The Pursuit of the Brazilian Identity in Cyberpunk

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In Brazil, there is this dilemma about national identity that was already the subject of several posts written by foreigners who lived here for some time. You can find tons of lists trying to explain our problems from an outsider point of view and why we hate this country when, in fact, we shouldn’t.

That could be followed by stereotypes in which people remember Brazil as a land of eternal summer beaches, where girls like the Girl from Ipanema dance like Carmen Miranda (even though she was actually Portuguese). If you go further and pay attention to the news, you may have heard something about the political situation or the water crisis in São Paulo. There was even a Greek friend who was worried about me because of the riots that were happening in Brazil some time ago. The funny part is that he is from Athens where things seemed to be even worse in 2008.

When it comes to the arts, you may have already heard of some Brazilian visual artists such as Romero Britto or Vik Muniz. The first has presented Michael Jackson and Sylvester Stallone with some of his paintings, while the latter composes enormous realistic portraits made of trash. I also bet you have heard of the movie Elite Squad (2007), by José Padilha, the same guy who directed the new Robocop movie. Before him, there was even Walter Salles, who released Central Station in 1998 and gave the opportunity for the first Brazilian nominee for the Oscars, the actress Fernanda Montenegro. Salles is also the director of that adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, starring Kristen Stewart and Alice Braga – by the way, she was also on Repo Men (2010), Predators (2010) and Elysium (2013).

In adittion to Alice Braga, the Brazilian actor Wager Moura (Elite Squad) also played a leading role in Neill Blomkamp’s movie Elysium.

So besides Braga, what has Brazil been doing for science fiction? That is a long story, mostly told by literature rather than movies or games but, at least in terms of cyberpunk, there’s a particular national sub-genre called Tupinipunk. That caught the attention of none other than Bruce Sterling, who is actually a friend of one of the most engaged Brazilian science fiction writers, Roberto de Sousa Causo. In 2010, they published a book with two cyberpunk short stories and Sterling even came to São Paulo for the release. However, it seemed that he was much more interested in the Steampunk local scene by that time.

Tupinipunk, which is a tag also created by Causo, tries to combine the words tupiniquim + (cyber)punk. The first term originally refers to an indigenous people of Brazil but it has become almost a synonym to “Brazilian”, used with some irony. That is what characterizes most of the works written under this tag. On the preface of Duplo Cyberpunk (2010), the book released by Sterling and Causo, there are some examples of tupinipunk works, such as Silicone XXI by Alfredo Sirkis and Santa Clara Poltergeist by Fausto Fawcett. Besides those ones, there is also the short story O Altar dos nossos Corações, by Ivanir Calado, which explores the growth of organized crime in Rio de Janeiro.

Uma História de Amor e Fúria (2013) is a movie about an immortal hero and the woman he has been in love for 600 years. The work covers the history of Brazil since its colonization to the periods of slavery, military regime and a dystopic future set in 2096, where people are in a war for water.
Uma História de Amor e Fúria (2013) is a movie about an immortal hero and the woman he has been in love for 600 years. The work covers the history of Brazil since its colonization to the periods of slavery, military regime and a dystopic future set in 2096, where people are in a war for water.

I am not the most qualified person to critique Tupinipunk – mainly because I haven’t read many works that could be classified as such – but after I finished O Altar dos nossos Corações, I felt quite annoyed by the usage of so many stereotypes. According to Causo, this is actually one of the basic features of Tupinipunk: the subgenre uses such elements as a means to satirize, but without a pretentious mission.

Then we end up in a controversial tug of war: while there are some artistic initiatives trying to emphasize Brazilian folklore and tradition as a relevant and interesting theme for fantasy and science fiction works, there is also a resistance that thinks this could be a bad and clumsy strategy. I have witnessed many fights between Brazilian fantasy/sci-fi fans and writers (which end up being almost the same), where they tried to argue against this inferiority complex that many Brazilians suffer. This is one of the  main symptoms diagnosed by those foreigners who write lists about the country. Regarding national sci-fi works, they refer to this inferiority complex or rejection especially as “Captain Barbossa Syndrome”, which could be explained as a Brazilian being against reading a story with a protagonist named Captain Barbossa because it would sound stupid, while it’s OK if his name was Captain John or Jack, for instance.

