Contributions from Brazil

3 entries (click on the titles to navigate, or scroll down to read all three):

ZIKV, COVID, and quarantine: notes from a WhatsApp group

Author: Eliza Williamson, a cultural medical anthropologist researching reproductive health policy and childhood disability in Bahia, Brazil.

Fieldsite: Bahia, Brazil. This piece draws on my observations of a chat group on WhatsApp in which parents of children with Congenital Zika Virus Syndrome share information, resources, and mutual support.

I open WhatsApp and scroll through a chat group of parents—mostly mothers—of disabled children in Brazil. There’s an early morning prayer for strength to get through this “plague,” including a plea to stay at home and a reminder that “God is in command, always!” This is followed by a link to an article explaining how to get emergency assistance money from the federal government. Then a forwarded video clip of an Evangelical pastor preaching unity and faith in Jesus, which is met with several appreciative “amens” and the “praise hands” emoji. Someone posts the calendar of emergency government benefit payments in response to another group member’s request. One of the moms announces that she knows this group is not to be used for sales but that she’s selling Eudora makeup products and that other moms can send her a private message if interested. There appear several photos of children sitting next to colorfully wrapped chocolate Easter eggs, some with chocolatey grins—telltale signs of having enjoyed said egg.

This is a chat group I was added to with permission from the parents in 2016, when I began doing fieldwork with families impacted by the Zika virus epidemic in the northeastern state of Bahia. Since then I have checked in sporadically to see what’s going on, staying in touch especially with a handful of moms with whom I am closest. Most of the children are between 3 and 5 years of age, and they and their parents are majority Afro-Brazilian. Most families live in or around the city of Salvador, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia.

Since leaving “the field” and beginning a postdoc in the U.S., I’ve checked the group with decreasing frequency, tied up with teaching duties and pressure to get publications into the pipelines. But when the COVID-19 crisis began, I opened the chat group for the first time in a while. I was worried about how this pandemic would impact these families, the majority of whom live in periferias (low-income neighborhoods, more often called favelas elsewhere in Brazil), and many of whose children have immune system and respiratory issues that make them particularly vulnerable to infections like the novel coronavirus.

The messages I described above are mundane, but they reveal something about the lives of the group members. Most identify as Christians and many are Evangelical. A large number rely on government assistance programs to feed their families, and some supplement their income by reselling beauty products (or clothing, or other items) to friends and family. During quarantine for COVID-19, advised not to leave their homes to celebrate Easter with family and friends, they circulated pictures of their children enjoying the spoils instead. More importantly, however, these messages demonstrate the importance of social media for these families, who use WhatsApp especially to share both information and affection.

Since the pandemic began, many of us are experimenting with novel ways of being together apart. Quarantine measures have brought many changes to the lives of these Brazilian families, but the use of WhatsApp to stay in touch remains a constant. As others have pointed out, WhatsApp and other social media platforms are ambiguous territory in an epidemic (or a pandemic). In the beginning of the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil, rumors and false information about expired vaccines and pesticides being the real cause of fetal malformations gained traction in WhatsApp chat groups. I have found that, at least in the groups I participate in, for every unfounded rumor there is at least one person willing to question it and at least attempt to combat it with verified information. In any case, the fact is that WhatsApp is here to stay, and it continues to be an important tool for families raising disabled children in the aftermath of the Zika virus epidemic.

This is a group of people all too familiar with crisis and uncertainty. When congenital malformations such as microcephaly were first linked to ZIKV infection, pregnant mothers and parents of affected newborns were caught completely off-guard. ZIKV was at first thought to be a milder and relatively harmless version of dengue, but the subsequent births of thousands of babies with microcephaly and a range of other neurological malformations proved otherwise. As parents cared for children with this novel condition, they had to seek information in more than one place. Doctors and therapists were learning right along with them and could only offer prognoses and advice based on cases of children with conditions such as cerebral palsy, which many of the CZVS children also have. Uncertainty became a fixture in the lives of these families, for whom there were no solid answers. This is added to the fact that, due in large part to social determinants such as poor water and sewage infrastructure, informal housing, and lack of access to preventive measures for sexually transmitted infections (which ZIKV also is), most of the families affected were already living precarious and uncertain lives long before the epidemic. Indeed, it is this redoubled precarity that makes them some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

In many ways because of the uncertainty surrounding their children’s condition, these are also people who are adept at using social media to connect with each other. Whether they are posting or commenting on short narratives and photos on Facebook and Instagram or sharing information, desabafando (venting), and even debochando (teasing or making fun, keeping things light) via WhatsApp, social media was an important way to keep in touch even before COVID-19. Now, however, quarantine has compounded the importance of connecting virtually.

