To misquote a phrase: “if you want to truly know a country, look at its memes”.
Brazil, which has the fourth highest number of internet users in the world, has carved out a weird, insular and largely non-Anglophone corner of the world wide web thanks to an unstoppable barrage of Brazilian memes. These endlessly mutating creations range from the satirical to the nonsensical, poking fun at Brazilian culture while simultaneously taking pride in it. And sometimes, against all odds, they go global…
1. Inês Brasil storms the Grammys
Brazilian meme merchants first showed the world what they were capable of in late 2015, ahead of the 58th Annual Grammy Awards. Inês Brasil was already well known nationally for her viral, highly meme-able Big Brother audition tape. And when the Grammys launched a contest asking music fans to get involved in the nomination process, the Brazilian meme machine made a mockery of the system by propelling Ines to the top of the rankings. The votes were ultimately rescinded by Grammy officials, but Ines had the last laugh when Netflix Brasil included her in a promotional video for the new series of “Orange is the New Black” – one more meme in a career built on them.
2. “Nazaré Confusa”
Perhaps the most recognizable “Made in Brazil” meme comes from a Globo soap opera, “Senhora do Destino”, which aired in 2004. Initially shot as part of a flashback by villainess Nazaré Tedesco, played by Renata Sorrah, the short clip became an internet shorthand for confusion, especially after the addition of “Rain Man”-style mathematical equations. The meme was co-opted for the 2016 US presidential election, among other things, leading to some complaints among the Brazilian online community that the rest of the world was stealing their memes.
3. Meme World War I (2016 – 2016)
That was nothing compared to the uproar that led to the “Primeira Guerra Memeal”, or “Meme World War I”, between Brazil and Portugal in 2016. Brazilians accused their Portuguese brethren of seizing the memes of production, by ripping off the popular “In Brazilian Portuguese You Don’t Say” format. This led to a hilarious escalation of hostilities, with each nation trying to one-up the other: Brazilians claimed that Carreta Furacão and the Rio Carnaval were better than anything Portugal had to offer, while Portugal went nuclear by claiming that Cristiano Ronaldo was a better footballer than any Brazilian. Recruits from Argentina and Spain were also enlisted in the World War, which wrapped up with no clear winner later that year.
4. Cuca the Drag-Queen Crocodile
A rubber crocodile in a blonde wig seems like a strange candidate for an international gay icon, but that’s exactly what 70’s TV icon Cuca became in 2017. Based on a folkloric boogieman who steals from (and sometimes eats) naughty children, Cuca inspired countless brazilian memes comparing the creature to Ru Paul contestants and equally unlikely LGBT hero The Babadook, thanks to its flamboyant nature and penchant for cross-dressing.
5. Gretchen and Katy
Maria Odete Brito de Miranda, a.k.a Gretchen, started her career as a singer and dancer in the ´70s and ´80s, and has dabbled in reality TV, softcore pornography and even a short-lived mayoral campaign. But she is probably best known for her late-career renaissance as a human “meme canvas”, which reached it peak when Katy Perry made her the star of her “Swish Swish” music video, in an attempt to jump on the meme bandwagon. Gretchen has gone from strength to strength online ever since – Perry has gone on the record stating that “she is the internet” – and no one can really explain why. Like all good Brazilian meme culture, it’s baffling and kind of inspiring in equal measure.