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Male Power

Male Power

By Brazzil Magazine

"Homem tem que ser durão" [A man’s got to be tough]

—ERASMO CARLOS, SINGER

One of the most intriguing propositions of feminist theory has been not only the
rejection of the primacy of the masculine, against which men are judged for their adequacy
and women for their noncorrespondence, whether in psychological, sexual, or cultural
terms, but the proposition that all gender identity is constructed (see Butler, Gender
Trouble, for one of the most influential analyses of this proposition). While it has
been reasonable for much of the feminist bibliography to concentrate on the construction
of the feminine, especially in view of the importance of establishing categorical
difference (as opposed to the feminine as viewed as merely the noncorrespondence to the
privileged masculine signifier), in recent years, in concert with the rise of queer
studies and independently of them, considerable attention has been devoted to how the
masculine is constructed and how that identity is maintained, confirmed, overdetermined,
and legitimated (see Simpson, Male Impersonators; Katz, The Invention of
Heterosexuality).

Such research is grounded in the axiom that, except for physiological sexual markers,
all bodies begin as a clean slate. The many interlocking contexts and situations of social
life construct, "inscribe," on the body a complex structure of gender identity.
This gender not only involves the sense of individuals belonging to categories of the
masculine and feminine, but also involves dimensions of sexual preference. Such a process
does not mean that the gender and sexual identity of an individual is only neutrally
constructed and is independent of biology. Rather, it means that social processes interact
with the body in complex ways such that it is virtually impossible to determine
categorically and to isolate what is the consequence of social conditioning and what is
the consequence of the intrinsic "wiring" of the body in general and a
particular body: e.g., a specific sexual preference may be as much intrinsic to a
particular body as it is to factors of social formation. The degree to which this identity
conforms to prevailing societal models determines the degree to which a body is in general
perceived as normal, and a large part of an individual’s social conflicts can derive from
the way in which that individual is perceived to be gender/sexualabnormal and treated
accordingly.

From the perspective of gender construction theory, most individuals live their entire
lives confirming in multiple and overdetermined ways their adherence to prevailing models,
or they spend a good part of their lives dealing with the consequences of being perceived
as deviant or unacceptable simulacra of the models endorsed by the hegemonic ideology of
gender and sexuality. Since Western, JudeoChristian society (at least) is obsessed with
gender issues, most individuals, if only unconsciously and in compliance with education
and programming they have internalized, seek energetically to insure that their gender
behavior, their execution of a welldefined gender role, is consistent with the hegemonic
ideology and take pains to correct whatever might be viewed as a deviation from it.

It is very evident that, especially in the modern period, there is an abundant amount
of cultural production (which has increased geometrically in the past twentyfive years)
that addresses cases of sexual deviancy, particularly what is identified as lesbian and
gay or what in general falls under the purview of the queer. This includes any disruption
in the fulfillment of compulsory monogamous reproductive heterosexuality, which is
something like a keyword definition of what for the majority constitutes the prevailing
hegemonic ideology of gender and sexuality. From the point of view of the queer as the
nonstraight, prostitutes are deviant because they are not monogamous, and even those who
are not reproductive (except when nonreproduction is sanctioned by society, as in the case
of religious orders) can be called queer, since they do not comply with the mandate to
have children. Especially queer are those who are reproductive without being exclusively
heterosexual (some homosexuals and some bisexuals). Brazil counts some of the first novels
in the West to deal with the queer understood as the nonheterosexual: Adolfo Caminha’s
malemarked Bomcrioulo (trans. as BomCrioulo: The Black Man and the Cabin Boy, 1895)
(see Bueno, "Adolfo Caminha") and the lesbian passage in Aluisio Azevedo’s 0
cortiço (The Tenement, 1890).

