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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