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Fine arts

Images of joy

The pages of Fon-Fon and Careta magazines consolidated the democratic rebellion of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival

ReproductionHumor is undoubtedly one of the most subversive qualities. Laughter has always disconcerted and challenged totalitarian regimes or more conservative societies. Much has been said of cartoons and caricatures in the press or on radio and TV and there has been a lot of criticism in the last two centuries, and with far more efficiency than a humorless editorial in a newspaper or magazine. To a lesser extent than in the past, Carnival is also a venue for protest, when dancing groups of revelers wear costumes and carry banners. Caricaturas carnavalescas: Carnaval e humor no Rio de Janeiro através da ótica das revistas ilustradas Fon-Fon e Careta (1908-1921) (Carnival and humor in Rio de Janeiro through the eyes of the illustrated magazines Fon-Fon and Careta -1908/1921), the thesis written by Fabiana Lopes da Cunha, draws on the early 20th century to bring to life to one of the most fascinating and participative periods of the Rio de Janeiro press and Carnival.

Based on an analysis of texts and illustrations by renowned caricaturists and authors, as well as anonymous journalists, one can perceive the importance of Momo, the Carnival King, in the lives of these people brandishing paintbrushes and pens and the importance of what they delivered in exchange to their readers, says Fabiana. It is also possible to redeem and rebuild not only the history of Carnival through these publications, but also to understand the context of the period, the political issues, fashion, innovations and changes in the lives of Rio de Janeiro’s population, she adds. “Carnival and humor were important not only for the financial health of newspapers and publishers, because the approach and the topic pleased readers: they were also important for the lives of writers and illustrators who wrote irreverently and participated in dancing on the streets. Therefore, they themselves were also the artisans of this story.”

The Jornal do Brasil newspaper was an example of the use of Carnival gaiety as a business opportunity for the press. The newspaper had a talented staff of illustrators such as Julião Machado, Raul Pederneiras and Amaro Amaral. The newspaper, says the researcher, helped cartoons become more popular and widely read, having also been responsible for the dissemination of a specific kind of Carnival among the low-income population. “The newspaper’s circulation increased amazingly during the Carnival festivities.” The coverage was complete and enthusiastic. Fabiana says that the reporters and editors did their utmost to get information. They roamed among the crowds dancing in the streets, published the names of the directors and of the members of these dancing groups, printed the flags of these groups on the front pages, and held competitions to award these more popular manifestations of the Carnival frenzy.

Fabiana is an assistant professor at Unesp-Ourinhos; her master’s and doctoral theses focused on social history, and were presented at USP’s School of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences/FFLCH. During her meticulous and revealing research, she resurrected the names of writers, journalists, caricaturists and musicians, which included Olavo Bilac, Artur Azevedo, Calixto Cordeiro, J. Carlos, Raul and Mário Pederneiras, Martins Fontes, Emílio de Menezes, José do Patrocínio Filho, Olegário Mariano, João do Rio, Coelho Neto, Bastos Tigre, Lima Barreto, Luiz Edmundo, Luiz Peixoto, Eduardo das Neves and Xisto Bahia, among other collaborators of the Fon-Fon and Careta magazines. Another interesting piece of information dug up by the author is that, although she had recently read in a book that the poet and journalist Olavo Bilac hated Carnival, she concluded he had been an active Carnival reveler during a certain time in his life and had frequently written essays on Carnival festivities.

Although the two magazines were partly responsible for the propagation and insertion of new ways of enjoying and “seeing” Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and in the entire country, this having been stimulated by the importing of “foreign mannerisms,” and by fashions from France or Italy, especially during the belle époque, Fabiana realized that the reality very often translated into irreverence during the partying itself or by means of texts and caricatures printed in magazines. This was often transformed into comedy. “Carnival and humor, publicized through the floats with veiled criticism and the anonymous, masked revelers who insisted on dancing in the streets, translate the nation?s identity with its own highly particular daily life and politics, which are often illustrated through sarcasm and through the irreverence of criticism voiced at the festivities,” says the researcher.

