promoted niche-product consumption as a way of expressing individualism, nonconformity, and social distinction. Advertising executives were in the vanguard of promoting a rebellion against postwar social conformity within the middle class. Business culture paralleled and even anticipated the counterculture, especially in the way that it marketed youthful dissent, what Frank calls “hip consumerism.”Frank, The Conquest of Cool, 31. All of the anxieties and complaints about social conformity, oppression, and alienation in modern industrial society could be remedied through lifestyle consumption.

Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter are more strident in their critique of the counterculture, which they claim has done enormous damage to the patient work of political organizing and efforts to promote social justice through deviant nonconformity, hedonism, and unbridled individualism: “Doing guerrilla theater, playing in a band, making avant-garde art, taking drugs and having lots of wild sex certainly beat union organization as a way to spend the weekend.”Heath and Potter, Nation of Rebels, 61. In this regard, they make a distinction between social dissent (activities attached to a progressive political strategy) and social deviance (individualistic transgressions that undermine efforts to effect incremental reforms).Ibid., 96.Although frequently imagined as anticapitalist, they argue, countercultural rebellions of the 1960s and 1970s were completely integrated into consumer society. Countercultural nonconformity stimulates consumption, as it is ultimately mobilized as a marker of social distinction.Ibid., 103. The counterculture, in their view, is at best an innocuous distraction from the real task of organizing for social change and at worst a dangerous illusion that actively undermines progressive politics.

Critics of the counterculture offer an important corrective to an earlier tendency to interpret the rebellions of the late 1960s and early 1970s solely in terms of resistance and refusal. To be sure, from the perspective of Left orthodoxy, countercultural values and practices were hedonistic, self-centered, and impulsive. Even Roszak, a champion of the counterculture, had serious concerns about its drug-fueled irrationalism, its lack of discipline, and what he called its “commercial verminization.”Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture, 70. Yet these critiques overlook the larger context of dissatisfaction among broad sectors of international youth during the Cold War period in both capitalist and socialist societies. Ideological conflict, proxy wars, and the threat of nuclear annihilation produced anxieties that led to broader questioning of received values and social conventions. The fact that contestation found expression through consumption, especially in an advanced consumer society such as the United States, hardly comes as a surprise. If commodification relativized or undermined some of the more radical claims of the counterculture, it also ensured that it would have an extended reach.

Despite its novel appearance, the counterculture responded to struggles and debates that had long histories dating back at least to the early twentieth century. As Jeremi Suri has noted, these youth “deployed a very usable political past” in confronting patriarchy, racial injustice, and imperial aggression.Suri, "The Rise and Fall of an International Counterculture," 46-47. In advocating sexual liberation, drug consumption, and untrammeled expression, they defended the pursuit of pleasure rather than wealth and power. While it is important to recognize the limitations of the counterculture, it is also essential to understand its significance in motivating young people in many different national contexts to reconceive politics in both personal and public spheres during the Cold War period.

Latin American Countercultures

Nearly every Latin American nation witnessed local countercultural movements, which were linked to transnational processes involving circulation of texts, films, and, above all, popular music. The modern Latin American historiography for the period of the 1960s and 1970s has concentrated largely on the armed insurgencies and state-directed counterinsurgencies. The 1959 Cuban Revolution provided impetus to armed revolutionary struggle and marked a generational shift away from traditional leftist parties while maintaining the social values and aesthetics associated with previous generations. The Latin American New Left distinguished itself from traditional, or “Old Left,” parties and organizations, whether communist or syndicalist, which tended to seek gradual reform while forming cautious broad-front alliances in politics. To use Greg Grandin’s concise definition, the Latin American New Left was characterized by its “will to act.”Grandin, The Last Colonial Massacre, 26.

Eric Zolov has argued for an expanded notion of the New Left in Latin America that takes into account the cultural and social upheavals of the so-called long 1960s, which stretch from the late 1950s to the early 1970s.Zolov, "Expanding Our Cultural Horizons," 48. The focus on the dichotomy between revolutionary and counterrevolutionary movements overlooked broad sectors of the Left that avoided the armed struggle and expressed dissent by engaging in countercultural practices. Latin American youth who participated in countercultural movements shared affinities with their North American counterparts, but their sources of discontent were somewhat different. While the counterculture in the United States erupted in the context of civil rights struggles, the escalation of the Vietnam War, and discontent with modern industrial society, Latin American countercultures emerged in response to conservative moral strictures enforced by the Catholic Church and patriarchal family structures, authoritarian governments, and, in some contexts, the impact of revolutionary insurgency. Countercultural phenomena often flourished simultaneously with armed revolutionary movements, constituting twin facets of what Zolov calls a “New Left sensibility.”Ibid., 55.

Zolov highlights the central place of Mexico as a transnational crossroads that attracted North American youth, including Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, as well as Latin American exiles, including Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Fidel Castro, in the 1950s. While Mexico offered an exotic refuge from postwar America for Beat writers and other alternative tourists, it provided a training ground for the revolutionaries as they prepared to launch their assault on Cuba. Mexico provided the context for Guevara’s personal trajectory from a wandering and undisciplined bohemian to a committed and disciplined revolutionary.Ibid., 72. In the late 1960s, Mexico became an alluring destination for North American hippies, who were attracted by the country’s rich indigenous cultures, as well as by the easy availability of marijuana, peyote, and psilocybin mushrooms.Zolov, Refried Elvis, 106-7. A countercultural movement known as La Onda emerged in Mexico City, galvanizing working- and middle-class youth in opposition to conservative and patriarchal state institutions. The counterculture was associated with desmadre, the social chaos that contrasts with buenas costumbres—something akin to “family values.”Ibid., 27. As Zolov explains, “La Onda became a pretext for desmadre, for openly defying the buenas costumbres of family and society through drug consumption, liberated sexual relations, and in general replacing familial dependency with independent living.”Ibid., 132. The anti-authoritarian politics of La Onda became a driving force behind a student movement against a state dominated by one corrupt party—the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), autocratic presidential authority, restrictions on free speech, economic inequality, and police repression. Protesters sharply criticized Mexico’s hosting of the 1968 Olympics, which they saw as a wasteful extravagance for a developing country with pressing social needs.Zolov, "Showcasing the 'Land of Tomorrow,'" 183-84. In October 1968, just weeks before the Olympics, the conflict between the students and the state reached a tragic denouement with the massacre of protesters by army detachments in the Tlateloclo section of Mexico City. In the wake of the massacre, La Onda counterculture became an important vehicle for expressing disillusionment with the political system, but also for pursuing alternative lifestyles inspired by the international hippie movement.Zolov, Refried Elvis, 132-34.

As elsewhere, Latin American countercultures were closely associated with the worldwide spread of rock music, facilitated by the expansion of radio and television networks, the growth of multinational recording companies, the availability of cheap radios, turntables, and vinyl records, and the development of print media dedicated to the genre and its cultural styles. The groundbreaking collection of essays Rockin’ Las Américas (2004) shows that vibrant rock subcultures were emergent in urban centers throughout Latin America, from large nations such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico to smaller nations such as Guatemala, Cuba, and Uruguay. Latin American rock fans and performers were subject to government repression, intellectual scorn, and social opprobrium under both conservative and progressive, authoritarian and democratic regimes.Pacini Hernandez, Fernandez L'Hoeste, and Zolov, Rockin' Las Americas, 1. Critics on the Right associated rock with social subversion and sexual promiscuity, while leftists denounced the genre as a symbol of U.S. cultural imperialism, which undermined national music. Rock music was typically positioned in opposition to local musical traditions and Left-nationalist neo-folk movements such as Chilean Nueva Canción, Cuban Nueva Trova, or Brazilian Canção de Protesto, which eschewed the use of electric instruments in favor of acoustic guitars and regional instruments. These various “new song” movements mobilized a didactic language of social protest, national liberation, and anti-imperialism, while the early phase of Latin American rock ’n’ roll tended to focus on themes of youth sociability, style, consumption, and sexual adventure. For example, the Brazilian Jovem Guarda, or “young guard,” led by the telegenic crooner Roberto Carlos, gained mass popularity in the mid-1960s with songs about romantic dramas, fast cars, and everyday life in the city. Artists associated with MPB (Música Popular Brasileira), the designation for popular music based primarily on national or regional traditions, composed their share of love songs but also explored themes of social inequality and injustice. Tensions between local rock and acoustic protest music were related to larger Cold War–era ideological struggles over whether to pursue capitalist or socialist strategies for modernization in Latin America.Ibid., 8. In this context, left-wing intellectuals and artists tended to reject rock music as “alienated” commercial entertainment imported from the United States.

Following the worldwide success of The Beatles and other British Invasion groups, rock gained a measure of intellectual prestige as an art form with sophisticated lyrics and virtuoso musicianship. Distanced from its origins in African American dance music, rock attracted middle-class, predominantly white and male connoisseurs for whom rock was a musical genre for intellectual contemplation and cathartic revelry. By the early 1970s, the tension between rock and national musical traditions had largely dissipated, leading to greater fluidity between rockers and folk artists, as seen in the famous collaboration in 1971 between the Chilean group Los Blops and Victor Jara, the legendary singer-songwriter of Nueva Canción, who was tortured and executed two years later by army officers soon after the military coup led by Augusto Pinochet.

