O Tempora, O Mores: The Moral Seriousness of a Globo Soap

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“Globo’s current prime time soap opera offers serious food for thought to corporate communicators.” Amara and Débora armam um barraco in a recent episode of Duas Caras, according to a caption to the scene published with a fotonovela version of the soap on Globo.com. Armar um barraco means “to set up a tent” but it is also a common euphemism for causing a man to have an erection. An erection of his penis — demotic PT-Br pinto, vara — that is, in case you were not familiar with the technical terminology there.

“… In truth, the soap opera depicts the international fashion for pole-dancing … Such themes [current fashions, inserted into works of fiction] are inevitable if one is to depict contemporary society, with the proviso, of course, that they be treated ethically and seriously, exactly as TV GLOBO is doing in its soap opera DUAS CARAS.”

According to the IABC report The Business of Truth: A Guide to Ethical Communication [$425 for non-members], nearly two-thirds of companies polled had no education or training on ethical issues and matters for their employees. The majority of the communications professional surveyed were in full agreement that ethical considerations were crucial to the executive decision making process, and that PR relations and communication professionals have a duty to advise senior management on ethical issues. But then there was also a significant disconnect between theory and practice: 65% of those surveyed received no formal ethics training whatsoever from their employers –PR News, December 29, 2007

Item: Você seria o comunicador de Ferraço?

Would you work as a flack for Globo soap-opera villain Marconi Ferraço? asks our corporate communications ethics consultant and trainer, who is eager to pick up the slack in the growing market for such training.

In a funny way, our corporate comunications consultant — he directs Hermes Comunicação Estratégica — and columnist Francisco Viana of Terra Magazine (Brazil) is doing just that here.

In what funny way?

By trying, with a straight face, to get me to believe in the moral seriousness of this epoch-making low in world trash TV.

On which see also

Globo has also made a concerted attempt to defend the program from humorless ratings bureaucrats by pointing to its moral seriousness.

Its arguments in this vein are insulting to the intelligence of lobotomized lab rats, much less to that of a minimally reflective naked ape.

File under our growing file on the “life imitates trash TV” topos, and open a new candidate maxim: Beware of consultants who endorse the Harvard case study method and then use Globo soap opera plots to build their casebook.

Viana worked as a Globo reporter from 1974-1981 before moving over to business consulting.

A cena se passa na festa de comemoração do 10.º aniversário da maior construtora do Rio de Janeiro, a 4.ª do país. Os convidados, todos elegantemente trajados, aplaudem com entusiasmo o presidente da construtora que anuncia uma trajetória de êxitos e, com ênfase à expansão – uma fábrica de cimento ao lado de uma favela !!! – e à harmonia entre a conquista do lucro e a ética, responsabilidade, honestidade. De repente, uma voz se ergue e grita:

The scene takes place at the tenth anniversary celebration of the biggest construction firm in Rio de Janeiro, the fourth largest in Brazil. The elegantly-dressed guests applaud the company’s president as he announces the firm’s successes and growth plans — a cement factory built alongside a shantytown– and the balance it strikes between profit and ethics, responsibility, honesty. Sudden a voice is raised, shouting:

– É mentira. É mentira… – Dedo em riste, a voz, uma jovem elegante e bela, avança resoluta e vai desfiando acusações de absoluta gravidade. O presidente da construtora não passa de um ladrão: roubou, há dez anos, todo o dinheiro que tinha, usa nome falso… É o caos. A denúncia explode como uma bomba. Seguranças são chamados, a jovem é retirada à força. O empresário, sem que os convidados percebam, ordena que a sua acusadora seja morta. E se mantém impassível. Aos convidados apresenta uma explicação simples e muito comum: a jovem é louca. E ele estaria sendo alvo de conspirações por parte de concorrentes.

“It’s a lie! A lie!” Finger held high, the owner of the voice, a lovely, elegant young woman, advances with determination and continues to make deadly serious accusations. The president of the construction firm is a common thief: Ten years ago, he stole all her money, he uses a false identity. Chaos ensues. The charges explode like a bomb. Security is called, the woman is forcibly removed. The businessman, without his guests noticing, orders his accuser killed. And maintains his poker face. To his guests, he offers a simple and very common explanation: The young woman is mentally disturbed. And he may be the target of conspiracy against him by his competitors.

A cerimônia prossegue num ambiente de tensão e dúvida. Seriam as acusações verdadeiras? Estaria o passado e seus fantasmas cobrando a fatura de crimes inconfessáveis?

The ceremony continues in a climate of tension and doubt. Could the accusations be true? Has the past and its closeted skeletons returned to collect a debt incurred by unspeakable crimes?

