Love, Sex and Information

Artigo publicado originalmente pela Lewis Magazine (abril de 2017).

How a late night show on Brazilian television has been introducing social themes to a broader audience.

By Lucas Oliveira Dantas

Like anywhere else, Brazilians have turned to social media to express thoughts and feelings about facts and cultural aspects that are not usually discussed on television. Racism, feminism and LGBTQ life are some of the topics that have been flooding television shows in the country, especially due to audiences exposing on social media the lack of positive representation on the news, variety shows or telenovelas.

In January 2017, the late night variety show Amor & Sexo [Love & Sex] has premiered its tenth season on Rede Globo, the largest over-the-air (OTA) television channel in Brazil. Fronted by former model Fernanda Lima, the weekly program has celebrities and civilians talking about subjects related to love, sex and relationships.

As one of the most celebrated TV shows on social media, Amor & Sexo has incorporated social topics and discussions on air along its seasons. This year’s very first episode was about feminism. A couple of weeks later the main topic was sexual diversity and featured the hostess’ husband in drag.

While both episodes were very commended on Facebook and Twitter for airing on national television experiences usually neglected on its programming, human rights activists were less than impressed viewing the episodes as hypocritical due to the network’s (and Brazilian media in general) contribution to systemic invisibility and/or stereotyped representation of women and LGBTQ community.

To further weigh in on these matters Lewis Magazine asked three academic researchers and human rights activists about the show.

Helder Thiago Maia

As an intersectional activist on gender and sexuality, and a PhD in progress on Compared Literature, Maia doesn’t think most of OTA television in Brazil has been really incorporating social media discussions besides celebrity gossiping. On the other hand, he recognized that certain shows — like Amor & Sexo — have featured fruitful dialogues on these topics between TV audiences and academic and online activisms.

“I also reckon that there are misconceptions on all TV shows that must be addressed to keep up the debate.” However, he adds that “the people selected [to appear on Amor & Sexo] are well thought and sorted out thus having their ideas reaching to a broader audience than academic debates.”

Maia also thinks that even though social activism is not the goal of the show, he considers that its main audience seems to be open to such topics despite not being socially active nor being aware of the academic research on them. “In this sense, based on student’s and friends’ commentaries it seems to me that the show’s strategy is working fine,” he concludes.

Murillo Nonato

As a master’s degree student and gender and sexuality activist, Nonato thinks that Amor & Sexo gives access and educates its audience about sexuality and gender diversity with a light and non-discriminatory approach: “I believe that its power must be recognized and could be used as an example of inclusive programming.”

Nevertheless, he ponders that mass media corporation’s capitalist nature do not grapple on these topics as a need to discuss them to end prejudice but to profit via pink washing — a marketing strategy to appeal to the LGBTQ public.

On an activist point of view, he sees this as a bargain possibility: “corporations and the system won’t come out unscathed. Liking it or not, important themes to political minorities are being exposed to the audiences of Brazil’s largest television network, landing on spaces hardly reached by our militancy. The poor black and effeminate kid from the slums — that is beaten by his father for being a homosexual — may find on the discourse of a show like Amor & Sexo the first ‘positive’ representation of his sexuality.”

Lelia Reis

Post-doctoral student and psychoanalyst Lelia Reis — as a human and especially women’s rights activist — thinks that portraying women’s rights as a form of entertainment is a mistake.

She states that in Brazil “we are in a political moment that [the show’s] network’s stance on these matters has been publicly criticized by [women’s] groups, hence losing audience.” Reis believes that tackling these subjects as a “fashion” is just an attempted strategy to rapprochement of a lost audience and that it disregards feminism’s historical path and struggles.

Besides that, she adds that OTA television is a public grant and that “it shouldn’t be an episode but a daily debate and discussion. Not only edited information without thinking or observation.”

As a feminist, Reis says that feminism “is not about love and sex, [even though] it unfolds on relationships. It is about fighting for rights and equality between men and women — affectively involved or not. It is a movement and a political act that confronts the patriarchal structure that oppresses and kills women every day, not to be simply used as a variety show theme.”

In Brazil, traditional media outlets — such as Rede Globo — are linked to corporations that view information as commodity of profit and political mass control. As Murillo Nonato claims television should not be the main source of education for diversity, “after all they hold capitalist interests”.

However, to disconsider its ongoing power to reach audiences could be a strategical slip-up. On a Facebook post he stated that despite Brazilian TV’s flawed and mostly stereotyped portrayal of gay people, they still influenced and shaped up his confidence about himself and his sexuality.

Amor & Sexo’s episodes on feminism and sexual diversity may not be enough for the political struggles that women and LGBTQs daily face on Brazil’s sexist society. However, it succeeds on presenting topics to the socially marginalized audiences that our social media bubbles won’t perceive.