What is less apparent is the far vaster—indeed, dominant—cultural production
where gender construction and maintenance are what the text fundamentally is. Or, if they
are not central to the text, they are a significant correlative of the main issue of the
text. For example, virtually all films based on the traditional lovestory formula
transmit, even if never in so many words, a confirmation of established heterosexist
roles, with a tightly circumscribed definition of masculine and feminine (see de Lauretts,
Technologies of Gender). Only in those texts in which there is the suggestion of a
deviation from the hegemonic structure might there be an opening toward explicit
commentary, as happens in a film like Vincente Minnelli’s Tea and Sympathy (1956),
where a young man’s sexual insecurities lead to accusations that he is homosexual; when he
is seduced by an older woman, an act of "generosity" that confirms him in his
sense of normal masculinity, the specter of sexual irregularity vanishes into thin air. In
Brazilian films like Bruno Barreto’s 0 beijo no Asfalto, discussed in the chapter
on samesex identities, homosexuality is also a specter, but less as the threat of erotic
deviancy than as one dimension of power relationships. Thus, the film is never directly
about homoeroticism, but rather about the belief that a public kiss awarded a dying man is
sexual in nature. The consequences of a spontaneous act that suddenly leaves an individual
unprotected in the calculus of power relationships turn out to be the real point of
Barreto’s film. Since heterosexism and a specific structure of power relations are
interdependent—the power that one wields and the power that is wielded against one
depend on maintaining a fixed position, whether sexual or some other subsystem
correlative, in the social system—the apparent disruption of the form has devastating
consequences on the system. By contrast, Fábio Barreto’s film Luzia Homem (Luzia
as a Man, 1987) indirectly confirms the gender system and the roles it assigns by
demonstrating how an exception may be allowed Luzia for purposes of revenge. However, once
that revenge is accomplished, she is obliged to return to her "proper" gender
role. Luzia’s parents have been slaughtered by marauding bandits; in order to avenge their
death, she crossdresses as a man, since it is only as a man that she can garner the
symbolic power necessary to settle the blood debt of her parents’ killers. Revenge is a
masculine undertaking, and Luzia as a woman would have been unable to garner the support
of society in her undertaking. Therefore, there can be no question of Luzia’s sexual
identity, of her sexual persona and its preferences, and the film clearly shows her
resumption of conventional femininity in her exchange of male dress for female attire when
the debt has been settled: the hegemonic structure naturally and easily reclaims her
allegiance. Moreover, Luzia’s "true" sexual identity is confirmed by the
heterosexual relations she has with a man during the course of the film. Luzia is no Annie
Oakley, whose male attire (as Ethel Merman knew very well) was an integral part of a
sustained sexual dissidence unknown to the Brazilian farm girl.

There have been extremely few Brazilian films to explore sexual dissidence, whether in
terms of gender role, sexual identity, or the conduct and acts of a resistant sexual
preference. In the case of Marco Antonio Cury’s Barrela (see Chapter 3), the
violently imposed and sustained homosociality of the jailhouse is crisscrossed with
homosexual rape, literal and displaced, as a form of social control in both its horizontal
(among prisoners) and vertical (between prisoners and their guards /jailers /police)
dimensions. But homosexual rape is not homoeroticism, no matter how hard it may be to
separate the two at times (rape may be accompanied by desire and pleasure, and an erotic
fantasy may figure rape or something approximating it as desirable). Barrela leaves
no room for any question of desire, much less love. In the sequence involving male
prostitution, the suggestion that the prostitute is a prostitute because of a possibility
of satisfying samesex desire can only end up subscribing to the proposition of male rape
as the suppression of desire by violent domination.

Homosocialism is, of course, the norm in Brazilian society and, as a direct extension,
in Brazilian cultural production; it is especially evident in privileged realms such as
the military, sports, the workplace, and leisure in general. Other men are vital in the
maintenance of one’s masculine identity. Sexual performance with women and their
confirmation of one’s virility are clearly crucial, and the production of children is a
confirmation of proper masculinity: a pregnant wife or lover is customarily the proudest,
albeit transitory, trophy of his masculinity a man can display to the world. Yet, in the
daytoday commerce of society, of much more ongoing value is the ability to relate properly
and securely to other men, who, in their acceptance, provide feedback to the man that he
is sufficiently masculine. Moreover, although vigilance and enforcement of social
conformity, and, in this case, allimportant gender conformity, occur in all contexts of an
individual’s life experience, two are of special importance: the workplace, where the
individual spends a large percentage of waking hours; and places of leisure, where a good
amount of the rest of the day is spent.