With the emergence of countercultural movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s, rock music (as well as new styles that combined rock with local musical traditions) increasingly embraced the language of social dissent and political protest. In Mexico, a rock movement known as La Onda Chicana rejected the imitation of foreign models and forged an original sound, albeit with English lyrics. For a brief period in the early 1970s, bands associated with La Onda Chicana enjoyed unprecedented support from multinational record companies and significant media exposure, allowing them to attract diverse, cross-class audiences.Zolov, Refried Elvis, 192-93. La Onda Chicana reached its peak in September 1971 with the Avándaro Rock Festival, which attracted a huge audience to the Valle de Bravo near Mexico City. Reports and images from the festival portrayed scenes of triumphant desmadre, with widespread drug use, frenzied collective dancing, and the indecorous display of the Mexican flag. Critics on the Left and the Right were swift to condemn the festival, as well as La Onda Chicana movement. Conservatives fretted that it undermined buenas costumbres and promoted behavioral transgressions, while leftists denounced it as an instance of “mental colonialism” (in the words of Carlos Monsiváis) that distracted youth from political organizing.Ibid., 214-15. The Avándaro Festival marked the apex of La Onda Chicana but also led to its demise and banishment from national memory as the government actively suppressed the rock counterculture.Ibid., 221; Zolov, "La Onda Chicana," 38-41.

In some national contexts, rock music was tolerated and even embraced by left-wing revolutionaries. Vania Markarian shows, for example, that Uruguayan communists were remarkably open-minded toward the rock counterculture in their efforts to appeal to a youth constituency.Markarian, "To the Beast of 'The Walrus,'" 373. In the late 1960s, the official communist newspaper offered a Sunday supplement, “La Morsa” (The walrus), an homage to The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” (1967), which featured stories about rock music, hippie style, and drug use, alongside cartoons and psychedelic drawings. Uruguayan communists recognized the role of culture in creating the conditions for social transformation.Ibid., 479. In Argentina, rock music was part of a broader revolt of urban youth during a period of political instability and violence following the ouster of Juan Perón, the populist modernizer who inspired a broad, heterogeneous movement that included both leftist revolutionaries and right-wing groups that fought over the meaning of his legacy during his long exile in Spain (1955–73). Valeria Manzano writes that rock had become “the core of anti-authoritarian politics” during the period of military rule in the late 1960s.Manzano, "Rock Nacional," 399. A group known as Los Gatos scored a big hit in 1967 with “La Balsa” (The raft), which beckoned youth to drop out of society and live adrift on an imaginary raft. The “long-haired boys” identified with an emergent Argentinian hippie movement thereafter came to be known as náufragos, or “shipwrecked sailors,” who pursued a politics of personal liberation.Manzano, The Age of Youth in Argentina, 132. Left-wing Peronists acknowledged the cultural legitimacy and political potential of rock, but they typically dismissed local hippies as alienated youth under the sway of imperialist propaganda.Ibid., 150. Both rockers and revolutionaries were subject to violent repression with the ascendancy of right-wing Peronists following Perón’s return from exile and the subsequent return of military rule in 1976.

While most frequently suppressed by conservative civilian and military regimes, rock music and other countercultural manifestations were also stifled by leftist regimes. The revolutionary government of Cuba denounced rock as frivolous entertainment complicit with U.S. cultural imperialism, rendering it incompatible with the nationalist cultural policy of the state. As the socialist regime consolidated its control over mass media, English-language rock was driven underground and even prohibited for a time from the Cuban airwaves.Pacini Hernandez and Garofolo, "Between Rock and a Hard Place," 46-47. Due to the geographical proximity to the United States, Cubans were able to discreetly tune in to stations based in Miami and other southern cities. Robin Moore observes that the Cuban government associated rock with “alternative dress and lifestyles” that were incompatible with the socialist project. “To the leadership,” he writes, “the implicit aesthetic of all rock, with its emphasis on transgression, physical gratification and liberation, excess and pleasure, ran contrary to the development of a disciplined and self-sacrificing socialist mentality.”Moore, Music and Revolution, 150. Moore cites one interview that suggests that thousands of young men, including “hippies, long-haired ones, malcontents,” were sent to farms and camps, where they engaged in manual labor and attended compulsory reeducation sessions.Ibid., 151.

Socialist governments were wary not only of rock but also of countercultural movements espousing heterodox ideas about achieving collective liberation through individual liberation, which turned Marxist theory on its head. Patrick Barr-Melej has shown that the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende in Chile actively suppressed a movement known as Poder Joven, which was led by a charismatic leader known simply as “Silo.” Developing as “an esoteric fragment” of the Chilean counterculture, the siloístas shared affinities with local hippies but eschewed recreational drug use and free love.Barr-Melej, Siloismo and the Self in Allende's Chile," 751-52. The siloístas dismissed Allende’s socialist government as “reformist” and advocated self-transformation as the path toward “total revolution.” Although a small group, the Poder Joven attracted the scrutiny of the Popular Unity government, which eventually arrested its leaders and accused them of corrupting young, impressionable women.Ibid., 766. The persecution of Poder Joven revealed the conservative social values of the socialist government under Allende. Branded as fascist by some reporters during the Allende years, the Poder Joven would be denounced as subversive Marxists following the 1973 military coup that destroyed the Popular Unity government and ushered in a right-wing authoritarian regime under Augusto Pinochet. In the wake of the coup, siloístas were persecuted and arrested but escaped the fate of other leftists who were executed and disappeared by the Pinochet regime.Ibid., 777-78.

The counterculture in Latin America was always open to the charge that it was imported and inauthentic. From this perspective, the counterculture would be one more idéia fora do lugar, an “out-of-place” idea, to remember Roberto Schwarz’s famous formulation pertaining to the circulation of classic liberalism among elite circles in nineteenth-century Brazil at a time when the economy was dependent on slave labor.Schwarz, Misplaced Ideas, 20-21. Schwarz argued that these ideas, unmoored from economic and social reality, took on lives of their own as markers of social prestige—a kind of hollow cosmopolitanism. Along these lines, Carlos Monsiváis questioned the relevance of La Onda, in light of Roszak’s interpretation of counterculture as a revolt against technocracy in advanced industrial societies. Monsiváis writes: “Of what great abundance can the Mexican hippies deny? Against which high technology do they protest in the name of love?”Zolov, Refried Elvis, 111. Monsiváis’s critique of La Onda reminds us of the need to contextualize and specify, but it misses its mark by assuming that all youth countercultures emerge in response to the same, or even similar, structural environments.


Brazilian students, 1967. Photo by Pimentel. Courtesy of the National Archive, Rio de Janeiro.

The Brazilian Sixties

Several years ago, I found a period photograph in the National Archive of Rio de Janeiro that provides a suggestive portrait of late 1960s Brazilian youth. Little information accompanied the image other than that it featured a group of university students, most likely in Rio de Janeiro, in April 1967. At the time, the military regime was implementing legal and constitutional mechanisms for institutionalizing authoritarian rule, while opposition forces, including political leaders, student groups, and a variety of armed organizations, intensified their activities. Despite the increasingly dire political climate, the students in the photo form a tableau of diverse subjectivities as they enjoy a moment of leisure. A young woman, dressed conservatively in a cotton dress and slipper flats, braids the hair of a friend, who wears similar attire. Sitting beside them, another woman sports a “mod” look, with loosely worn long hair, a black shirt, a plaid skirt, and leather boots. The young man who seeks her attention affects an emergent hippie style; he is a cabeludo (“long hair”) with a handlebar moustache, muttonchop sideburns, leather sandals, and a groovy flowered shirt. Behind them, a young black man, shirt unbuttoned, appears to clap, as if marking the rhythm together with others who are outside of the frame. In the upper left corner of the photo, a fragment of graffiti seems to pose a question about the responsibility of humanity to combat evil. On an adjacent wall, over the hippie couple, another bit of graffiti features the international peace symbol with the famous antiwar slogan of the United States, rendered ungrammatically as “make love, don’t war.” The graffiti calls attention to the international circulation of discourses and cultural artifacts relating to the youth counterculture of the United States and how these were “translated” and made into something new in other national contexts. In late 1960s Brazil, the slogan simultaneously protested the Vietnam War and the violence of the military government, but it could also be read as a rejection of armed struggle.

