“I Am a Cheap Imitator of Paulo Francis”: In Search of the Sun Records Mainardi

Mainardi defines freedom of expression with a tautology.

O Brasil sempre foi a casa da mãe Joana de elites sub-reptícias que fazem o que querem. (Brazil has always been a backwater whose backstabbing elites do whatever they please) — Paulo Francis.

Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy: I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy. —Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle, vice-presidential debates, 1988

In The Clown, Dodo Delwyn (Skelton) is a washed-up vaudeville comedian. He had once been a great star for Florence Ziegfeld, but was now given to blowing what little he earns on booze and crap games. His eight-year-old son Dink (Tim Considine) has not given up on him, however. Dink prevails on “Uncle Goldie” (Loring Smith), Dodo’s agent from his glory days, to help out with money and minor bookings … — Turner Classic Movies, on Red Skelton

Writing in VEJA magazine (Brazil), columnist Diogo Mainardi perpetuates the myth of his martyrdom to the cause of “freedom of expression.” He invokes the sainted memory of journalist Paulo Francis as a martyr to the same.

This “myth of Mainardian martyrdom” kind of reminds me of a young Bob Dylan traveling to the death bed of Woody Guthrie, and coming away surrounded by the buzz — it is still debated today whether young Zimmerman himself ever promoted this claim — that Woody had declared Dylan his spiritual heir.

The form of freedom of expression which Veja champions can be fairly described as an answer to that famous rhetorical question posed by The Beatles:

Why don’t we do it in the road?
Why don’t we do it in the road?
Why don’t we do it in the road?
Why don’t we do it in the road?
No one will be watching us
Why don’t we do it in the road?

The Veja answer: No reason at all.

The element of surrealistic wit in that lyric, of course, is the improbable premise used to defend the action proposed:

“If we do it in the road, no one will watch us.”

Veja‘s doing it in the road is extremely visible. Have they really convinced themselves that no one is watching them?

The premise implies what is almost an Aristotelian category mistake between the public and the private spheres. The notion that the Pleasure Principle trumps the Reality Principle — narcissistic self-indulgence trumps, or ought to trump, civic responsibility. Common courtesy is a Communist plot.

It is our God-given right to do it in the road.

If our neighbors get up a petition gently urging us to “get a room, you two,” as the saying goes, our neighbors can go fuck themselves. They are Stalinists! The general philosophical outlook of your standard-issue two-year-old, in other words. The libertarian as Sadean (sadistic) libertine. Ecce Veja.

On Mainardian martyrdom narratives — which owe quite a bit to The People vs. Larry Flynt as well — see also

Mainardi writes:

“Como se sabe, eu sou o imitador barato de Paulo Francis. O que nele era tragédia, comigo se transformou em farsa. A grande vantagem de pertencer a um universo farsesco é que, ao contrário de Paulo Francis, não há a menor possibilidade de que eu morra por causa dos meus processos”

“As is known, I am a cheap imitator of Paulo Francis. What was a tragedy with him, with me has been transformed into farce. The great advantage of inhabiting a farcical universe is that, unlike Paulo Francis, there is not the least possibility of my dying because of the lawsuits against me.”

The rest of that self-canonizing, self-dramatizing comparison is translated in the program notes to my

NMM(-TV)SNB(B)CNN(P)BS: TV Party With Mainardi!

Wikipedia on the martyrdom of Paulo Francis:

In early 1997, on a cable TV program called Manhattan Connection, Franciso proposed privatizing Petrobras and accused the directors of the state-owned firm of having $50 million in a Swiss bank account — for which accusation he was sued in an U.S. court after Petrobras alleged that his program was transmitted in the USA to subscribers of Brazilian channels on cable TV.

In May 2006, Mainardi and his colleagues at Veja ran a package in which they published a dossier purporting to show that senior government officials had bank accounts in Switzerland and the Caymans.

(If you Brazilians need a witness to testify to the fact that Brazilian journalism leaks through to and invades the consciousness of Anglophone readers, to support a similar theory in this case, I am available.)

Though the magazine was careful to report that, after exhaustive due diligence, it could not vouch for either the truth or untruth of this “dossier,” Mainardi’s interview with Daniel Dantas was marketed with the claim that, more or less in these words, “This man could bring down the government if he told what he knows.”


Mainardi has since repeated those claims, loudly. On television. While plugging a book that repeats those claims.


Mainardi on the Jô Xô — “the Brazilian Letterman” — 2007.