The point is that bad things are written, filmed, painted and created everywhere. I bet Americans could also make an entire list of crappy sci-fi movies and/or books but the point is that Brazilians seem to be constantly searching for a national identity. And that’s quite hard, especially because this is a quite miscegenated country – there was even research about the future of humans which concluded that genes would be so mixed that people would probably look like Brazilians.

So what are we supposed to do? There are several small publishers supporting new writers who are trying to give a new face to Brazilian science fiction and fantasy literature, but audiovisual works are still at a disadvantage – also because they are more expensive, of course. Still, I could mention some great initiatives such as the dystopian webseries 3%, the Alien sequel Aliens LV-426 or the animation Uma História de Amor e Fúria (2013), but they might be isolated works.

Some weeks ago, some friends were talking about the re-release of Akira’s manga here in Brazil on the podcast Contraudição. They mentioned this very fact that we don’t have the combination of traditional Brazilian music with modern/scifi works, which is something that happens with the movies for Akira and Ghost in the Shell. However, last week I was surprised by a video released one year ago by a Brazilian rapper called Criolo. I never paid much attention to his work even though he is very popular among younger people, but now I have to say that this is brilliant work. It gives a particular Brazilian vision of the near future, lending some references from the aesthetics of international movies and games, but giving everything the proper Brazilian colors, as the Mexican did with the movie Sleep Dealer (2008).

If we are in a pursuit of the Brazilian identity and attempting combine it with science fiction, mostly cyberpunk, Criolo’s video for Duas de Cinco + Cóccix-ência is one of the best inspirations and a starting point for those who want to meet a decent Brazilian portrait. Directed by Cisma, the clip is very contemporary (and cyberpunk) when it introduces drones and a 3D printer producing disposable guns for teenagers who live in poverty and find in crime a better way in life – the classic favela drama.

The interesting point is that the work empowers a girl, while most of the national scifi/action works (often written by men) put women, Brazilian women, as sexual objects rather than part of the gang or non-sexualized protagonists. That was what annoyed me while reading O Altar dos nossos Corações. On the other hand, you will also find men anywhere in the world complaining that the 2015 Mad Max movie is “too feminist”, so this is obviously not a particular national issue.

Nevertheless, Criolo’s lyrics also criticize the middle class in contra-position to the suburban teens. Although it’s basically an adaptation of what is already commonplace in Brazilian crime fiction, I guess that Duas de Cinco + Cóccix-ência at least doesn’t feel like the screenwriter is giving a robot leg for Saci or transforming a Native Brazilian into a cyborg just for the sake of writing Brazilian sci-fi.

9 Responses to “The Pursuit of the Brazilian Identity in Cyberpunk”

    • Nice. Thanks for mentioning them, Artur. There are also some other contemporary cyberpunk books written by authors from São Paulo, such as Cyber Brasiliana, Os Dias da Peste and Guerra Justa, in case someone want to know – they’re all in Portuguese, btw.

  1. Como brasileiro, I always thought: Brazil already has low life , just lacks high tech to become a cyberpunk reality.
    About brazilian fiction, we already have authors, what is lacking is public. Many young readers only read fiction “infantojuvenil” (hunger games, maze runner) and other readers are dedicated only to classic fiction (Asimov), it deters investment of a brazilian fiction literature. So I’m happy when I read an article like this, there is still hope!

    • Hi Danilo, thanks for your comment. You’re right. Many people would agree with you too, but I guess Brazil is showing its qualities with some singular initiatives on hacking, gaming and biohacking too. There are some collectives in São Paulo that organize weekly or monthly reunions to talk about programming, technology and science. There is even a man in Minas Gerais proposing a post-death messaging service, like they did in the US with If you want to keep informed about this, you can follow my page on Facebook:
      Regarding the Brazilian lectureship, I guess you’re right too – at least that’s what I observe on several scifi communitites on Facebook or people on other social media. The biggest publishers only care about William Gibson as a representation of cyberpunk and keep re-releasing old stuff by Asimov and the smallest enforce the most popular genres, like hard scifi or young adult and fantasy… because they need to, financially speaking. On the other hand, you have several movies talking about AI, dystopic futures, mind uploading and so on.

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