Although it was part of a global phenomenon, the counterculture emerged as a response to particular conflicts and crises in Brazilian society. The young Brazilians who would participate in varying degrees and ways in the counterculture came of age during a period of rapid modernization and intense political turmoil. Many were adolescents and young adults during the presidency of Juscelino Kubitschek (1955–60), a democratic populist committed to a program of rapid modernization, conceived broadly in terms of infrastructural development, industrialization, education, and social progress. The new futuristic capital city of Brasília, with buildings designed by world-renowned modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, was inaugurated in 1960 as the crowning achievement for a president committed to positioning his country among the ranks of developed “first world” nations. Kubitschek’s deficit spending to finance his developmentalist ambitions contributed to a severe economic crisis in the early 1960s, one factor that provoked the abrupt resignation of his successor, Jânio Quadros, after just seven months in office. Despite fierce opposition from the military establishment and its conservative civilian allies, Quadros’s vice president, João Goulart, assumed the presidency in 1961.

During this period, an array of progressive political organizations, referred to as esquerdas, or the “lefts,” enjoyed considerable influence among students, workers, progressive intellectuals, and urban professionals. The National Student Union (UNE) became increasingly radicalized as it advocated for a central role for university students in national politics. Through its cultural wing, the People’s Center of Culture (CPC), the UNE reached out to urban and rural masses, the povo, in an attempt to mobilize society in support of social revolution. The Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), founded in 1922, was the dominant ideological force among the Brazilian lefts. The PCB, known as the partidão (“big party”), advocated an alliance of progressive national bourgeoisie, workers, and peasants against foreign capital allied with traditional landed elites. The PCB called for a popular front alliance in cooperation with the Goulart government in order to enact social transformation, starting with agrarian reform to address severe inequalities and alleviate misery in the rural areas.

The Brazilian lefts, as Marcelo Ridenti has written, embraced an ethos of “revolutionary romanticism,” which combined cultural nationalism with a rejection of modern capitalism.Ridenti, Em busca do povo brasileiro, 55-57. Inspired by anti-imperialist struggles throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, Brazilian leftists employed the language of national liberation from the tyranny of traditional elites in collusion with international capitalism. The Cuban Revolution was particularly inspiring, especially for Brazilian university students, who dreamed of closer ties to the masses. As Roberto Schwarz has written of the early 1960s: “Pre-revolutionary winds were decompartmentalizing the national consciousness and filling the newspapers with talk of agrarian reform, rural disturbances, the workers’ movement, the nationalization of American firms, etc. The country had become unrecognizably intelligent.”Schwarz, Misplaced Ideas, 135. Radicalized youth engaged in these struggles and debates firmly believed that Brazil was on the path to socialism.Langland, Speaking of Flowers, 80.

For Brazilian leftists caught up in what at the time seemed like “pre-revolutionary winds,” the military coup of April 1, 1964, supported by the U.S. government, came as a bitter surprise. Their dismay was further compounded by the outpouring of support for the new regime among the urban middle classes, which had been alarmed by left-wing mobilization during the Goulart years. Supporters of the coup ransacked and torched the UNE headquarters, which had tremendous symbolic value to the student Left.Ibid., 88-89. In the months following the coup, many student leaders were arrested, while others fled the country. Just days after the coup, hundreds of supporters paraded through Rio de Janeiro in the March of the Family with God for Liberty, a name that underlines the interconnection between authoritarian politics and traditional religious and family institutions.As Langland notes, the March of the Family with God for Liberty had actually been planned before the coup as an event to call for military intervention to depose Joao Goulart and stave off the threat of communism. Instead, it turned into a victory march in support of the new regine. See Speaking of Flowers, 89-90. For these demonstrators, as Carlos Fico suggests, the coup was nothing less than the restoration of Christian civilization and traditional family values in the face of godless communism. Their popular endorsement bolstered the ideas, common among military circles, that the coup responded to a moral crisis in Brazilian society and that the regime had a new “civilizing mission” to accomplish.Fico, Reinventando o otimismo, 43-45.

During the first phase of consolidation under the presidency of Humberto Castelo Branco, the regime aggressively suppressed established left-wing parties, such as the PCB and the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), student groups such as the UNE, labor unions, peasant leagues, and other organizations involved in political organizing. Once order was restored and the threat of communist revolution was defeated, Castelo Branco hoped to call elections and return the country to civilian rule. The regime instituted a series of atos institucionais (institutional acts), known by numbered acronyms, that gave the regime broad powers to change the constitution, suspend political rights, remove legislators, and dismiss federal employees (AI-1), and to establish indirect elections for president (AI-2), as well as for governors and mayors of state capitals and other major cities (AI-3). All existing political parties were abolished and replaced by the pro-government Alliance for National Renovation (ARENA) and an officially sanctioned opposition, the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB). During the Castelo Branco years, civil society remained relatively open, with an unfettered national press and a vibrant cultural scene. Although the Left had been defeated, there were still opportunities to express dissent through organized demonstrations, labor strikes, political journalism, and anti-regime expressive culture. Many left-wing artists and intellectuals regarded the U.S.-backed coup as a surmountable obstacle and maintained an abiding belief in the revolutionary potential of protest culture to inspire and mobilize people.Buarque de Hollanda, Impressoes da viagem, 31-35.

As opposition to military rule grew, the regime intensified its efforts to violently suppress dissent. In turn, activists began to turn away from the aboveground opposition movement and join armed clandestine organizations, such as the Ação Libertadora Nacional (ALN), founded by Carlos Marighella in 1967 as a dissident group of the PCB. In quick succession, around thirty clandestine groups of various sizes formed with the intent to oppose and eventually overthrow the regime by force. Marcelo Ridenti has estimated that the armed Left involved around 2,465 people, mostly university students under the age of twenty-five.Ridente, O fantasma da revolucao brasiliera, 122-23. Although relatively small in numbers, the clandestine opposition quickly gained notoriety through daring operations, including bank robberies and high-profile kidnappings in exchange for ransom.

In response to the radicalization of the opposition, the regime approved a fourth institutional act in 1967, which established a new constitution designed to concentrate power in the executive branch, restrict labor rights, and expand military justice, thereby providing a legal structure for establishing a national security state. That same year, the second military president, Artur da Costa e Silva, signed an executive decree that established a new National Security Law designed to combat political subversion or armed insurgency, especially those efforts motivated and/or funded by international communism. In addition to provisions one would expect to find in a law of this kind (for example, prohibitions against espionage, armed attacks on elected officials and government installations, and attempts to establish independent territories within the national boundaries), the 1967 decree-law effectively established a police state. It made all people and institutions responsible for national security, so that it would be incumbent on Brazilian citizens to police one another. In addition to provisions against armed insurgency, the law also prohibited oppositional discourse in the form of “antagonistic threats or pressures,” “propaganda or counterpropaganda,” or “false, tendentious, or distorted news” that might embarrass the regime or compromise the “prestige of Brazil.” The law reveals a particular anxiety in relation to external forces or actors that might attempt to introduce “propaganda of foreign origin” contrary to national interests as defined by the regime. The threat of international communism was the primary concern, but the law was written broadly so that it could also be applied to other discourses and ideologies deemed incompatible with national security. The secret police, known as the Departamento de Ordem e Política Social (Department of Political and Social Order), or DOPS, kept extensive files on citizens it regarded as potentially subversive, including dozens of artists and intellectuals. In a study of DOPS files concerning Brazilian musicians, Marcos Napolitano found that these reports were generally “guided by a mixture of ultra-moralist, anti-democratic, and anti-communist values,” yet also often “incoherent” and exaggerated.Napolitano, "A MPB sob suspeita," 105. In their zeal to uncover subversive behavior, regime agents often grossly misinterpreted the behavior of the people and events they spied on.

1968: The Year That Never Ended

The year 1968 has accrued heightened symbolic value as a watershed year for political, social, and cultural transformation in many countries. Student protests erupted throughout Western Europe, most notably in France, where students forged a brief alliance with labor unions against the conservative Gaullist state and nearly brought the capitalist economy to a halt. The “events of May” disrupted social identities and produced conditions for cross-class communion in a deeply compartmentalized and hierarchical society.Ross, May ’68 and Its Afterlives, 103. In the former Czechoslovakia, leaders instituted a series of liberal reforms designed to “humanize” socialism, before Soviet forces invaded and put an end to the Prague Spring. Students in Belgium, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Sweden also occupied universities and demonstrated in the streets.Langland, Speaking of Flowers, 127.

In Brazil, 1968 holds particular significance as the year of mass demonstrations against the military regime, initially sparked in April 1968 when Edson Luis, a working-class student from Pará, was shot by the state police at a student cafeteria in downtown Rio. In her evocative account of this tragic incident, Victoria Langland has shown how the death of Edson Luis galvanized the student-led opposition and mobilized broad sectors of civil society against the dictatorship. Under the slogan “neste luto começa a luta” (in mourning, the struggle begins), many student activists imagined that a mass uprising against the regime was under way.Langland has shown how the friends and colleagues of Edson Luis dramatized his death by transporting his body to the state legislature, where the public could bear witness and the press could take photographs. In addition to preventing the authorities from absconding with the body, their actions spurred a mass protest movement against the regime. See Speaking of Flowers, 112-14. In June 1968, Brazilian students led a group of artists, clergy, and other civil society leaders in the March of 100,000 through downtown Rio, a peaceful event that demonstrated broad opposition to military rule. For Brazilian leftists, 1968 would be imbued with special meaning as an exhilarating and dangerous year when it was still possible to imagine the defeat of authoritarian rule, the return to democracy, and the resumption of a revolutionary path to socialism. That such an outcome proved illusory only enhanced the symbolic importance of the year. As Langland writes, “The ‘1968’ that swelled beyond the bounds of a temporal marker to become a broadly powerful and contested memory of massive, anti-regime student protest, was only created in the years following.”Ibid., 10. In the words of Brazilian journalist Zuenir Ventura, 1968 was “the year that never ended.”Ventura, 1968: O ano que não terminou.

