The carnival of 2021 of Rio de Janeiro was unprecedently cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the city administration knew it would have to enforce the decision and convince residents to avoid celebrating despite the restrictions. Importantly, officials had the support of the samba schools and the blocos of street carnival, and the blocos organized a manifesto and campaign declaring that in 2021 carnival would be “at home.” While many scholars have shown how street music can mobilize revelers, this article shows that the blocos of Rio’s street carnival also have the capacity to demobilize them. Their campaign drew on familiar carnivalesque and Brazilian tropes to rationalize a biopolitical message of civic responsibility, respect for life, and resistance to virus denialism. They played on long-standing Brazilian tropes of carnival as an ephemeral moment whose presence is fleeting and soon experienced as saudade, or nostalgia. I explore various manifestations of the campaign, including its manifestos and arguments, as well as some of the alternatives that were offered, such as virtual carnival performances and new carnival songs adapted to the situation. By inverting their traditional demands to occupy the streets and instead limiting festivity to domestic space, the blocos framed their plea not as a departure from carnival tradition, but as fundamentally carnivalesque. I argue that classic carnival theories are best understood as performative rather than an explanatory; that is, it is how carnival practitioners deploy the carnivalesque tropes of inversion as elements of a persuasive discourse that is my focus.
- Rio de Janeiro
- Festivity theory