A cena é uma ficção. Faz parte de um dos últimos capítulos da novela Duas Caras, de Agnaldo Silva, mas serve de metáfora para o caráter das crises que podem levar corporações à mídia. Pergunta: você, como comunicador, aceitaria gerir a crise em que se envolveu o personagem em questão, o milionário empresário Ferraço, da novela?

The scene is fictional, from one of the latest installment of Agnaldo Silva’s soap opera Two Faces (Two Guys), but it serves as a metaphor for the kinds of crises that can land corporations in the media. A question, then: Would you, as a PR professional, accept the task of managing a crisis involving the soap opera character, Marconi Ferraço?

Numa situação dessas a resposta deveria ser um rotundo não, salvo numa circunstância. Qual? Se Ferraço reunisse a mídia com os seguintes objetivos:

In a situation like this, your answer should be a resounding no, except under one condition. What condition? Not unless Ferraço calls a press conference for one of the following purposes:

1. Confessar que, de fato, roubou a sua acusadora e, publicamente, a indenizasse;

To confess that he did, in fact, steal from is accuser, and to publicly repay her.

2. Confessasse que mandou assassinar a sua acusadora, o que acabou não acontecendo, por mero acaso.

2. He must also confess he ordered his accuser killed, a murder that did not take place by mere chance.

3. Se entregasse imediatamente às autoridades.

3. He must turn himself in to the authorities immediately.

Upon hearing which suggestion the evil Marconi simply orders you taken out and sent to sleep with the fishes as well.

Se cumprido esse rito de verdade, o comunicador poderia trabalhar em conjunto com o advogado de defesa, mas sempre com um cuidado: no contrato de trabalho deveria constar uma cláusula exigindo total transparência por parte do cliente. Ou seja, se o comunicador fosse induzido a divulgar qualquer fato que, posteriormente, se revelasse falso, o contrato estaria imediatamente suspenso e seus honorários garantidos.

If this ritual of truth-telling is fulfilled, the [flack] may work with the defense attorney, but always taking one precaution: The contract must contain a clause demanding total transparency from the client. That is, if the flack is induced into publicizing any facts that are later proven false, the contract will immediately be terminated and the fees paid in full.

O case sugerido pela novela é muito rico. As crises não nascem por geração espontânea. Elas são criação de sucessões de erros que vão se entrelaçando uns aos outros e que acabam por se tornar parte do cotidiano como se fossem acertos. Isto porque, em última análise, as crises fazem parte de uma cultura de transgressão. São emblemas de uma violência cotidiana e que, como um vírus, tende a contaminar os negócios quando as palavras deixam de ter correspondência com a realidade e se transformam em meros emblemas despojados de significado.

The case suggested by the soap opera is extremely rich.

No, it isn’t.

Marconi Ferraço is a cookie-cutter comic-book supervillain leading a double life — and is not even an especially interesting example of that fictional genre.

The Marconi “secret identity” plot is not much less contrived than — or nearly as interesting as — this one, from Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis (DC Comics):

The secret identity is supposed to keep a hero’s loved ones safe from retaliation — but what happens when it fails? And what would you do to keep it from happening again? Those are the questions at the core of Identity Crisis, in which the death of just such a loved one — Sue Dibny, the wife of pliable detective Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man — serves as the event that brings to light a horrible secret shared by a handful of superheroes: Years ago, the villain Dr. Light found his way to the satellite headquarters of the Justice League of America, empty except for Sue Dibny, whom he proceeded to rape. When the group of heroes (Green Arrow, Hawkman, Black Canary, Zatanna and the Atom) returned and stumbled upon Light, the magician Zatanna erased his memory of the event (and, it’s implied, subtly altering his personality in the process).

Crises do not arise by spontaneous generation. They are the product of a serious errors that are woven together until they come part of the fabric of daily life. This is because, in the final analysis, crises are part of a culture of transgression. They are symbols of the banality of violence and tend, like a virus, to contaminate business, whenever words lose their connection with reality and become mere emblems, stripped of meaning.

Yada yada yada.

Isto explica porque as crises de comunicação se tornam mais e mais freqüentes. Assim como o direito prevê que todos têm o sagrado direito de defesa, todos poderiam também dispor de um comunicador para defendê-lo junto à opinião pública. Essa é a teoria, a prática é outra. Em gestão de crise, o primeiro cuidado a seguir é definir estrategicamente o que não deve ser feito, em hipótese alguma, por dinheiro algum. O quê?

This explains why crises of communication are becoming more and more frequent.

It does?

