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President Juscelino Kubitschek

Academics point out historical excesses in romanticizing the ex-president

A moment captured by the photograph of the Manchete magazine on the 8th of June 1964  revealed the ex-president Juscelino Kubitschek (1902-1976) with a look of sadness and desolation, at the moment in which an adviser had shown him a copy of the edition with the headline of the annulment of his political rights and those of forty other politicians in the Ultima Hora newspaper. The world collapsed under his feet. The dream of returning to the Presidency in 1965 had been buried, through a maneuver of his principal adversaries, Magalhães Pinto and Carlos Lacerda, the state governors of Minas Gerais and Guanabara, respectively, who transformed him into one of the villains of the military regime that had begun. Never had there been an image so abrasive. As well as the responsibility for the “deterioration” of the government by general Costa e Silva, his name was even being linked to denouncements of corruption in the construction of Brasilia.

A little more than forty years later, the photo would become only a reference
of an episode in the past of context very different from the Juscelino displayed in the TV miniseries JK, shown starting from the first week in January by the Rede Globo channel. These are two distinct moments: that of the bandit and that of the popular hero. More than just making historical justice, the television drama super-dimensions even more the myth of the most idolized ex-president of all time as never before seen in Brazilian political history.

Presented as a visionary, Juscelino became the symbol of modernism from an era more and more idealized and romanticized, marked by the construction of a new capital for the country, Brasilia, by the flourishing of the automobile industry and the electro domestic industry and by his success in overcoming the crises of instability and to get to the end of his mandate. To understand this phenomenon has turned itself into a challenge in important Brazilian universities.

Making  Juscelino Kubitschek  a hero has been happening since the start of the New Republic – although five years prior to this the film by Silvio Tendler Os anos JK (1980) had already deflagrated the process, which dignified both him and João Goulart (1918-1976) – in Jango (1984) – though in another perspective, not only of a documentary but also to bring up the recent history of the country massacres the trajectory of these personalities. This is what the Rio de Janeiro social scientist Mônica Almeida Kornis, author of the doctorate thesis in communication entitled “A history of recent Brazil in the Rede Globo miniseries” says.

So much so, she points out,  that the first bill created during the José Sarney government, of Cr$ 100,000.00, back then in 1985, even before the cruzado standard, brought the stamped face of JK, along with an image of Brasilia and other important conquests of his government. “He was reborn in that minute and went on to become the icon of Brazilian democracy. What the miniseries is doing now is to reaffirm this position” says Mônica, whose study was defended at the Communications and Arts School of the University of São Paulo (ECA/USP), under the supervision of Ismail Xavier – at the moment looking for an editor.

Films of the time about the ex-president were even used in the electoral campaigns of candidates starting from the end of the 1980’s. More recently, ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso went over again his importance as the modernizer of Brazil. President Lula did the same, above all starting from the political crisis inaugurated last year. And it was not just these two presidents. The researcher from the Campinas State University (Unicamp) Rosilene Dias Montenegro points out that ex-president Fernando Collor positioned within his inaugurating ceremony none other than Sarah and Márcia Kubitschek – JK’s widow and daughter – and also explored the image of the young, dynamic politician. And what was in Collor’s speech? “The modernization of the country, a term that re-signifies the vision of development.”

During 2001 Rosilene defended her doctorate thesis in history entitled, “Juscelino Kubitschek: myth and political mythology of modern Brazil” supervised by professor Maria Stella Martins Bresciani and as yet unpublished in book form. She recalls that Anthony Garotinho, during the last presidential campaign, appeared having in the background a photograph of Getúlio Vargas on the one side and Juscelino on the other. In Rosilene’s opinion, the political ability of JK – his power of persuasion – is one of his qualities recognized by all of the politicians of his era, including Lacerda. “It’s not because he died that JK turned into a saint, but to deny his political qualities, to not understand his singular leadership is to attempt to disqualify an extremely rich possibility produced by our culture” she ponders.

A researcher with the CPDOC of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV/RJ), Mônica Kornis analyzed six Rede Globo productions of the time that took place starting from the New Republic: Anos dourados [Golden Years] (1986), Anos rebeldes [Rebel Years] (1992), Agosto [August] (1993), Incidente em Antares [Incidents in Antares] (1994), Decadência [Decadence] (1995) and Hilda Furacão [Hilda the Hurricane] (1998). The work ended up focusing on the first two named productions, both written by Gilberto Braga, which placed Juscelino as an outstanding politician. For Mônica, more than in Anos Dourados, in the miniseries JK his heroism is highlighted and makes the myth resuscitate in a more intense form, because the story is centered around his personal and political trajectory.

A story, indeed, with good ingredients for fiction: the trajectory of a young boy who loses his father at an early age and had in his mother an important figure for his family survival, until he became the president of the Republic, after having passed through the option of his first profession, that of a doctor. “In the case of the miniseries, in the same way as the media always do when referring to him, the viewers tend to put everything together and believe that JK stimulated the growth of the Bossa Nova and the New Cinema, for example, something which is not true.”

Thus the brand “Golden Years” has been fed for decades. Initially Mônica looked towards analyzing how the TV, as seen from the present, of re-democratization of the country, had represented the history of Brazil over the last fifty years. She was emphatic not only towards production context but also discussed the format that this content assumed in fiction in order to represent facts, personalities and important historical periods. She gave importance to the language of fictional production directed towards a large public. “From that point it was fundamental to analyze the narrative of these series, whose structure is accustomed to being anchored on simplistic and basic moral schemes.”