Of these leisure spaces, bars and sports fields and arenas are particularly important.
Indeed, in much of Latin America, for most middle and lower sectors of society, allegiance
to a soccer team is typically of greater importance than political or religious
allegiance, and part of the definition of gender identity through sports involves
questioning, in ways that are either heavyhandedly humorous or openly assertive and
aggressive, the gender compliance (they are all weak men) or the sexual preference (they
are all fags) of the supporters of rival teams. It is in this way that one can understand
the strident controversies that surround any hint of samesex transactions in male sports,
such as the general suggestion of displaced homoeroticism made by Juan José Sebreli(Fútbol
y Masas), following the model of American interpretation of football, or the outrage
in Argentina in mid1995 over homosexuals among the ranks of the Selección Nacional team.
That the rule of ten percent was applied (the proposition drawn from Alfred Kinsey’s work
fifty years ago on establishing percentages of homosexual and heterosexual activity and
adopted by many gay rights organizations) only increased the outrage. An advertising
agency, sympathetic to the gay rights movement, published the image of gays under the
legend "Nosotros también nos queremos y nos bañamos juntos" (We also like/love
each other and bathe together; note the crucial ambiguity of queremos in Spanish),
which brought a welcome sense of comic relief to the rumble, although discussion continues
to take place as to whether certain signs of affection and patterns of touching,
especially in order to congratulate players on successful plays, are appropriate to the
gender image athletes ought to maintain and support.

Jorge um brasileiro

The cinematic male bond might best be described as an unresolvable process that
(re)produces freeze frames…. Built on the bankability of two male stars, the buddy film
negotiates crises of masculine identity centered on questions of class, race, and sexual
orientation, by affirming dominant cultural and institutional apparati. (Fuchs, "The
Buddy Politic," 195)

Paulo Thiago’s 1989 Jorge um Brasileiro, as opposed to readier treatments drawn
from sports or from movies made about the military (e.g., Rui Guerra’s legendary 1964
Cinema Novo production Os Fuzis or Sérgio Rezende’s eponymous 1994 film about the
revolutionary leader Carlos Lamarca—see analysis below), is exceptional in that it
deals with masculinity in the workplace. One must hastily affirm that Thiago’s film
neither questions the project of masculinity nor demonstrates any significant deviation
from it: it has neither feminist nor queer dimensions, except to the degree to which one
might wish to claim that any film that showcases hypermasculinity does, in fact, veer
toward the edges of the gay and the queer. This is because, in conventional gender
ideology, man’s body is the neutral and privileged point of reference. Therefore, there is
no focus on that body unless it deviates from the norm; put differently, the normal body
requires no analysis, since it is simply there as the unquestioned and unexamined anchor
of the system of gender meaning. By contrast, the deviant male body and all female bodies
are susceptible to scrutiny, precisely to the degree to which they are problematical.

These bodies must be examined, corrected, normalized. The female body is available
either categorically to affirm a secure social system through a secure family system or to
undermine the family system through its easily occurring lack of proper discipline: chercher
la femme. Because of the exceptional display of the female body and the enormous
gender, sexual, sociopolitical, and economic semiosis that it is required to bear,
cultural production overwhelmingly centers on the woman, as feminist criticism, film
criticism in particular, has underscored (see Silverman, The Subject of Semiotics). Gay
and queer bodies bear scrutiny because they, like female bodies as a whole, constitute
deviations from the norm. Still, it is obvious that what is at issue are forms of sexual
dissidence in which there are immediately evident traces of the deviance. Moreover, it is
almost always assumed that any form of sexual deviance will ultimately result in overt
manifestation, something like the Dorian Gray Principle of Queerness, with AIDS in recent
years fulfilling that function: it was not until Rock Hudson was clearly dying of AIDS
that it became impossible to deny the longstanding rumor that he was gay, since his public
embodiment was so manifestly in conformance with a normalized masculinity (see Meyer,
"Rock Hudson’s Body").