As the Instituto Gutenberg commented on the Francis case at the time (1997):

Morto, fãs e amigos canonizaram-no como um mártir e envileceram “a Petrobrás” como coveira da liberdade de imprensa. No entanto, tão sagrado quanto a liberdade de expressão é o direito do cidadão de processar quem, no seu entendimento, o caluniou. É intolerável que jornalistas digam cobras e lagartos de alguém e, acossados por um processo, façam-se de vítimas. Só há dois caminhos dignos para quem é acusado de caluniar: a prova ou a retratação. Pena que Francis não tenha vivido para fazer uma coisa ou a outra.

With Francis dead, his friends canonized him as a martyr and vilified “Petrobras” as the undertaker of freedom of the press. However, just as sacred as freedom of expression is the right of a citizen to sue someone who, in his view, has slandered him. It is intolerable for journalists to [repeat scandalous charges] against someone and then, hit with a lawsuit, to play the victim. There are only two proper recourses for someone accused of slander: Either prove the charge or retract the statement. It is too bad Francis did not live long enough to do either.

I have already revolved this whole public case and controversy through my brain cells plenty, like some sort of Rubik’s cube. (I could never quite finish that one off, could you? I tested relatively poorly on “spatial relations” as a kid.)

But I find that there is just one more debating point I wanted to put on the record, with at least one exhibit to document it.

And that is, RESOLVED: the story of Paulo Francis really is a tragedy.

A tragedy not unlike that of the sad decline of British literary journalist Christopher Hitchens, really — reduced these days to pumping out very much the same sort of cheap, tawdry, Murdochian, Fleet Street polemics for the sake of polemic. The same sort of pornography of empty controversy and scandal, stripped of its moorings in the “reality-based community.”

Consider the Paulo Francis essay “Liberal Illusions,” from a collection published by the Paz e Terra publishing house (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) in 1990, and dedicated to the great Veja humorist Millôr Fernandes, who once observed, for example:

“The liar has an enormous advantage; while the rest of us know only what we know, he knows a great deal more than that.”

I have a copy autographed by the author, bearing the ex libris of a deceased member of the Order of Brazilian Attorneys.

The title, roughly translated, is The Certainties of Doubt.

In the essay, Paulo Francis rises to oppose the prevailing interpretation of John Houseman’s film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. I will translate roughly and draft-quality as always from the printed page, just to give you an idea:

It is strange that a critic as perspicacious as Eric Bentley would find Houseman and Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar “apolitical.” I myself, deeply influenced by Bentley at the time (1954), accepted this verdict until I saw the film again many years later Julius Caesar now seems to me like a critique of McCarthyism, though a veiled, timid and ambiguous one. …

The Brutus of Houseman & Mankiewicz equals Adlai Stevenson, the lily-white liberal, incorruptible and incapable of not telling the truth to popular masses who are incapable of understanding him. In the middle of the McCarthy period, Stevenson observed that the professional anti-Communism of the Republican Party was merely a pretext for perpetuating the nation’s war economy and obstructing, by keeping the nation in a state of readiness for war, the progress of social reforms initiated by Roosevelt’s New Deal and Truman’s Fair Deal. In the same way, Brutus defends the assassination of Caesar on ethical and libertarian grounds. The Roman people listen respectfully, but without understanding the practical import of the abstractions offered by the orator — like Stevenson, a declared intellectual who, besides “using big words” also told jokes at his own expense (all of them highly recondite and somewhat masochistic).

This is no way to galvanize the “sleepwalkers” that Hitler defined as the ideal followers.

Enter Mark Anthony, a mixture of Nixon, with his radically unscrupulous cynicism, and Joe McCarthy, in terms of his ability to see what the masses want: Someone to love and hate, unconditionally, without nuances, doubts, speculations or uncertainties: That Manichaeanism that is the subterranean philosophy of the human race. The touch of genius in Marc Anthony and Nixon and McCarthy is that they seem “just like us,” “nice guys,” “ordinary fellows.” Shakespeare knew his audience, and audiences for centuries to come. Brutus does not disguise his condition as an erudite patrician. He can only managed to communicate “from the top down.” Marc Antony makes his listeners feel that it is they who are deducing the greatness and generosity of Caesar and the unworthiness and ingratitude of Brutus. He plays and wins with marked cards.

I actually shared a conference panel once — at an obscure philological society — with a professor of rhetoric who contested, or at least contributed some valuable complications and refinements to, this interpretation of the scene, by pointing out the dazzling technical mastery of Marc Antony’s speech, in rhetorical terms.

The opening line, for example:

Friends, Romans, countrymen: Lend me your ears.

A one syllable word. A two-syllable word. A three-syllable word. A four-syllable phrase.





Like the rhythm of a gavel pounding, or the banging of a Buddhist gong, the device is a highly effective attention-getter, and the use of such rhythmic devices borrowed from lyric poetry is discussed at length in the classical manuals — your Quintillian and the like.