The year 1968 also witnessed tremendous cultural effervescence in Brazil. A vibrant culture of critique and dissent had developed in the years following the military coup, with powerful manifestations in all realms of cultural production. Serious divergences erupted among artists regarding the political relevancy, aesthetic innovation, and value of entertainment, pleasure, and joy in art. Some artists were committed to an instrumentalist vision of art as a vehicle for raising political consciousness and mobilizing people. Other artists, most conspicuously the poets and visual artists of the concretist avant-garde, which emerged in the 1950s, defended what Charles Perrone has called “the imperative of invention” and rejected overtly political art bereft of formal innovation.Perrone, Seven Faces, 25.

A series of cultural interventions in popular music, visual arts, theater, and film erupted in 1967–68, eventually coalescing under the banner of “Tropicália” (or “Tropicalismo”). Tropicália is best understood as a cultural “moment,” although it briefly coalesced as an organized movement in popular music in 1968.Dunn, Brutality Garden, 148-49; Sussekind, “Chorus, Contraries, Masses,” 31. Beginning as the name for an installation by Hélio Oiticica, the term “Tropicália” was appropriated by an emerging singer-songwriter, Caetano Veloso, as a song title. Veloso was part of a larger group of young artists from the northeastern state of Bahia who had migrated to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in the mid-1960s to pursue careers in popular music. In late 1967, Veloso and fellow Bahian Gilberto Gil attracted an enthusiastic audience of listeners after participating in a competitive televised song festival, in which they placed fourth and second, respectively. In 1968, they launched a movement with two other Bahian artists, Gal Costa and Tom Zé; a psychedelic rock band from São Paulo, Os Mutantes; and a small cohort of avant-garde composers and arrangers. The tropicalists generally avoided obvious expressions of political protest, preferring instead satirical or allegorical commentary on everyday life in urban Brazil. They were acutely sensitive to contradictions and disjunctures in Brazilian society, which was modernizing rapidly even as severe poverty and archaic social relations persisted. At the same time, they critiqued cultural nationalism by rereading the Brazilian song tradition in light of post-Beatles rock and other forms of international pop.

The historiography of Tropicália has tended to focus on popular music, the only field in which an actual movement coalesced, often leading to the erroneous perception that tropicalist phenomena in other fields were mere appendages of the music. Frederico Coelho has argued for making a clear distinction between tropicália, which involved avant-garde visual artists, writers, and filmmakers, and tropicalismo musical, which operated in the terrain of mass culture.Frederico Coelho, Eu, brasileiro, confesso, 24. “The memory of tropicalismo,” he writes, “has swallowed the memory of tropicália.”Ibid., 128. This distinction allows us to better appreciate the trajectory of several distinct art forms in relation to internal debates proper to their respective fields, particularly in relation to the avant-garde tradition in Brazil. Oiticica’s work, for example, was deeply rooted in the mid-century constructivist avant-garde and its peculiar trajectory in Brazil. Since the late 1960s, critics had argued that Tropicália represented the moment of invention and innovation, while Tropicalismo denoted a subsequent moment of dilution, stereotype, and massification.Dunn, Brutality Garden, 129. While such a distinction helps to sort out the disciplinary genealogies of diverse artistic practices, it also suggests a value-laden binary division between Tropicália (invention) and Tropicalismo (dilution). The tropicalist musicians themselves preferred the term “Tropicália” and produced music that was highly experimental, as well as accessible pop songs. Moreover, the separation of tropicalist music from the other fields obscures or minimizes the vital intersections, however partial or messy, between them. Oiticica himself insisted on the singular importance of the tropicalist musicians, especially Veloso and Gil, and the profound affinities he shared with them. Tropicália was a fractured and fleeting totality, encompassing several projects, rife with tensions, but still meaningful as moment of exchange across artistic fields.

I have argued that Tropicália may be understood as an inaugural gesture of the Brazilian counterculture.Ibid., 161. Although artists associated with Tropicália did not articulate their project in terms of “counterculture,” their works and public statements introduced to Brazilian audiences some of the attitudes, ideas, and styles associated with the international phenomenon. Tropicalist musicians, for example, used electric instruments, appropriated elements of contemporary international rock, and sang about everyday forms of social dissent and transgression. Veloso’s “É proibido proibir” (It’s forbidden to forbid), for example, called for “tearing down the shelves, bookcases, statues, tableware, books,” in a cathartic gesture of refusal to adhere to social conventions.Ibid., 134. Although mistrusted by the PCB-dominated Left, which abhorred their use of electric instruments and their anarchic performances, the tropicalists eventually aroused suspicions among regime agents, who mistook them for protest singers. In October 1968, they were publicly denounced by a popular radio host in São Paulo for supposedly performing a parody of the national anthem during a concert in Rio, which appears to have led to their arrest two months later. Although the charge was false, it showed that the regime was particularly sensitive to any attack, however light-hearted or innocuous, on national symbols.Napolitano, “A MPB sob suspeita,” 120-21.

Although mass demonstrations waned after the March of 100,000 in June, tensions between the regime and the civilian opposition continued to mount throughout 1968. Meanwhile, the armed insurgency gathered momentum in the major cities, especially Rio and São Paulo. On December 13, the regime approved a fifth institutional act, known simply as AI-5, which suspended congress, prohibited political demonstrations, suspended habeas corpus, and established strict censorship over the press, music, theater, and film. AI-5 stripped dissenting public servants, including university professors, of their jobs and of their political rights. The fifth institutional act signaled the definitive ascension of hard-line forces within the military regime, such that it is often referred to as a “coup within the coup.” Prominent members of the civilian opposition fled the country or went into hiding. In late December, Veloso and Gil were arrested, imprisoned, and eventually placed under house arrest in Salvador, Bahia. In June 1969, they were sent into exile and relocated to London.

The Suffocating Miracle

AI-5 ushered in the most repressive phase of authoritarian rule, as the U.S.-backed military regime used unprecedented violence against the opposition in its efforts to safeguard the national security state. Known as the sufoco (suffocation) or as the anos de chumbo (years of lead), the period between 1969 and 1974 witnessed the triumph of the regime over opposition forces. Security agencies, mostly affiliated with branches of the military, made extensive use of torture to punish and extract information from insurgents, student leaders, and other dissidents. As the aboveground opposition was crushed, more Brazilians joined the clandestine insurgency, which was largely based in the cities. Armed organizations had some early successes, most spectacularly with the successful kidnapping in September 1969 of the American ambassador, Charles Elbrick. After four days, he was ransomed in exchange for fifteen imprisoned insurgents, who were then safely flown out of the country. Two subsequent kidnappings secured the release of more prisoners, but the regime redoubled its efforts to contain the insurgency and kill or imprison its leaders. By 1972, the armed movement had been defeated, except for a rural insurgency organized by the PCdoB in Araguaia, Pará, near the Amazon basin, which held out until 1974.

A new president, General Emílio Garrastazu Médici, presided over the most repressive phase of the dictatorship. A jovial leader with a populist touch, Médici enjoyed substantial popularity among Brazilians, despite the brutality of the regime he directed. Nationalist euphoria reached a peak in 1970 as Brazil became the first country to win three World Cup soccer championships. Some dissenters, rightly concerned that the regime would benefit from a World Cup victory, had met secretly to cheer for opposing teams.Almeida and Weis, "Carro zero e pau-de-arara," 320-21. The sufoco coincided with the so-called milagre econômico (economic miracle), during which time the annual GDP of Brazil rose by an average of 11 percent each year.Skidmore, The Politics of Military Rule in Brazil, 138. The regime established a model of political economy based on authoritarian modernization, which emphasized capital accumulation, infrastructural and technological development, expansion of communications networks, and growth of consumer markets, while suppressing political dissent and curtailing labor demands. The regime hastened Brazil’s uneven integration into a global market and an attendant expansion of an internal market for consumers of both durable goods and cultural products like television dramas, musical recordings, and publications of all sorts targeted to a mass audience.Ortiz, A Moderna Tradicao Brasiliera, 121-29. The government also invested heavily in higher education, especially in engineering, law, business, and technical areas that would directly contribute to economic growth. The expansion of university enrollments followed a larger international pattern of postwar growth in higher education in the United States, Western Europe, and the Soviet Union.One major exception to this was China, which saw its enrollments plummet during the Cultural Revolution. See Suri, Power and Protest, 269-71. Between 1971 and 1976, Brazilian university enrollments nearly doubled, to over a million students by mid-decade.Durham, "O sistema federal de ensino superior," 8. An expanding urban middle class gained new buying potential to participate in a growing market for new automobiles, household goods, and other consumer items. Most middle-class youth were integrated into the system as they sought to take advantage of new opportunities for social advancement. In the early 1970s, as Idelber Avelar has noted, “television disseminated daily messages about how great things were, federal censorship tightly controlled the written press, and an economic boom, favored by the increased extraction of surplus labor made possible by repression, contributed to keep the middle class satisfied or immobilized.”Avelar, The Untimely Present, 41.

