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Cultural industry and corporatist soft power

As is common in Latin America, in Brazil there has often been an articulation of cultural industry and government via corporatism. Corporatism includes both ways of representing people and groups upwards to the state, and ways of expressing state control downwards, either directly or through propaganda and persuasion. In terms of how people and interests are represented within and to the state, Schmitter says,‘I have found it useful to consider corporatism as a system of interest and/or attitude representation, a particular modal or ideal-typical institutional arrangement for linking the associations and organized interests of civil society with the decisional structures of the state’ (Schmitter, 1974).

Corporatism in Latin America is often seen as inheriting Italian and Iberian tendencies toward patrimonial, hierarchical politics and economy in which society is divided into major organizations by activity (Malloy, 1976).These are frequently private, like regional groupings of corporations, or powerful individual corporations, such as television networks. They can also be independent powers, for example the Catholic Church, which often found this mode of organization sympathetic, since the state recognized and worked with the Church as a major power in society (Wiarda, 1978). Sometimes they are chartered, organized and controlled by the state, like the official unions, or syndicates, developed after the model of Italian fascism in several Latin American countries, including Brazil.

In the 1930s, corporatism was particularly dominant, as strongmen in several countries, like Juan Peron in Argentina and Vargas in Brazil, looked for alternatives to formal democracy and Western competitive capitalism, admiring the ways that fascist societies in southern Europe (Italy, Portugal and Spain) in particular organized labour and capital in harmony with authoritarian politics. In some ways this was a renewed wave of post-colonial influence from Portugal and Spain, which had lost much of their economic and political influence in Latin America to Britain and the United States, and most of the cultural and intellectual influence to France and the US. Wiarda found it useful to distinguish ‘between “natural corporatism” as a powerful historical, political-cultural ingredient still shaping Iberic-Latin politics, and “corporatism” as a manifest ideology' of the interwar period, currently (then 1978) reviving, designed in part to harness rising labour movements’ (1978: 310).

Corporatist forms of connecting government to powerful social corporations can co-exist with democratic forms of governance, as a way of connecting powerful institutions, such as the Church, dominant companies, or major media, directly to central or regional governments, bypassing electoral politics. This can be seen as one systemic explanation for how media-state relations developed in a number of Latin American countries. Media in Latin America have tended to be privately owned, often by family economic empires sometimes based primarily in media and sometimes part of larger conglomerates with a variety of holdings (Sinclair, 1999). Starting in the 1930s, several Latin American leaders, such as Peron and Vargas saw the advantages of using radio, along with government-controlled labour unions, to mobilize the new working and middle classes to support their regimes (Haussen, 2005).

Vargas nationalized Radio Nacional in 1940, which became a powerful political mobilization arm for the state and also promoted and furthered a number of music and entertainment genres, including samba and radio novelas - the radio soap opera antecedent of telenovelas (McCann, 2004; Saroldi and Moreira, 2005). Some of these, like samba and telenovelas, became major aspects of Brazilian soft power abroad. Radio Nacional created an image of an enjoyable, populist Brazil via promotion of soccer and samba (Goldfeder, 1980). It helped mobilize both urban and semi-rural working classes to support Vargas, with Radio Nacional also an important industry, since the government, after taking it over, continued to run the radio broadcaster like a business, with an eye on both popularity and profitability. Vargas also established a Department of Press and Censorship, and created de facto partnerships with media magnates like Assis Chateaubriand (Simoes, 1986; Moraes, 1994).

Since the early days of television, Latin American states have tended to develop political and economic partnerships with one or two major television networks, such as Televisa’s very visible cooperation with the PRI party in Mexico (Fernandez and Paxman, 2001), giving them an advantage over competitors with sympathetic economic and regulatory treatment in return for favourable media coverage of government actions and policies. In this way, media can be seen as a new type of major societal corporation with strong potential power, one that needs to be harmonized with the interests of the state, for which corporatism provides a culturally-proximate solution in historical and cultural terms.

In Brazil, media corporatism returned forcefully with the military governments between 1964 and 1985. Even before the 1964 coup, the military had laid out a vision for Brazilian development that emphasized media, particularly television, as partners in creating or reinforcing an economy based on the promotion of consumer capitalism (Mattos, 2002). People in the industry were largely eager to participate, since that vision also appealed to them. For example, in the midst of the 1970s expansion of television, a major advertising executive gave a paper at the Brazilian War College, which functioned as a sort of military-civilian think tank for planning, in which he promoted television and advertising as key ways to enhance consumption and economic growth (Salles, 1975).

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