Thus, she showed how caricaturists and feature writers expressed their opinions – and everything that was already a consensus out on the streets – in the illustrated magazines. As a result, their productions were the basis for the making of masks and costumes on any given issue. Such satires were therefore associated with a Carnival-like way of representing the issues that are part of the daily lives of the population or the part of the intelligentsia that contributed humorous texts to the two publications. “Thus, the impression we have is that this kind of humor was mostly manifested in times of leisure, fun and partying, perhaps because irreverent criticism was more acceptable at times when attitudes were dilated and laughter flowed more freely.”

ReproductionIn certain situations, Fabiana points out, Carnival games, coupled with feelings of annoyance and dissatisfaction in part of the population, would affect others. For example, these feelings were taken out on members of rival Carnival groups, and when the rival groups bumped into each other on the streets, verbal insults very often led to physical violence. However, the researcher emphasizes that, when referring to such situations, she does not wish to insinuate that laughter and satire were the typical ways in which Brazilians voiced their social and political concerns. “But the fact is that, at least during the belle époque, humor was widely used and was important for the community and for the intellectual elite to express its modernity-related desires.”

The first task, says Fabiana, was to analyze the two magazines up to the year 1930. She came across very rich and highly revealing material on the daily life and political environment in Brazil’s capital city, especially as regards the two magazines’ attitude towards politics and certain practices related to Carnival. Songs from those times were another important source of documents, as they are full of humor and satire. The researcher, however, does not plan to analyze these songs in the manner of her master’s thesis. “We know that many of the songs were not composed specifically for Carnival; but political satire and habits were very successful in the streets of the city, especially during the Carnival festivities, when freedom and excesses allowed for and encouraged criticism and laughter.”

The printed documents were used by Fabiana to show how caricaturists and feature writers expressed their opinions and the consensus of the population in illustrated magazines. As a result, these opinions formed the basis for the production of costumes and masks. “These satires, therefore, were associated with a Carnival-like way of representing issues that were part of the population’s daily life or of the daily life of the intelligentsia that collaborated with the publications.” Besides resorting to Fon-Fon and Careta, Fabiana turned to other illustrated magazines such as O Mequetrefe and Revista Ilustrada, and to the Gazeta de Notícias newspaper, among others. “A cartoon drawn by K.lixto portrays the Baron of Rio Branco as a cook preparing an omelet, and the fire on the stove is fueled by bags of money. This cartoon tells us that the renowned minister of foreign affairs was not only very popular but also well known for his banquets and the fortune spent on them.”

Fabiana adds that through this caricature, and various others that focus on the foreign minister’s political personality and his renowned diplomatic policy, along with texts, songs and  plays published or publicized, one can understand how important the Baron of Rio Branco and his policies were for the population of Rio de Janeiro. These documents also illustrate that these humorous references contained a mixture of indignation in regard to his expenses and admiration for the succession of diplomatic victories that he achieved during his public life. “This is what we realize when we read the words at the bottom of the cartoon: ‘While frying eggs, I outwit people.'”

Fabiana’s study identified several other examples of images and texts that reveal several aspects of how Rio de Janeiro society viewed Carnival festivities during the belle époque, and how these were represented in the two main weekly magazines of those times. “The point of view was mainly the one prepared by writers and caricaturists of those times, who portrayed the festivities with a great amount of humor and doses of criticism.” The researcher focuses on various aspects of this society that was “turned into Carnival” by the collaborators of the two magazines. She was able to identify the changes that had occurred in the city: the renovations, the introduction of electric streetcars, automobiles, cafés and how cafés frequently migrated to literary salons, the theater and the increase in its popularity through the implementation of theater sessions, fashion with its hats, narrow, tapered skirts and culottes.

Finally, she identified the changes that occurred in politics and in Carnival. Fabiana also investigated how Carnival was used educationally by writers, through carnival parades and floats that disseminated their ideals. “The proclamation of the Republic and the disappointment of many of the writers and caricaturists with this regime, resulted in many of the floats, which had been previously used to convey an ideology to the population, with the objective of abolishing slavery and ending the monarchy, to be used, at first, to praise the reforms implemented with unprecedented speed and authoritarianism.” However, says the researcher, this feeling of euphoria did not persist for long. Soon enough, humor and satire once again began focusing on political celebrities and certain fashionable attitudes that reigned then. All of this was done with the spirit and irreverence that had turned Carnival revelry into a huge celebration of freedom.