It was a period when the Brazilian government “reinvented optimism,” in the words of historian Carlos Fico. Médici hired public relations experts, who mobilized a long tradition of patriotic sentiment, known as ufanismo, which exalted Brazil’s qualities as a cordial and prosperous country. The modern discourse of Brazilian optimism was forged in the 1930s during the rule of Getúlio Vargas, which used its powerful Department of the Press and Propaganda (DIP) to broadcast and circulate celebratory images and ideas pertaining to Brazil’s grandeur. The Vargas government coincided with the elaboration of a national discourse that asserted Brazil’s unique propensity for racial and cultural mixture, or mestiçagem, a discourse most closely associated with the patrician intellectual Gilberto Freyre. In the 1960s and 1970s, Freyre gained notoriety as the primary ideologue of “racial democracy,” which asserted the relative absence of racism in Brazilian society, especially in comparison to the United States. Freyre was an ardent supporter of the military regime that came to power in 1964, and his works were widely read and admired by military officials who endorsed the racial democracy thesis.Fico, Reinventando o otimismo, 147.

Regime publicists were careful to avoid heavy-handed official propaganda typical of the Vargas-era DIP and sought to convey a sense of levity and happiness in their celebration of Brazil.Ibid., 18. They even worked with commercial advertising agencies to encourage them to refrain from making references to repression in sales pitches like “free yourself from the tyranny of coffee filters” or “down with the dictatorship of prices.”Ibid., 116. One particularly striking example of this kind of advertisement showed a television set against a dark background, lit by a single overhead light, with a coiled leather whip in the foreground next to the message: “In the torture chamber, Philips 550 resisted everything.”See advertisement for Philips television in Veja, November 19, 1969, 20-21. By 1970, regime publicists had ensured that such references to coercion and violence in advertising would be curtailed.

Created in 1968, the Assessoria Especial de Relações Públicas (Special Office of Public Relations) developed campaigns that emphasized national optimism. Its consultants sought to avoid the repetition of an infamous campaign around the slogan “Brasil: ame-o ou deixe-o” (Brazil: love it or leave it), based on the Vietnam War–era slogan of the American right, which appeared on bumper stickers throughout Brazil. Created in 1969 by the special counterinsurgency unit Operação Bandeirantes (OBAN), the slogan was a menacing ultimatum that reinforced the dour and cantankerous image of the generals. To counter this image, consultants created buoyant slogans such as “Ninguém segura este país” (Nobody can hold back this country, 1970), “É tempo de construir” (It’s time to build, 1971), “Você constrói o Brasil” (You build Brazil, 1972), “País que se transforma e se constroí” (A country that changes and builds, 1973), “O Brasil merece nosso amor” (Brazil deserves our love, 1973), and “Este é um país que vai pra Frente” (This is a country that is moving forward, 1976).Fico, Reinventando o otimismo, 148-49. Many of these campaigns coincided with massive public works projects like the Transamazonian Highway, the Itaipu Dam, and the Rio-Niterói Bridge, which bolstered the regime’s discourse of “Brasil Grande,” emphasizing the grandeur, size, and potential of the country.Beal, Brazil Under Construction, 100. Some popular entertainers contributed to the climate of patriotic euphoria with songs that celebrated military rule. The duo Don & Ravel scored a massive hit with the song “Eu te amo, meu Brazil” (I love you, my Brasil), which was recorded by the rock band Os Incríveis in 1970. High school textbooks from this period included these lyrics to be analyzed and discussed in class.Brandao and Duarte, Movimentos culturais de juventude, 85. The regime mobilized the rhetoric of populism, appropriated from the Left, in order to claim its role as protector of national identity and to cast suspicion on intellectuals, especially the voices of dissent.Avelar, The Untimely Present, 43.

AI-5 ushered in a period of intense political repression, producing what Zuenir Ventura famously described as a vazio cultural (cultural void)—a perceived dearth of creativity in comparison to the flourishing of artistic expression during the 1950s and 1960s. In an article published in the national magazine Visão in July 1971, Ventura observed: “In the field of architecture and urbanism, nothing comes close to the inventive grandiosity of Brasília; in the field of cinema, no movement like Cinema Novo; nothing comparable to Bossa Nova in music; the Arena Group in theater or the formalist investigations in literature by the concretists; nothing like those movements of critical self-reflection in relation to the country.”Gaspari, Buarque de Hollanda, and Ventura, 70/80: Cultura em transito, 41. He pointed to several factors to explain this cultural impasse, including a rigorous regime of censorship affecting all of the arts, the exile of artists for both political and professional reasons, and the intellectual and creative impoverishment of cultural production. At the time, Ventura reported that around one hundred plays, thirty films, and sixty songs had been prohibited since 1968. Countless books had been confiscated, including works by venerable authors such as Machado de Assis, Jorge Amado, and Carlos Drummond de Andrade.Ibid., 44. Visual artists tended to have more creative freedom since the regime regarded them as relatively inconsequential, but several major exhibitions were censored in the late 1960s and early 1970s.Calirman, Brazilian Art under Dictatorship, 18-19.

While Ventura’s notion of vazio cultural captured the sense of malaise and disillusionment with the defeat of revolutionary aspirations in Brazil, it was also limited by a rather narrow view of what constituted culture (that is, middle- and upper-class urban artistic expression). It also idealized the achievements of the 1950s and 1960s while overlooking the unique dynamics of cultural production after AI-5. Despite a climate of intense repression, there was a remarkably vibrant alternative press, an emergent poetry movement (poesia marginal), experimental cinema with feature-length and short films made with Super 8 cameras (cinema marginal), and extraordinary innovations in popular music. Some of the most influential and critically acclaimed Brazilian albums of all time, such as Gal Costa’s -Fa-tal-Gal a todo vapor (1971), the Novos Baianos’ Acabou Chorare (1972), Milton Nascimento’s Clube da Esquina (1972), Caetano Veloso’s Transa (1972), and Raul Seixas’s Krig-ha, Bandolo! (1973), are from this period. Despite intense political repression and censorship, Brazilian artists managed to create works of great beauty and social relevance.

Marcos Napolitano has identified four principal sectors of left-wing political and cultural resistance to military rule in Brazil—liberals, communists, countercultural groups, and a New Left composed of progressive Catholics, socialists of various stripes, and emergent social movements.Napolitano, "Coracao Civil," 11-12. There was also significant exchange and overlap among the groups, especially between the counterculture and the New Left social movements and between the communists and the liberals. Tensions were particularly acute between the communists, who defended a “national-popular” cultural model, the primacy of rationality, and the tactical integration into the culture industry, and the counterculturalists, who embraced international youth culture, questioned Western reason, and occupied a position of marginality in relation to dominant culture.Ibid., 35-36. Key artists associated with the PCB, most notably the playwrights Dias Gomes, Oduvaldo Vianna Filho, and Paulo Pontes, pursued opportunities at the highest levels of the culture industry, including jobs writing, directing, and producing humor shows and soap operas (telenovelas) for TV Globo, an ally of the regime. Napolitano notes that these communist artists sought to “occupy spaces” within the system in order to reach a mass audience.Ibid, 187. Countercultural artists sought to create alternative spaces of cultural production and circulation, although some enjoyed considerable mass appeal, most notably in the realm of popular music.

Dropping Out

During the years of the sufoco, most young Brazilians plodded along, avoided the authorities, and tried to take advantage of new opportunities for social advancement. Yet a significant minority, disillusioned with politics, unwilling to join the armed struggle, and alienated by society under authoritarian rule, embraced attitudes, ideas, and practices associated with the international youth counterculture. Embracing the counterculture could mean many different forms of dissent, from pursuing a modestly “alternative” lifestyle within a middle-class structure to more radical options of “dropping out,” avoiding formal employment, pursuing an itinerant hippie lifestyle, or living in a commune. Although primarily a middle-class phenomenon, the counterculture also appealed to working-class youth who sought to escape the social confines of a class society. In his documentary about a favela community in Rio de Janeiro, Babilônia 2000 (2001), Eduardo Coutinho interviewed a working-class woman named Fátima who fondly recalled her days as a hippie in the 1970s. Fátima had read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha (1922), a story of Buddhist self-discovery that was popular among countercultural youth in the 1960s and 1970s, and had named her first son after the mystical protagonist. In one scene, Fátima stands on a bluff overlooking Rio’s south zone and passionately belts out her personal version of “Me and Bobby McGee,” a song made popular by her favorite singer, Janis Joplin. Although just one example, Fátima’s story suggests that the hippie movement and international icons of the counterculture circulated among working-class, as well as middle- and upper-class, Brazilian youth.