Just as law provides for the sacred right to a defense, everyone also has the right to hire a communicator to defend them in the court of public opinion. That is the theory, at any rate. In practice, it is otherwise. In crisis management, the first precaution to take is to define, strategically, what you will not do, in any circumstance, for any amount of amount. And what is that?

1. Mentir, manipular, ser cúmplice do Cliente;

1. Lie, manipulate, become an accomplice of the client;

2. Ferir a lei;

2. Break the law

3. Divulgar fatos que não sejam incontestáveis.

3. Make statements that are not unimpeachably well founded.

O caso da novela torna-se ainda mais complexo porque Ferraço teima em construir uma usina de asfalto ao lado de uma comunidade. Seria essa uma atitude ética? Responsável socialmente? Honesta? Isoladamente, esse caso da fábrica seria uma questão de ética e responsabilidade do comunicador. No conjunto, leia-se o roubo, a falsidade ideológica e a tentativa de assassinato, é sempre prudente manter-se distante de questões como a do Ferraço, mesmo se o crime for admitido publicamente.

The case presented by the soap opera is even more complicated because Ferraço dares to construct an asphalt factor alonside a residential community.

It is, I believe, a cement factory.

Is this an ethical attitude? Socially responsible? In itself, this matter of the factory should raise social and ethical questions for the communication as well.

Why? What is wrong with a cement factory, per se?

What if I have good environmental impact study that says my design is non-polluting and poses no public health risk, and I did not bribe the planning commission to get the zoning permit, while the residents, who will get good jobs, genuinely welcome it, after being properly consulted?

Given the whole set of circumstances — theft, self-misrepresentation and attempted murder — it is always best to keep one’s distance from situations like Ferraço’s, even if the crime is confessed publicly.

Before signing a contract to handle crisis communications for anyone, you should do a complete background check on them to make sure they are not leading a double life, like Batman.

É diferente do advogado. Há toda uma tradição que legitima o trabalho do advogado, seja qual for a situação, seja qual for o cenário. No caso do comunicador, não. Facilmente ele pode ser confundido com cúmplice do cliente. Pior, uma vez iniciado o trabalho a cumplicidade passará a ser uma exigência. Portanto, a mensagem chave é: bandido, não. Não se trata de um pré-julgamento, mas de uma decisão estratégica. Qual o perfil da crise que pode ser administrada ou não? É assim que começa a estratégia de gestão de crise. Com as escolhas.

It is a different with attorneys. There is an entire tradition legitimating the work of the attorney, no matter what the circumstances or scenario. Not true for [flacks.] The flack can easily be confused with an accomplice of the client.

That eagerly awaited memoir from former White House spokesman Scott McClellan — What Happened — seems to proceed on the same theory.

Furthermore, it has the advantage of being real life story, rather than a soap opera

The preview provided to Editor & Publisher offers this bombshell:

“The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

Wait for it. Wait for it.

“There was one problem. It was not true.

You know who I think would make an interesting, and topical, case study to illustrate the nuances of the issues addressed here? Whoever does the crisis communications for Sen. Renan Calheiros. I really thought, from a technical point of view, that the Sex Senator’s communications were handled very competently.

Em situações de dúvidas, sempre deve haver uma cláusula contratual assegurando que o compromisso está suspenso se constatado que os fatos passados como verdadeiros ao profissional de comunicação são falsos. E repito, suspensos, mas com a cobrança dos honorários. E isto é essencial porque o trabalho do comunicador é tão relevante quanto o do advogado.

When in doubt, there should always be a contractual clause breaking the contract if it found that statements represented as true to the professional were false. And I repeat, broken, with payment of fees. This is essential, because the work of a communicator is as important as that of an attorney.

Gestores de crises podem ser facilmente induzidos ao erro. Devem estar preparados, portanto, para tomar posições firmes se descobrirem que estão sendo enganados. Advogados tomam tais cuidados. E não devem ser cúmplices dos seus clientes. Na novela, o advogado de Ferraço torna-se cúmplice do vilão. É fácil saber o final. Não vai dar certo. Cedo ou tarde, a trama vai ser descoberta. Ferraço vai cair e, com ele, todos os seus cúmplices.

Crisis managers can easily be led into error. They should therefore be prepared to take firm stands if they discover they are being deceived. Attorneys already take such precautions. And they must never act as accomplices of their clients. In the soap opera, Ferraço’s attorney becomes an accomplice of the villain. It is easy to guess how it ends. Not well. Sooner or later, the plot will be discovered, Ferraço will fall, and his accomplices along with him.

In the utterly predictable fairy-tale moral economy of a soap opera, yes, probably.