Hypermasculinity does present serious semiotic problems. For if it highlights what are
considered to be appropriate male features, to be found to a less dramatic degree in
regular, everyday men, hypermasculinity calls attention to the male body precisely because
of the exaggeration of those features that are most often associated with homoerotic
fetishes, such as the sculptured body (highlighted by closefitting or cutdown clothes),
swaggering mannerisms, and a general attitude of cool control and dominance, as one might
find in the paradigmatic Tom of Finland drawings. It is for this reason that the
hypermasculinity of a Rock Hudson is particularly ironic when viewed from the perspective
of an outofthecloset gay consciousness and the AIDS epidemic, as is that of the young
Marlon Brando, the always young James Dean, and the oiledbody legions that followed
Charlton Heston into battle (see the documentary on gays and lesbians in film: The
Celluloid Closet [1996], based on Russo’s book of the same name). Thus, there is an
overdetermination of masculine attributes that results in exactly the sort of excessive
display that is the essence of fetishism. How this becomes a problem in Thiago’s movie is
dealt with below in terms of the disjunction between the title character’s body and the
averagetype bodies of the other actors.

Jorge um Brasileiro is the story of a truck driver who is asked to take on an
urgent and dangerous assignment. Based on the novel of the same title by Oswaldo França,
Jr., the film follows the problems Jorge has in fulfilling the time schedule for his
delivery. This involves considerable ingenuity on Jorge’s part because many of the roads
have been washed out by heavy rains; the ways in which he resolves the problems and
dangers he confronts provide the largescale action basis of this film, making it rather
unusual as a Brazilian product. Although there have been other road films made in Brazil
(Jorge Bodansky and Wolf Gautier’s Iracema [1975], for example, is about a
prostitute who follows the truck routes during the construction of the TransAmazonian
Highway in the 1970s), Thiago’s film involves considerably more bigticket action sequences
than most productions can afford. According to the review in Variety (April 5 11,
1989), Jorge cost $1.5 million; most of the films examined in this study were made
for half that amount.

The ideological interest of the film lies in the reasons why Jorge is willing to
undertake this special assignment. He and his boss, Mário (played by the American star
Dean Stockwell—more on this below), were once fellow truckers, working the
TransAmazonian Highway together. The film has a number of flashbacks that demonstrate the
male bond that exists between them: they were once jailed together for stealing a motor
belt they needed; Mário organized a coverup when Jorge accidentally ran over a man who
stepped out in front of his truck; when Jorge’s father needed emergency medical attention,
Mário helped him to get it. Mário, however, was able to start his own company and to
take Jorge on as his lead driver. Jorge’s ability to make the delivery on time will result
in a lucrative government contract for Mário, and Jorge is willing to delay a muchneeded
holiday in order to fulfill the demands of a longstanding friendship. Nevertheless, he
comes to discover that Mário is simply using him: the class differences that now separate
owner from worker have erased any bonds of loyalty Mário may have had for Jorge, who is
devastated when he finds out he has merely been used as a dependable employee. In a
defiant plot twist that asserts a resistant role for the working class, Jorge goes to
Mário’s house in his absence; taking advantage of the loneliness of Mário’s abandoned
but beautiful wife, he seduces her and then walks out. As he is leaving, Mário arrives.
Jorge simply walks past him stonily, thereby indicating that no personal relationship any
longer exists between them or that any personal relationship that did exist between them
is now mediated by the way in which Jorge has just screwed him through his wife—in,
of course, a macho oneupmanship retaliation for the way in which Jorge feels he has been
screwed by Mário.

Class relationship is, therefore, central to this film, and the bulk of the action
involves the bond that exists between the lead trucker and his men. Despite some setbacks
and dissension, they all pull together in an idealized solidarity that makes this film an
important entry in a newly redemocratized Brazilian cultural production that allows itself
to be optimistic with respect to the possibility of social agency. It is an agency that is
underscored not only by the affirmation of workingclass solidarity and what the spectator
is led to believe is a functioning bossworker relationship of trust and loyalty, but by
the way in which the laborer is able to avenge abuse when he discovers that the
relationship is not what it seems to be. Jorge is hardly a typical Hollywood
sentimentalization of the working class or of class conflict, where, pace John
Ford’s Grapes of Wrath (1940) or Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (1954),
class conflict either does not exist or is made to seem only apparent and therefore
facilely resolvable. The seduction of Mário’s wife introduces a hard edge of social
realism that undercuts any possible suggestion of interclass harmony. The seduction
introduces the troubling issue of the abuse of Mário’s wife. While Jorge does not rape
her and while it is always possible that she is content to be used by a man whose body she
apparently has always lusted after, the spectator witnesses the determined way in which
Jorge avails himself of her with no attention whatever to the consequences for her and as
though such a form of revenge were valuefree.