The artlessness of Marc Antony’s oration is, that is, highly artificial.

It is practically a miniature textbook of rhetorical technique — a classical curriculum that had come into fashion in the generations preceding Shakespeare, with the advent of the humanist revival and a fad involving unreadable, hermetic over-the-top literary euphuism.

But that is all egg-headed stuff, of course.

Which most people will tend to tune out in favor of

In any event, this classic Francis is an original, audacious and intelligent reading, amply justified with reference to the text and the screenplay, and copiously citing the critical prior art on the topic at hand.

It is a critical reading, you might even try to argue, that prefigures the tragedy of Francis himself.

A man of great erudition reduced by circumstances to making his living doing a sideshow geek act on Manhattan Connection, in the seat now occupied by the sideshow geek Mainardi.

Like a great concert violinist reduced to playing fiddle in the jug band on Hee Haw! for $20 a week, or Krusty the Klown reduced to playing kiddie birthday parties and bar mitzvahs.

I happen to like jug bands myself, and the country fiddle, too — the Brazilian equivalent is the rabeca. We tune in regularly to the Grand Ole Opry-like Viola Minha Viola here in Brazil.

But you do not need four years at Julliard to learn how to play “The Tennessee Waltz” behind Hank Williams. You can pick it up on the back porch from Uncle Jed Clampett.

My point being, RESOLVED: if Mainardi — a man who also cracks masochistic jokes at his own expense (“a cheap imitation of Paulo Francis”) — wants us to believe that his career represents the tragic decline of Paulo Francis, “repeated as farce,” he has to offer us proof of his decline.

Americans were recently asked to vote on which iconic Elvis they would like to see commemorated on a postage stamp:

  1. The old, tired, Las Vegas Elvis — in his rhinestone jumpsuit with the outsized collar, straight out of the ecclesiastical fashion show that concludes Fellini’s Roma; or
  2. the young, fresh Sun Records Elvis, hanging out with Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, whose “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” half a century later, still gives you the shivers.

Americans voted for the Sun Records Elvis.

The image “https://i1.wp.com/www.epluri.com/TSA/AMHall/Elvis%20Stamp.JPG” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Elvis, before checking into the Heartbreak Hotel

There was a fairly significant rally behind the “old, fat” Elvis, I recall, on account of his gospel recordings of the early 1970s. Which really do have a lot of the old fire and fervor.

But in the end, it was Elvis fresh from the Tupelo, Mississipi sertões — with a way of caterwauling Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” that genuinely shocked the hell out of all and sundry — that we preferred to remember.

Friends here say much the same thing about Paulo Francis.

When I commented a year or so ago on footage I had seen of the man on Globo and Manhattan Connection, our friend Rosalia — career bank manager and lead singer in the city’s first all-grrrl punk bank once upon a time — gave me this book of essays, saying, “Yes, but the sad thing is that the guy was absolutely brilliant once upon a time.”

There is a solid case to be made that he was.

So here is a concrete research question for students of contemporary literary journalism:

Was there ever a Sun Records Mainardi to match the Sun Records Paulo Francis?

Where did this man come from, anyway?

Can I have a copy of his resumé?

Who gave him his start in business?

Has he published a collection of his juvenilia yet?

Did he start out as the graveyard-shift police reporter at the Oipoque Coupon Clipper and Cockfighting Gazette, demonstrating a brilliance even then that foreshadowed bigger and better things?

Critical project: an annotated and complete Mainardi bibliography — a Mainardian version of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria.

This is a fairly easy DYI project to do this back home in Brooklyn, given the read availability of deep historical archives of American journalism at any decent public library.

There are some 117,378 public libraries in the good old USofA, according to ALA estimates, or one for every, say — back of the envelope estimate — 2,500 inhabitants.

A project to list all the public libraries in Brazil on Wikipedia has identified about 30 so far.

Journalistic reports estimate there about 4,000 in all, nationally, or one for, say, very roughly, every 50,000 Brazilians. Which means that information is about 20x more freely and readily available to us gringos that it is to the average Tupi.

That might well have been the real tragedy of Paulo Francis — writing extremely well in a language that has few readers, and few mechanisms for reaching the few readers that do exist — or for creating new ones.

A literary marketplace dominated by the Abril-Globo cartel. Which are, in the main, purveyors of massive, mind-bending, stultifying nonsense on a massive scale.

And here’s a practical, hard-nosed corollary for Mainardi’s literary agent to consider: How many literary and journalistic careers successfully negotiate the opposite trajectory, from tabloid trash to respectability and the recognition of one’s peers?

There are numerous sad cases of careers that follow the opposite trajectory, but how many San Fernando Valley porn stars, for example, make the transition to Hollywood?

What has Traci Lords been in lately?

See also


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