Last week the cover of Folha's culture magazine used an image that evoked the nakedness of Brazil's new secretary of Culture, Mario Frias. The cover was entitled, "The New Man of the President."
When I saw the cover that morning, I thought it would spark reactions, but nowhere near the flood of criticism that followed.
"In the middle of the LGBT Pride Month, a newspaper that printed a gay kiss on its front page has not published a homophobic pun on the cover of the main culture magazine in the country? By using an old photo with a person without clothes? It doesn't work? Very sad," said a reader.
According to another, "laughing at an insinuation like this makes us worse people. The newspaper should not put itself in the position of those who use supposed immorality to criticize what is wrong for other reasons."
On Twitter, many comments, mostly disapproving: "Folha is one of the biggest shames in Brazilian journalism," said one; "With government supporters, you can, right? There is no homophobia," said another.
Overall, the cover was seen as homophobic and moralistic. Culture, many said, deserved more care amid so much neglect.
The article covers Bolsonaro's history of disrespect for the area and Mario Frias' lack of experience. Aligned with the Bolsonarist discourse, the ex-heartthrob took charge of an agency best known for its members' antics. They have been accused of censorship, have apologized for Nazism and excesses on TV.
The text, however, was overshadowed by title and image, which were seen as a combination seen as prejudiced and sensationalist.
Is that what this is about?
The use of sexuality to delegitimize the other is nothing new.
It would be silly to link Frias's supposed unpreparedness to his sensual essay, a suggestion that would cover up the real problem, not the lack of clothes. Still, the lack of qualifications to hold the position.
"It reminds me of the moralistic criticisms of Frota [Alexandre Frota, a former porn actor and now a deputy for the PSDB]. Of all, perhaps what I most respected about him was the work of a porn actor," said a reader.
But the cover makes room for other interpretations.
I don't think it hints at a possible "affair" between Bolsonaro and his new man or disqualifies and ridicule homosexuals.
"It is not making fun of gays, but of a homophobic man's government, a man who says he is conservative and technical. He only exposes hypocrisy. This is called debauchery. Homophobia is what Bolsonaro has been practicing for 30 years," said a reader.
The reader is pointing out that the title and image use irony and debauchery to explain contradictions.
The scorn would thus function as a substitute for rational argument, banned by a government that dehumanizes part of society, openly defending that minorities (real or imagined) should double to the majority.
When asked, the editor of Ilustrada, Silas Martí, says that the image reflects the phase in which Mario Frias' career as an actor was at its peak. On the other hand, the title refers to the constant analogies with courtship, engagement, and marriage that the president himself usually makes about the occupants of key government positions.
"It is ironic that a government based on the conservatism of customs, especially in the area of culture, made this choice. And there is humor and irony on the cover of the Illustrated. The choice follows the tradition of the notebook, who always looked at culture with a caustic air and irreverence anchored in the critical and rigorous journalism that made Folha what it is today ", says Martí.
The repercussion shows that nothing on the cover is evident, as the editor says, but the irony is there. In its Writing Manual, Folha advises against the use of irony in columns and articles, warning that there will always be those who take it literally.
With the cover, the newspaper decided to take the risk, collected many clicks, and guided a necessary debate: how newspapers approach the LGBTQI + community.
The Bolsonaro government takes a stand against gender-based perspectives and has elected only the traditional family as legitimate. Therefore, it is an excellent exercise to imagine how conservatives see themselves on a newspaper cover, embodied in one of their representative heroes, the world they want to get rid of.
The disapproval of the cover, especially by the LGBTQI + community, deserves attention. But perhaps it is in this ambivalence of readings that the power of the material is found.
In a comment sent to Folha's Reader Panel, writer Milly Lacombe disapproved of the page ("LGBTphobic and moralistic"), but conceded: "I think it will yield good debates and bring important reflections to light."
Reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. Sha has been the ombudsman at Folha since May 2019.
Translated by Kiratiana Freelon