But what is of primary ideological interest in the film is the showcasing of Jorge and
his masculinity and the way in which this masculinity is correlated with the issue of
class conflict and revenge. Such a correlation is not without its own specific problems,
to the extent that it attaches agency to the sort of masculinity Jorge projects. This
attachment implies that other forms of masculinity and nonmasculinity cannot have access
to such agency. It is also problematical to the extent that it underscores a specific
physical embodiment of masculinity (e.g., the actor Carlos Alberto Ricelli’s
overdetermined body image) and to the extent that it not only excludes the feminine from
such an embodiment, but goes on to place the feminine at the unquestioning disposition of
the masculine, whereby the exploitation of the woman is never questioned. And, finally, it
is problematical to the extent that the hypermasculine establishes, within the masculine
and within the male working class, a naturalized supremacy of leadership.

The visual effect of Jorge’s body is an immediately evident feature of the film (on the
potential impact of bodies in cinema, see Tasker, Spectacular Bodies). Although
Brazilian films are as capable as Hollywood productions of casting attractive men and
women in starring roles to stimulate a form of visual seduction for what is being
represented, the dominance in noncommercial Brazilian filmmaking of a criterion of social
realism, especially in the legendary Cinema Novo and its contemporary heirs, means that
the protagonist is not routinely stunning in a conventional way. The star of Suzana
Amaral’s A Hora da Estrela, Marcélia Cartaxo, is most effective precisely because
of her homeliness in the film.

Ricelli appears to have been charged with projecting a hypermasculine presence. Larger
and betterfed than most members of the Brazilian working class and possessing a body that
can only be the result of gym work rather than hard labor, Ricelli’s Jorge also dresses
differently from his fellow workers in order to set off his body. A tight white Tshirt and
hiphugging jeans constitute gender fetishes in a way in which the grungy dress of the
other truckers is not likely to, at least not in terms of the range of sexual tastes a
mainstream film like Jorge is willing to court. Presumably, such a fetishization of
Jorge’s dress—and, through it, a highlighting of Jorge’s body as a fetish—is
meant to appeal in an erotic fashion to the interest of the spectator. Filmmaking under
the aegis of compulsory heterosexism always assumes that a conventional attractive star
appeals universally to the opposite sex, and it is as much willing to foreground such a
presumed universal appeal as it is to suppress any hint of having considered the degree to
which such an appeal may also be samesex in nature. This is so both to the extent that
there may be a level of polymorphic sexual seduction in every individual and to the extent
to which samesex appeal is not erotic tout court.

But it is also rather engaging and fascinating to the extent that it indicates how most
spectators fall far short of the gender model the star embodies: I may gaze on Ricelli’s
body (and the film forces that gaze unless I choose to walk out of the theater) less out
of the relatively circumscribed sense in which the erotic is understood than because I am
intrigued by the degree to which it surpasses my own particular embodiment of hegemonic
masculinity. Gloria Pires, as Mário’s wife, Helena, presumably appreciates Jorge’s body
in direct sexual terms, which is why she is so apparently willing to be seduced by him,
but there is no question that the strength as a leader Jorge projects derives from the way
in which his body and his dress stand in marked contrast to those of the men over whom he
exercises influence. Quite literally, Jorge’s body bulks larger than that of the other
characters, and this spatial dominance translates, in an easy semiotic displacement, into
social power. I do not mean to exaggerate the features of the Ricelli/Jorge body in terms
of some sort of Brazilian male norm—as, for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger and
Sylvester Stallone are for American norms. The point is that the main protagonist of Jorge
is not hypermasculine in terms of whatever a Brazilian norm might be, as the overt
correlative of a hegemonic heterosexism, but rather is so in terms of his fellow workers,
who betray the verisimilar and unbidden scars and deformations of the historical
workplace.