Common characteristics were identified within all of the miniseries. The exception was Agosto, based on the historic romance of Rubem Fonseca, which had a little more complex narrative. In the others, the author stated, the political vision is revealed as something that moves itself in the inside of a moral drama, Manichean, in which the politicians appear in extremes as good or bad – and the former are identified as modern and honest.

Even in those in which there is only one created environment of the time  and which highlighted the generation shock, as is the case with Anos Dourados, the researcher identified a division between modern personalities (morally positive, into which the young are placed) and conservatives (immoral, in which only adults exist). “The history of the period, of the political questions as to behavior, has thus gone on to be polarized. This has become the historical knowledge pushed out by the media.”

In the case of JK, the miniseries, in Mônica’s opinion, the narrative established an empathy with the figure of the ex-president, presented as modern, honest, friendly, entrepreneurial and seductive. “In the end, a type constructed as highlighted by attributes of personal and moral order and, thus one who counterbalances, for example, the figures of the UDN ( the acronym for National Democratic Union -the opposition party), both politicians and electors.” The story is mounted starting from these parameters and of the political forces thus presented. “Logically there is a liberty of fiction, and that, above all on television, there is the concern in highlighting romantic traumas and that the authors are not concerned with giving a history lesson.”

Nevertheless, the fact, the researcher states, is that the history is there. Or better, the product “history of Brazil” is present and is driven along by way of moral and personal values. “I believe that, if concern exists in critically reflecting about a miniseries, the debate could not be restricted to considerations of the type ‘it is well or badly done’, ‘ the historical reconstruction is or is not true to the facts.'” Even with the stylish technique in the Rede Globo productions and the concern towards faithfulness in historical reconstruction, one needs to construct historical fiction that is attentive to these aspects.

It is up to the social scientists to come out from the position of spectators at the end of the evening and to bend forward with more vigor in the examination of the twists and turns of an mass audiovisual production that conforms to a certain understanding about the country’s history. “This question is still undervalued, from my point of view. Professors continue using the audiovisual material as glamorous resources in order to speak on the phases of our history, without discussing the very form that this content assumes within this means. One is not speaking of the miniseries bringing or not bringing damages. The question is to have a consciousness and a critical vision of this, above all in the case of teachers, historians and social scientists.”

Indeed, it is necessary to recognize the existence of a mediation between fact and its representation. It is not enough to discuss if the actual incidents were or were not as the television – or even cinema – portrayed them. It is enough to watch Agosto, which showed the political crisis that led to the suicide of Getulio Vargas in another perspective, different, centered on the president, however represented as a bitter and suffering figure. “There is no glamour in Vargas.”

The viewer, in this process, is always passive. The Rede Globo miniseries will always be remembered for the commented upon relationship that there was in Anos rebeldes and the crisis that led to the impeachment of Collor. The young “caras-pintadas”[face painted students] took to the streets demanding the fall of the president apparently influenced by the production. Mônica is more cautious in her evaluation of the episode. “The media accompanied the repercussions of the audience and made the relationship with the ‘caras-pintadas’. There was a moment of favorable effervescence, but not an establishing of this linkage directly, through the power of the miniseries. Yes, the media was responsible for this relationship of cause and effect.”

In her thesis, Rosilene Montenegro found very distinct roots for justifying the image that has been built around Juscelino. She started from the premise that the moment of profound uncertainties lived during the decade of the 1950’s brought about the effervescence of imagination, of myths and the existence of mythological politicians. The result of this was the creation of a new political myth and the re-elaboration of known mythological politicians. “I looked for the capture of images and of the imagination of the Juscelino Kubitschek myth, represented by the memory surrounding this myth, produced by different social segments – intellectuals, the popular classes, biographies, political coreligionists and JK himself.”

She realized that the political model came about g from his own intervention in the construction process while it was happening, and that, at a determined moment of his institution, attends to and confuses with the dreams, anxieties and hopes of a better future on the part of the collective social classes. “Many years later the creative force of mythological imagery of the return to a time of happiness, harmony and prosperity, the time of the golden age, confounded with the political mythology of modernism is incited.”

In this reasoning, the impression of the Juscelino Kubitschek myth, the main character of the Brazilian “golden years” in collective imagination, is also due to the later narrative recount of his life, which is represented by way of an ordered logic by the phrases of a continuous time of emergence, peak and death, or the time of appealing, of power and glory, and of martyrdom of JK.

The objective of Rosilene’s research was to dismantle the JK myth. “That could be, but I opted to show its construction, due to the understanding that myths are elements of representation of the world that we would like to create, they reveal the fabulous narrative and can also trick and falsify the so called reality. But they are powerful instruments of the mobilization of subjectivities of power politics, the measure that actions symbols and expensive imagery to the collective social classes, according to the perception of George Sorel in Reflexões sobre a violência [Reflections on Violence].”

The power of Juscelino when attached to the media had, in part, contributed to his historical image. Researcher Rosilene underlined that he co-opted a great part of the press, starting with the agreement that he signed with Assis Chateaubriand, of the Diários Associados newspaper. “Shortly afterwards came the transmission of a mythical narrative of progress, change, the overcoming of economic problems and the construction of a prosperous future mixed with collective imagery, because it incited longing, reconditioned dreams.” Hence the importance of understanding the context or the historic configuration that produce the myth.

Which presidential candidate who explores the legend of JK will be most befitted through this in the elections of 2006? The researcher would not risk names. “As yet we don’t have enough elements for this. It could be that those with the greatest benefit would be the politicians, because the story of Juscelino could also be interpreted as a morally acceptable possibility of carrying out politics, which could minimize the rejection of politicians in a general fashion and to politics at this moment of profound discredit.’