The recreational use of drugs, especially marijuana and hallucinogens, expanded dramatically among urban adolescents and young adults, becoming for many a central feature of daily life. Marijuana, or maconha (an anagram of cânhamo, or “hemp”), as it is called in Brazil, was introduced to Brazil by enslaved Africans, who valued the plant for its medicinal and recreational uses.Carlini, "A historia da maconha no Brasil," 315; MacRae and Simoes, Rodas de Fumo, 19-22. The sale and use of what was known as fumo d’angola was first prohibited by the municipal government of Rio de Janeiro as early as 1830 but was not vigorously prosecuted until the early twentieth century, when medical authorities branded it a danger to public health. By that time, smoking marijuana was stigmatized as a leisure activity of poor, predominantly black men, typically branded as marginais (outlaws). In 1938, the federal government established laws against the sale and consumption of marijuana, which was in line with a racialized public health discourse that pathologized its users as dangerous and unhygienic.

With the rise of the counterculture in the 1960s, the consumption of marijuana expanded dramatically among middle-class adolescents and young adults in urban Brazil. The expansion of drug use in Brazil provoked alarm and suspicion among agents of the regime and conservative opinion makers, who feared that it was part of a subversive plot to corrupt young people and lead them astray politically. In one DOPS report about a rock festival in Rio de Janeiro, the agent asserted that “drugs are used as a political weapon in order to attract and groom youth, create psychic dependence, and make them slaves to drugs in order to blackmail them into becoming new informants and faithful agents of international communism.”Arquivo Publico do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, DOPS 214-221, Deuteronomio Rocha dos Santos, February 5, 1975; relatorio 002, Hollywood Rock, January 18 and 25, 1975. See also Mario Magalhaes and Sergio Torres, "Documento revela que o festival de rock de 1975 foi vigiado," Folha de Sao Paulo, June 2, 2000. In Belo Horizonte, the DOPS created a dedicated unit to crack down on drug use, the Brigada de Vício (Vice Brigade), which was based on the assumption that drug use led to political subversion.Kaminski, "Por entre a neblina," 160-161. The purported association between drug use and political subversion circulated widely in international anticommunist circles and informed the military regime and its right-wing supporters.The French anticommunist writer Suzanne Labin argued that Maoist China produced opium and heroin to corrupt and weaken military forces in the West. Her 1968 book Hippies, Drugs, and Promiscuity informed conservative Brazilian psychiatrist Antonio Carlso Pacheco e Silva, who argued that drug use in Brazil was "one of the most common strategies to weaken the morale, corrode the character, undermine the combative spirit, and destroy the civic and patriotic sentiments of all those who rise up and struggle against the Marxist credo." See Pacheco e Silva, Hippies, drogas, sexo, poluicao, 61. For Labin's influence on Pacheco e Silva, see Cowan, Securing Sex, 107-8.

Contrary to these paranoid fantasies, accounts of recreational drug use in Brazil during this period suggest that it correlated with political demobilization. In a classic ethnography on drug consumption and social behavior among a group of middle- and upper-class cariocas (as natives of Rio de Janeiro are known) from the city’s south zone (zona sul), Gilberto Velho noted that his informants began regular use of marijuana around 1969.Velho, Nobres e anjos, 69. He divided his informants into two categories—the young adult nobres (nobles), who associated drugs with mind-expansion, and the adolescent anjos (angels), who used drugs for pleasure, typically while surfing. For the former group recreational drug consumption was directly related to personal journeys of self-realization following the political trauma of the 1960s. The authoritarian turn ushered in by AI-5 emboldened the most radical opposition militants in their armed struggle but also had the effect of demobilizing people who had earlier participated in the protest movement. As young people turned away from political activities out of disillusionment and fear for personal safety, they reconsidered freedom in terms of individual life experience.Ibid., 107. One woman related her quest for personal happiness after a period of discord and conflict driven by political activism: “I learned how to enjoy [curtir] things, people, my life, and value myself without having to always prove that I am good, dedicated, and serious.”Ibid., 117. With all of his informants, Velho found that drug use, especially smoking marijuana, was important for liberating the senses, facilitating self-knowledge, and relieving stress. Some members of the group, especially those who had spent time abroad, also used LSD and cocaine. His informants typically reported that marijuana had helped them to relax, engage productively in introspection, and access corporeal sensations with more intensity. The use of LSD as a resource and sacrament was potentially even more enriching but carried the risk of provoking a “bad trip,” which induced unpleasant hallucinations and paranoia.Farber, "The Intoxicated State/Illegal Nation," 19. Several of his informants who were pursuing artistic endeavors used drugs to stimulate creativity. The therapeutic and inspirational value of drugs recalls similar claims in the United States––that drugs promoted “better living through chemistry,” a promotional slogan for Dow Chemicals that was parodied by LSD enthusiasts in a popular poster.Ibid., 28.

Antonio Risério has asserted that the consumption of marijuana brought together privileged and marginalized youth “in an exchange of life experiences and languages,” which would contribute to overcoming what he calls “the shield of whiteness.”Riserio, "Duas ou tres coisas sobre a contracultura no Brasil," 28. While it is reasonable to suppose that youth of different social classes came together in rodas de fumo (smoking circles), it is not clear that marijuana consumption undermined white privilege. Gilberto Velho’s middle-class informants, for example, generally took a rather dim view of the Brazilian masses and idealized Europe as more civilized. One informant admitted that he was “a bit of a racist,” asserting that a national project involving Portuguese and blacks was “bound to fail.”Velho, Nobres e anjos, 112. Velho also observed that the white middle-class adolescents of Ipanema generally avoided contact with a mixed-race, working-class group of hippies.Ibid., 143. He suggested that drug consumption in the early 1970s was, for his informants, a sign of distinction on par with having a university education, traveling to Europe, and being familiar with current artistic trends. For this group of nobres, which he called an “aristocracizing vanguard,” leisure, consumption, and artistic creation took precedence over work, especially the kind of bureaucratic work considered to be careta, or boring. While pursuing a lifestyle oriented toward creativity and reflection was a sign of social distinction, it could also lead to financial troubles. Members of this group were careful not to slide into the chaotic, drug-fueled lifestyle of some hippies, who had lost social status.Ibid., 198.

On one hand, the counterculture represented a generational revolt against conservative social and political values. Velho found that the parents of many of his informants were udenistas, or supporters of the National Democratic Union (UDN), a conservative, law-and-order party with substantial support from the urban middle class during the postwar period.Ibid., 101. On the other hand, his informants expressed profound disillusionment with the PCB, severely criticized the regimes of China and the USSR, and blamed clandestine groups for provoking the regime and exacerbating violence. They became progressively less interested in politics as they became more involved in other forms of behavior regarded as “deviant,” such as consuming marijuana and LSD.Ibid., 106-108. With its focus on personal liberation, the counterculture could be regarded as politically ambiguous, potentially appealing to Brazilians of all political stripes. None other than Gilberto Freyre, one of Brazil’s most famous conservative thinkers and an apologist for authoritarian rule, once affirmed a deep affinity for hippies for their rejection of “excessive convention."Ricardo Noblat, "Falando de Politica, Sexo e Vida," Playboy, March 1980,

Many young Brazilians sought freedom from traditional family structures to live among friends or with romantic partners, which would have a profound impact on attitudes and behaviors relating to sexuality. Brazilian men had traditionally enjoyed sexual license, but middle-class women were expected to remain chaste and leave the family home only after marriage. Like their contemporaries elsewhere in the United States, Western Europe, and Latin America, thousands of Brazilian women migrated to urban centers, ran away to avoid the constraints of traditional family life, or simply moved out of their parents’ homes to live with friends. “Leaving home,” as Valeria Manzano has observed in the context of urban Argentina, “was a metaphor for young women’s life experiences and for public perceptions about them.”Manzano, The Age of Youth in Argentina, 99. The rise of communal living among young Brazilians of both sexes further advanced the trend toward increased sexual freedom, aided by the increasing availability of contraceptives, which authorities regarded as a threat to social order.Langland, "Birth Control Pills and Molotov Cocktails," 309-10. In recalling this period, the psychoanalyst and journalist Maria Rita Kehl has observed that politics shifted from public to private spheres among middle-class Brazilians of her generation: “[It was a] generation that left the family home, not to study in another city or join the clandestine armed struggle, but simply to live another way, refusing a consumerist attitude, adopting a kind of aesthetics of poverty and avoiding (at least this is what we sought) any work that would contribute to the strengthening of capitalism.”Kehl, "As duas decadas dos anos 70," 34. See also Napolitano, "Coracao Civil," 34. These “micropolitical” or “molecular” transformations, according to Félix Guattari and Suely Rolnik, were essential for initiating and sustaining larger processes of social transformation.Guattari and Rolnik, Molecular Revolution in Brazil, 37.