It is clear that Thiago, despite the singularity of Jorge in the specific circumstances
in which he is shown, meant him to be interpreted as a model, if not of Brazilian
masculinity, then of the social agency that is proper to Brazilian masculinity. If the
titles of the film and the novel on which it is based singularize Jorge, they do so with
the qualifier of "um brasileiro," a syntactic detail that confers on him a
Brazilian Everyman status. This status is reinforced by the fact that the film title
appears in the basic colors of the Brazilian flag, green and yellow. In a society in
which, to counter the French feminist Luce Irigaray’s attempt to demonstrate the
independence of the feminine from the masculine (Ce Sexe Qui N’est Pas Un [This Sex
Which Is Not One]), there continues to be only one sex, the masculine, against the
hegemonic ideal of which all social constructs are measured, the normalizing image that
Jorge portrays must be taken at face value.

Thus, in all of Jorge’s major social interactions, his body and his actions are a
ground zero against which the others are measured: (1) the loyalty he demonstrates toward
Mário and the willingness with which he agrees to accept the latter’s request that he
take on an urgent assignment, despite how it upsets his personal plans; (2) the efficacy
of the arrangements he makes to execute that assignment and the degree of confidence he
inspires in the men who work under his guidance; (3) the forthright and manly manner in
which he makes love to a woman working in a primitive truck stop (a combination bar,
restaurant, and dance hall) and honestly convinces her to accompany him on the road
without any hint of deceit or betrayal (indeed, the way in which the woman goes along so
readily with Jorge, the result in part of his superior lovemaking skills, can be taken as
a model of how the spectator is to accept him as an appropriate colossal masculine model);
(4) the uncomplicated determination with which Jorge sets out to avenge Mário’s betrayal.
Rather than experiencing conflicting sentiments or an ambiguous decision, Jorge seduces
Mário’s wife in the same takecharge manner in which he saves his former friend’s cargo.
Jorge’s body is one of the "spectacular bodies" that Yvonne Tasker analyzes in
Hollywood films. Her phrase does not mean that these bodies are spectacular in the sense
of being overwhelming. Rather, they are display texts, bodies as spectacle, bodies
invested with an overdetermined meaning that allows them to function as the semiotic point
of reference for the filmic text.

The very fact that this seduction is without problems from his point of view and
presumably does not matter from the woman’s point of view serves to underscore how what
does matter is Jorge’s social conduct and the example he is meant to embody. Certainly,
all cultural products are cultural allegories, in the sense that ideological values are at
play in the exposition of a particular plot, no matter how much it may be based on
allegedly unique human characters. This is especially so if a product is read, or suggests
that it be read, against the backdrop of a sociohistorical context, in accord with the
principles of film interpretation proposed by Masud Zavarzadeh in his Seeing Films Politically.
In the case of Jorge um Brasileiro, made during the period of
redemocratization and involving a business deal between a private citizen and a
constitutional government, the ideological context is difficult to avoid. And as I have
insisted, the title itself provides an opening to a specifically allegorical
interpretation based on the Everyman generalization of the indefinite /unspecific pronoun.

Thiago’s film is particularly noteworthy because of the presence of Dean Stockwell (his
voice is dubbed by Odilon Wagner). In the first place, Stockwell has worked in a number of
U.S. films well known to Latin American movie connoisseurs, such as David Lynch’s Blue
Velvet (1986). The fact that he is not just another inconsequential actor demands that
some ideological importance

be attached to his presence in this film. U.S. films have long used foreign actors to
provide a dimension of exoticism, and the use of Stockwell (as well as the sound
processing, done in the United States by Dolbysound has traditionally been notoriously
problematical for Brazilian and other Latin American filmmaking) may well have been
Thiago’s gesture in this direction.