In real life, however, sometimes vice goes unpunished while the virtuous get fed to the lions.

Leibniz tried to face this notorious fact about the shared life experience of naked apes in his Theodicy.

A crise é como uma explosão vulcânica. Provoca reações em cadeia. A opinião pública é um tribunal. Julga sem permitir recursos ou apelações, tendo como parâmetro central a verdade dos fatos. Comunicação de crise é um trabalho muito sério, que exige muito rigor. O único capital do comunicador é a sua credibilidade. Se ele perde a credibilidade, perde a reputação e, perdida a reputação, ele se torna uma caricatura do Otelo shakeasperiano que, desesperado, ensina: “Reputação, reputação, reputação é a única parte imortal do homem”.

A crisis is like a volcanic eruption. It causes chain reactions. Public opinion is like a court.

Serial mixed metaphor alert, with extra points deducted for implying that the hoary cliché “the court of public opinion” is something you just thought of yourself.

It judges without the right of appeal, based principally on the true facts. Crisis communication is serious work and demands great rigor. The crisis communicator’s only capital is his or her credibility. Once that is lost, one’s reputation is shot, and once that is gone, one becomes a caricature of Shakespeare’s Othello, who, in desperation, teaches us: …

Othello, the Moor of Venice, does not actually speak the lines now apparently cited either from (bad) memory or a (bad) translation.

Cassio. Reputation, reputation, reputation! O! I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!
Iago. As I am an honest man, I thought you had received some bodily wound; there is more offence in that than in reputation. Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving: you have lost no reputation at all, unless you repute yourself such a loser. — Shakespeare, Othello, the Moor of Venice Act II. Scene III, 225-226.

Iago is not an honest man, and his advice in insincere, and yet in an ironic way, he foreshadows the play’s anagnorisis. (I love that word.) In which The Moor issues a simple plea for accuracy and the New York Times v. Sullivan absense of malice test:

Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice: …

Now there is an interesting literary moment to look at from the point of view of reputation management.

Our communication consultant’s Shakespeare’s Othello is a caricature of Shakespeare’s Othello. That sort of thing can be bad for your reputation as a man of erudition. If anyone catches you at. If not: No sweat.

O drama do dias atuais – e nesse sentido o case da novela é emblemático – é que se substitui a ação concreta pelas palavras bem elaboradas, pela ficção das boas intenções e pelos compromissos de papel. Fala-se em responsabilidade social, ética e honestidade e pratica-se justamente o contrário. Esse é o verdadeiro drama que aflora da novela Duas Caras.

The drama of the current day — in this sense the case presented by the soap opera is emblematic — is that concrete actions are replaced by well-contructed words, by the fiction of good intentions and facile promises. Social responsibility, ethics and honesty are spoken of, but in practice things are otherwise. This is the real drama that flowers from the soap opera Two Faces.

No, the real moral element of the soap opera is that, if Débora promises her clients that she will show them her tits if they buy out her stock of cold beer, then she is duty-bound to fulfill her promise.

Which she does.

She shows them her tits.

A contract is a contract.

And remember: make sure you get your money up front.

Ferraço aparenta ser, mas não é. Ferraço é o simulacro. É uma usina de factóides. A contradição dos fatos acabará por destruí-lo. Basta seguir os próximos capítulos. Seja da novela ou de qualquer das crises que hoje ocupam espaços na mídia, pois o que não falta no Brasil de hoje são Ferraços. Para saber como chegarão ao ocaso, não é preciso ir muito longe: basta ver onde chegou o braço firme da justiça italiana no episódio da macabra Operação Condor. O nome dos Ferraços verde e amarelo estão nos jornais. A opinião pública certamente já os julgou. E o julgamento, como na novela, penetra nas camadas mais finas do dia-a-dia da existência: a vida familiar.

Ferraço seems to be, but he is not. He is a simulacrum. He is a factory of factoids, the contradictions of which will end up destroying him.

How do you know?

Did Aguinaldo shown you the script so you could promote the show more effectively?

Keep watching the next few chapters.

I would rather watch the washing machine go through the spin cycle, or the cat licking himself.

There is actually a second part to this exercise in claiming moral seriousness for Globo’s pornô xanxado-revival soap opera, this time by some psychoanalyst. (I find it hard to believe, but São Paulo is rife with practicing Lacanians. Practicing. Lacanians. As I say, I find that hard to believe.)

But life is too short for such nonsense.

I am actually planning to settle down with Ronaldo Vainfas’ A Heresia dos Indios (The Heresy of the Indians) and maybe see what is on Ensaio, on TV Cultura.

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