A distinctly Brazilian neologism, desbunde, and its adjective, desbundado, were added to the urban lexicon to refer to a range of countercultural practices, from psychedelic revelry to quiet withdrawal from family and society to pursue a life less devoted to work and consumption and more oriented toward creative leisure. With etymological origins in bunda (buttocks), the most widely used Africanism in the Brazilian lexicon, desbunde began as an epithet used by guerrillas against former comrades who opted to leave the armed struggle. Turning Grandin’s phrase on its head, desbunde might be understood in the Brazilian context as the “will to not act”—a deliberate choice to reject the armed struggle and disengage from society. As it became more broadly associated with the hippie movement, desbunde accrued additional associations with heightened emotional, sensorial, and social experiences.

Agents of the regime and local police authorities predictably took a rather dim view of countercultural youth, particularly hippies, whom they regarded at best as unwanted vagrants, and at worst as dangerous subversives. Many left-wing intellectuals also dismissed the counterculture, which they perceived as an insidious import from the United States that distracted and weakened the opposition to the military regime. Writing for Opinião in 1973, Luciano Martins criticized a culture of “horoscopes, drugs, and magic,” which he regarded as part of the same “obscurantist syndrome” afflicting middle and upper classes, including members of the intelligentsia.Luciano Martins, "Magia, droga e antiintelectualismo," Opiniao, June 3-10, 1973, 19. He later expanded this critique in a long essay, “Geração AI-5” (1979), which examines the generation that came of age around the time the regime enacted the fifth institutional act. Martins employed the concept of alienation, a standard analytical category of the Marxian toolbox, to describe the behavior of urban youth from affluent families of Rio’s south zone. Lacking mechanisms for expressing themselves and conditions for analyzing authoritarian violence, they were unable to formulate political objectives and became estranged from the social world.Luciano Martins, A "Geracao AI-S" e Maio de 68, 14. In his view, counterculture was at once an expression and an instrument of alienation that prevented Brazilian youth from critically engaging society. In the absence of opportunities for collective expression and resistance, the counterculture merely offered “recipes for personal liberation” based on an array of “idiosyncratic behaviors.”Ibid., 18.

Martins identified three main tendencies of the counterculture that had alienating effects: drug use, the disarticulation of discourse, and psychoanalytic fads. Drugs produced physical dependency that suppressed the will of the subject. Taking drugs was, for Martins, a form of evasion, a means by which disaffected youth avoided confronting social and political realities with logic and reason.Ibid., 44. Contrasting the political discourse that had mobilized resistance during the first phase of military rule in the mid-1960s, he argued that the language of the counterculture amounted to little more than an obscure lingo, a kind of hippie Esperanto, with minimal capacity to engage the wider society.Martins cited slang words like barato (literally "cheap," colloquially "good"), bode (literally "goat," colloquially "a bad trip"), joia (literally "jewel," colloquially "good"), and pinel (the name of a psychiatric hospital in Rio used to describe someone as "crazy"). Ibid., 70-71. For Martins, the indeterminacy and imprecision of these words suggested an insular, detached social milieu devoid of historical consciousness. He was also wary of what he called modismo psicoanalítico, the vogue for psychoanalysis among Rio’s middle and upper classes. Noting the dramatic expansion of the market for psychotherapy, he criticized Brazilian psychoanalysts for failing to distinguish people with psychological pathologies from those who had emotional problems due to the social and political context. The AI-5 generation, Martins concluded, suffered from a kind of narcissism focused on personal therapeutic solutions with little regard for the conflict between society and individual. In embracing a project of personal liberation and sensorial gratification based on enjoyment and detachment from the political context, one was reduced to being nothing more than a bobo alegre (happy fool), blissfully alienated from reality.Ibid., 120.

As elsewhere in Latin America, the Brazilian counterculture emerged in dialogue with New Left, hippie, and underground movements in the United States and, to a lesser extent, Western Europe. An active alternative press, discussed in Chapter 1, provided a steady stream of information about the artistic, philosophical, and social trends connected to the counterculture. Roszak’s The Making of a Counter Culture was translated into Portuguese and published in 1972 as A contracultura by the progressive Catholic press Editora Vozes.A Spanish-language translation of this book, El nacimiento de una contracultura, was first published by Editorial Kairos of Barcelona in 1970. This translation was part of a series that also included a translation of Norman Brown's Life against Death and Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira's Tecnoburocracia e Contestacao, an analysis of the student movement as a revolt against technocratic society. The latest rock albums by American and British rock groups were readily available in major Brazilian cities as domestic releases by multinational recording companies, such as Philips, RCA, and Warner. Alternative and mainstream print media devoted extensive coverage to the recordings and concerts of these groups. In 1973, music journalist Roberto Muggiati published Rock, o grito e o mito (Rock, the scream and the myth), which introduced Brazilian readers to the history of rock, from rhythm ’n’ blues to the latest experiments in rock subgenres such as psychedelic, acid, progressive, and jazz fusion. Muggiati’s book was important for informing rock enthusiasts in Brazil about the African American origins of rock (a fact that was obscured throughout Latin America), its global circulation as youth music, its complex association with consumer society, and its relation to countercultural movements.

While Brazilian youth traveled to other countries in Latin America, they had relatively little knowledge of analogous countercultural scenes, even in the neighboring countries of the southern cone. For example, very few references to the vibrant rock cultures of Argentina and Uruguay appeared in the alternative press in Brazil. Judging from police reports and newspaper reports, Argentinian, Uruguayan, and Chilean hippies frequented the cities and beaches of Brazil, but relatively few Brazilian hippies traveled to the southern cone. Political violence and the rise of authoritarian regimes in neighboring countries likely deterred alternative travelers from Brazil, who would have been more likely to find spaces of relative freedom in the remote beaches and mountains of their own country. The long-standing prestige of U.S. and Western European (especially British, French, German, and Italian) cultures among Brazilian artists and intellectuals was transferable, even to countercultural movements that purported to reject Western civilization.

The Brazilian counterculture emerged as one of several responses to authoritarian modernization, which emphasized capital accumulation, infrastructural and technological development, expansion of communications networks, investment in higher education, and growth of consumer markets, while suppressing political dissent, curtailing labor demands, and establishing and enforcing a regime of heavy-handed national security. Claudio Novaes Pinto Coelho has argued that the counterculture in Brazil may be understood as the lado avesso (flip side) of authoritarian modernization, which emphasized the “rationalization of social life,” managed by technocrats and enforced by repressive agents of the state.Claudio Novaes Pinto Coelho, "A contracultura," 39-41. Lucy Dias makes a similar point in asserting that “the counterculture opened fire on a kind of death within life produced by a society dominated by technocratic totalitarianism.”Dias, Anos 70, 75. In this regard, it may be understood as a manifestation of resistance and dissent. Yet the counterculture was also deeply enmeshed in the expanding consumer society fostered by the regime, appealing to young people who embraced it as personal style.

By the mid-1970s, the hippie counterculture of the desbunde began to wane as Brazil entered a new phase of authoritarian rule. The economic miracle had come to an abrupt halt with the petroleum crisis of 1973, and the regime experienced its first major political challenge as the mainstream opposition coalition scored victories over the official pro-regime civilian party in the 1974 congressional elections.Skidmore, The Politics of Military Rule in Brazil, 172-73. The generals retained a firm grip on power, and the security apparatus continued to harass, detain, torture, and murder opponents of the regime. By that time, the armed opposition movement had been defeated and its leaders were dead, imprisoned, or in exile. Following the defeat of the armed movement, surviving and emergent opposition groups rejected revolutionary violence, seeking instead an incremental restoration of democratic rights.

Maria Paula Nascimento Araújo argues that the revolutionary utopian project of the 1960s, founded on the universality of class struggle, ceded to a “fragmented utopia” of new social movements: “The utopia of the 1960s and 1970s incorporated into the project of transforming society the idea of changing everyday life: modify the affective and sexual relations between men and women, family relationships between parents and children, create new relations between man and nature, release desire, explore the possibilities of the unconscious. Create in short, a new sociability and a new sensibility. During the 1960s and a good part of the 1970s, this feeling inspired the specific movements and political minorities that constituted the groups and organizations of the dissident left.”Araujo, A utopia fragmentada, 109. Countercultural sensibilities would inform a range of social and cultural movements among the alternative Left oriented toward “new subjectivities.” By the end of the decade, autonomous feminist, gay, and black movements had emerged, eventually forming shifting, tactical alliances with a new labor movement, later constituted as the Worker’s Party. In all of these movements, there were individuals and even factions that identified with the countercultural experiences of the early 1970s in their efforts to expand the scope of political action in the years leading up to Brazil’s democratic transition.