Whatever the basis of Thiago’s use of Stockwell is, his presence opens up another
useful line of inquiry in an ideological interpretation of the film: the way in which the
foreign actor adds a marked difference to the construction of the character he represents.
Mário is as Brazilian as Jorge. However, he belongs to a different social domain, first
by virtue of his having become the ownerboss and second by having become a sonofabitch
against whom Jorge’s masculine authenticity defines itself. Since Stockwell is not
Brazilian, he neither looks Brazilian nor, more importantly, handles his body as a
Brazilian does. This does not mean that Stockwell is incapable of communicating with his
body. It only means that the way in which he handles his body is that of an American man
and actor. Thiago seems not to have been interested in getting Stockwell to look and act
Brazilian (except for having his voice dubbed by a native speaker of Brazilian
Portuguese); I would like to assume that, as a director, Thiago was conscious of what the
advantages of Stockwell’s not being Brazilian could be for the parameters of meaning in
the film.

Stockwell’s subliminal difference (of course, most spectators would be aware of the
fact that a nonBrazilian is playing the role) adds a dimension of sinister otherness to
Mário’s character. In this way, he does not have to play Mário as sinister, which would
have given the film a superficial quality. All he has to do is play Mário as a rather
indifferent boss who knows he can count on Jorge’s loyalty. The difference in body between
the two men—Ricelli is muscular, while Stockwell is sinewy—and the difference in
body language—Ricelli’s controlled extroversion vs. Stockwell’s detached, at times
almost vacant, inwardness—is enough to establish a significant distance between their
two characters that turns out to be charged with significance when we discover that Jorge
has been duped by Mário. Moreover, at the conclusion of the film, when the two men cross
in the street in front of Mário’s house, the masculine dignity of Jorge contrasts with
the well-dressed insignificance of Mário: the spectator is supposed to have no reason for
investing any sympathy in the latter.

It is a more open question whether Stockwell’s presence in the film has another
subliminal dimension to it: that of the U.S.A. vs. Brazil. A recurrent theme during the
resistance to twenty years of neofascist dictatorship in Brazil was the supporting hand of
the United States and its avowed opposition to the spread of communism in Brazil. After
the return to constitutional institutionalism in 1985, and especially with the
neoliberalist project of recent years, the ground has shifted to U.S. economic interests
and the restructuring of Brazil’s national economy to support and defend them. This
defense has enormous implications, since neoliberalism in Latin America is designed
principally to provide some recovery of the internal debt; constitutional continuity is
important only to the extent that it favors that recovery by providing a context more
propitious for widespread economic penetration than the military dictatorships proved to
be. The fact that Mário is the devious boss, willing to exploit a past comradeship, even
if it means putting his lead trucker in considerable danger from natural elements and
police authority, cannot be overlooked, and his otherness in the work is fundamentally
based on the fact that he is an American actor.

The hypermasculinity of Thiago’s Jorge, grounded as it is in a complex code of
heterosexist hegemony, which includes male supremacy and female marginalization and
dependency, ends up lending this film an overbearing allegorical quality. It provides a
strident model for something like a Brazilian New Man during the early years of the
dictatorship. Significantly, that New Man will not overcome in any facile, and therefore
inconsequential, way the forces of oppression that exist in any society that has had a
long period of military dictatorship, with the social, political, and economic devastation
that such a circumstance brings. The important point of Jorge um Brasileiro that is
made via the codes of masculinity Ricelli articulates is a measure of male social
agency, such that, without police consequences, Jorge may, as the Johnny Paycheck song
goes, tell Mário to "take this job and shove it."

The world of truck drivers in Brazil is an exclusively masculine one, and the
homosocial bonding that exists between these knights of the highway gives them a strength
of presence that they cannot have as individuals. Brazil travels by highway, and most of
the goods of the country move by longdistance supertrucks, which also endows the men with
a specific social signification. As one of the characters says at one point: "Estrada
é coisa para homem" (The highway is for men). Thiago’s film is valuable for the
modeling of social agency for the working man after two decades in which such
agency existed solely for those allied with military power. But this is so only if one can
look beyond the antifeminism inherent in the homosociality of the trucker reality
depicted, something that is even more evident in França’s novel, which is narrated in the
first person. Such a narrative positioning serves to focus on the male protagonist, his
seduction of Mirlos wife, and his hypermasculinity, which almost threatens at times to
become a caricature of itself.

Excerpted from Gender and Society in Contemporary Brazilian Cinema by
David William Foster, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1999, 169 pp

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