This book is divided into five chapters. Focusing on Rio de Janeiro, the epicenter of the countercultural scene in Brazil, Chapter 1 explores multiple dimensions of desbunde, including the Brazilian hippie movement, the alternative press, and key artists and intellectuals who articulated its values. This chapter also examines the tensions between the counterculture’s disengagement from capitalist society and the emergence of a consumer market with its own advertising language, which sought to appeal to a broader section of urban middle-class youth. Chapter 2 explores the connections between the artistic avant-garde and the counterculture. A small but influential group of artists, sometimes identified as “marginal” or “underground,” coalesced in the aftermath of Tropicália. Cultura marginal may be located at the intersection of two seemingly contrary cultural phenomena: On one hand, it had deep affinities with the emergent counterculture. On the other hand, cultura marginal was indebted to the midcentury constructivist avant-garde and its peculiar permutations in the 1960s. Chapter 3 will focus on the northeastern state of Bahia, particularly its capital, Salvador, which emerged as something of a mecca for Brazilian and other South American youth who identified with the counterculture. An important center for Afro-Brazilian culture, Bahia was imagined as a place of non-Western spirituality and cultural alterity, much in the way that Mexico and India, respectively, were seen by North American and European hippies. I will explore the significance of the Brazilian counterculture for a local discourse of regional identity, sometimes referred to as baianidade, which is central to the way the state has been promoted to national and international visitors. The last two chapters will explore connections between the Brazilian counterculture and new social and political movements that emerged in the late 1970s, when civil society activism against the regime was revived. Chapter 4 will examine the specifically black urban counterculture associated with the so-called Black Rio movement. Black Rio was a cultural phenomenon that brought together predominantly black, working-class youth from Rio’s north zone for dance parties featuring soul and funk music from the United States. Chapter 5 explores social and cultural practices that challenged traditional conventions of gender and sexuality in Brazilian society.

In the late 1970s, emergent feminist and gay movements succeeded in expanding the range of leftist political debates to include discussions around gender roles, sexual desire, corporeal pleasure, and other issues previously regarded as personal or private and therefore outside the realm of the political. When it erupted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Brazilian counterculture alarmed the military regime and its conservative supporters, as well as many Brazilians who defended traditional behaviors and values. Those affiliated with the left-wing opposition tended to see the counterculture as a lamentable and irresponsible abdication of political struggle. The turn away from the politics of national liberation toward individual quests for personal self-realization involved displays of self-indulgence and narcissism, but it also set in motion transformational processes and movements in Brazilian society that sought to expand the boundaries and redesign the contours of politics.

Selected Bibliography

Coelho, Frederico. Eu, brasileiro, confesso minha culpa e meu pecado: Cultura marginal no Brasil nas décadas de 1960 e 1970. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2010.

Dunn, Christopher. Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Langland, Victoria. Speaking of Flowers: Student Movements and the Making and Remembering of 1968 in Military Brazil. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.

Napolitano, Marcos. “A MPB sob suspeita: A censura musical vista pelo ótica dos serviços de vigilância política (1968-1981).” Revista Brasileira de História 24, no. 47 (2004): 103-26.

Perrone, Charles. Seven Faces: Brazilian Poetry since Modernism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.

Ross, Kristin. May ’68 and Its Afterlives. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Ventura, Zuenir. 1968: O ano que não terminou. Rio de Janeiro: Pedra Q Ronca, 1977.

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Tropicalismo Fifty Years Later

Tropicália is the name of a cultural moment in late 1960s Brazil that was manifest in nearly all realms of artistic production, especially in popular music, but also the visual arts, theater, film and literature.


In music, it denoted not a particular style, but rather an approach toward the Brazilian song tradition, international pop, and cultural modernity.  Tropicália was a cultural response to the specific contradictions and tensions of Brazilian uneven modernity. At the time, Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship, which entered its most repressive phase in 1968. The regime was committed to a program of conservative modernization, an array of economic, social and political measures that favored industrial development and infrastructural modernization, but invested little in programs fomenting social equality. The tropicalists advanced an irreverent critique of authoritarian rule and conservative social values, but were generally not regarded as proponents of ‘protest music.’

The core group of tropicalist musicians – Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, and Gal Costa – were from the northeastern state of Bahia and began to perform together in the state capital, Salvador, in 1964. After migrating south in the mid-1960s, the so-called grupo baiano formed a creative alliance with São Paulo-based artists, including a group of avant-garde composers, most notably Rogério Duprat and the psychedelic rock band Os Mutantes, featuring Rita Lee, Arnaldo Baptista, and Sérgio Baptista. They also befriended the concrete poets, most notably Augusto and Haroldo de Campos, who championed their work and schooled them on Brazilian and international avant-garde traditions.  On one level, tropicalist music may be understood as a convergence of musicians from Bahia, a center of Afro-Brazilian culture, and from São Paulo, the largest and most industrialized Brazilian city. In the genesis of Tropicália, Rio de Janeiro also played a role, most notably in the realm of the visual arts. The Carioca experimental artist Hélio Oiticica coined the term Tropicália as the name of an environmental installation, or ambiente, created for the exhibition Nova Objetividade Brasileira of 1967. After Veloso appropriated the title for one of his own compositions, it came to designate a range of cultural interventions.

Veloso and Gil achieved critical and popular acclaim in the 1967 TV Record festival with the songs "Alegria, Alegria" (Happiness, Happiness) and "Domingo no Parque" (Sunday in the Park) respectively, which they described as the som universal  or “universal sound.” Left-wing nationalists rejected the tropicalists’ music largely because they were using electric instruments and incorporating elements of rock, which the nationalists associated with U.S. cultural imperialism. Both songs initially met with disfavor among sectors of the live audience, which typically favored performances with acoustic instruments that drew heavily on Brazilian musical traditions. In the final round, Gil and Veloso won over the audience with songs backed by rock musicians using electric instruments, but were still recognized as essentially “Brazilian.” Within a few months, the musical movement initiated by Veloso and Gil was renamed "tropicalismo" in the national press.

In 1968–69 the tropicalists issued several solo albums and one collective manifesto, Tropicália, ou Panis et Circensis (1968), a concept album inspired by the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Tropicália was not a new genre or style, but rather a pastiche of diverse musical forms, national and international, dated and ultra-modern. At its core, tropicalist music may be understood as a rereading, both reverential and ironic, of the tradition of Brazilian popular song in relation to international pop music and avant-garde experimentation. The tropicalists drew from a wide variety of musical traditions, including samba, bossa nova, baião (a northeastern dance music), capoeira music, British invasion rock, psychedelia, Brazilian iê-iê-iê (rock and roll), Spanish American bolero and cha cha chá, and classical music. They were interested, above all, in the phenomenon of pop music and its relation to youth culture, consumer society, and musical tradition. Some of the most important tropicalist songs, such as Veloso’s "Tropicália," Gil’s "Geléia Geral" (General Jam), and Tom Zé’s "Parque Industrial" (Industrial Park), may be understood as national allegories that juxtapose signs of underdevelopment and backwardness with signs of ultra-modernity. In an interview with the literary critic Marjorie Perloff at the 2016 Modern Language Association Convention, Veloso explained that Brazil was an underdeveloped, predominately rural nation with high rates of illiteracy, which made pop songs particularly influential, or as he put it, "culturally strong." The tropicalists were acutely attuned to the structural changes brought on by the military regime, its development program and its repressive mechanisms and found incisive ways of representing these transformations and their effect on everyday life in Brazil.

In their musical project, the tropicalists found theoretical support in antropofagia (cultural cannibalism), first formulated and articulated by modernist provocateur Oswald de Andrade in his "Manifesto Antropófago" (Cannibalist Manifesto) of 1928. They had been introduced to the work of Andrade by the concrete poets, who were then re-editing his works and reviving his critical and poetic legacy. For Andrade, the conceit of cannibalism, inspired by coastal Indians known to devour their captive enemies including Portuguese colonizers, provided a model for cultural production that was neither subservient to metropolitan trends in Europe nor defensive or narrowly nationalistic. For the tropicalists, the idea of cannibalism provided a model for revitalizing the Brazilian song tradition in light of contemporary developments in international pop.

Although the tropicalists were most vehemently criticized by artists and critics of the nationalist left, they also aroused the suspicions of the military regime for their anarchic, countercultural attitude toward authority. In late December 1968 Veloso and Gil were arrested, put in a military prison and then confined to house arrest in Salvador until they departed for exile in London, where they would stay until 1972. By 1969 Tropicália was over, but some of the fundamental qualities that oriented its practice – the critical dialogue with international cultural practices and projects and the attempt to fuse avant-garde practices and popular culture – continued to inform artistic practice in Brazil into the twenty-first century. Furthermore, nearly all of the tropicalist musicians continued to be active as professional musicians, public intellectuals, and cultural agents. The voracious eclecticism of the tropicalist project, once so startling to nationalist critics, is now the dominant paradigm for Brazilian popular music. The recent ascension of right-wing forces, denounced by some on the left as a parliamentary coup, has also occasioned a reconsideration of authoritarian rule, its lasting legacy, and the forms of resistance and critique that pushed back against it. 

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