Correria vs. quarantine

Unlike some people with disabilities and chronic illnesses for whom being “housebound” is the norm, my interlocutors are all but required to be hyper-mobile. Institutions providing therapy and medical services, pharmaceutical drugs, orthotic equipment, and other necessities are spread out over the city. Under “normal” circumstances, mothers leave their homes several times a week to take their kids to their various therapy sessions and doctor’s appointments, to retrieve the month’s supply of seizure medication from the hospital or health post, to pick up basic necessities like food and diapers at a local charity organization or the municipal support center, and, frequently, to take their immunocompromised children to emergency rooms when they become ill. This is their daily correria—their exhausting “running around” from place to place to get what they and their families need. Furthermore, most of them travel on public buses to do all of this, exposing themselves and their children to the elements and to hundreds of other people daily, not to mention the inaccessible infrastructures such as broken bus elevators for wheelchair users (which many of their kids are).

All of this correria had to come to a halt in mid-March, when the state of Bahia declared a state of emergency, urging residents to stay at home as much as possible. In fact, both the city and the state of Bahia went against Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, who as of this writing continues to refuse to approve national quarantine measures or even to take COVID-19 seriously, and who had just fired his Minister of Health mid-pandemic. In any case, Bahia’s quarantine means that regular physical, occupational, and speech therapy sessions aren’t happening, nor are doctor’s visits and intermittent diagnostic testing. And visits to emergency rooms and urgent care facilities—not uncommon for children with compromised immune systems and particularly vulnerable to respiratory infections like pneumonia—suddenly became a lot riskier.

In the WhatsApp group, parents share resources about COVID-19 and how best to protect themselves and their families. PDF fact sheets, a link to download an app created by Brazil’s public health system to inform the public and track possible cases, a forwarded message from a registered infectious disease specialist in the nation’s capital explaining the importance of preventive measures against the virus, a news report on how many confirmed cases Bahia now has, contact information for the local branches of the epidemiological surveillance service, and an announcement that therapy services would be suspended for the duration of quarantine following municipal decree.

They also offer support to one another during episodes of illness and exacerbation of chronic conditions. Rather than potentially expose a child to COVID-19 on a trip to the hospital or urgent care facility, which is where they would usually go, they rely even more on each other’s experiences and homegrown expertise. If a child starts having seizures late at night when doctors and therapists would not be answering the phone, as happened several nights ago, this is where they come to ask for advice from other parents.

WhatsApp is also used to organize actions to assist families in need. For example, a local support center run by the Salvador city government began distributing cestas básicas (food baskets including basic staples like rice, beans, and milk) to families raising children with CZVS. But not all of those for whom they were intended were able to access them. Some families hadn’t updated their registration information at the support center recently enough; others have children whose diagnoses did not include microcephaly, which was one of the (rather arbitrary) requirements of this particular emergency distribution program. In order to help supplement for the excluded families, mothers with more economic means collected donated packages of pasta and crackers and arranged for one of the moms with a car to pick them up from a warehouse and distribute them to residents in the government-subsidized housing complex where many live.

Quarantine as a “two-way street”

What is quarantine like for individual families? I continue to explore this question, but here are some thoughts from one mother who has given me permission to share the content of our recent conversation. I will call her M.

Quarantine, said M., is “a two-way street” (uma via de mão dupla); it has positive as well as negative effects.

There is of course “the boredom and the obligation to be at home and the fear of contamination,” with which many of us can identify. There is also “the absence of a routine,” which has “messed things up [atrapalhado] a good deal” for many families, “since some of the children aren’t sleeping, are irritated…” M. told me that her own son had gone for a full 36 hours without sleeping, which in turn made her “go nuts” (surtar).

Quarantine also means that children’s regular therapy appointments have been interrupted indefinitely. Therapists work with these children on everything from building cervical spine strength to hold their heads up to exercises to encourage development of mouth muscles to chew and swallow food without choking. Thus, quarantine is also “therapeutically complicated, since it shows that in most cases we don’t know how to deal with the limitations of our children, from physical therapy movements to simple play.” But on the flip side, having to be home all day has provided “a moment where we can take advantage of learning in diverse areas.” Here M. meant parents learning about their children. During a typical day, parents might take their kids to two or more clinical appointments. Since most rely on public transportation and Salvador’s traffic can be a beast, this means several hours at a time na rua (in the street). Often, there is barely enough time to prepare meals at home and take care of whatever other tasks need doing, to say nothing of self-care. Needless to say, this routine is exhausting for both parents and kids. Not making these daily treks frees up a good deal of time for moms like M. to “learn more about my son, try to get some progress [avanços] that the routine doesn’t permit.” “Progress” here refers to child development. Less running around means more energy for her and her son, which can be spent working with him on eating solid foods, practicing using his walker, and stimulating his vision and hearing.

M. has been fortunate to receive “donations” from various people concerned with her and her son’s wellbeing. For this reason, her home is not lacking any basic necessities. (Although she confessed that she misses fast food, which is her weakness, and she also misses being able to see her crush.)

The COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil is expected to peak sometime in June. Despite the President’s failure to apprehend the gravity of the situation and act appropriately, quarantine measures in cities and states will be the reality for a good while longer. Digital ethnography will be of key importance as we continue to track the impacts of the virus and people’s responses to it, but also key is recognizing the multiple ways our interlocutors are already, and have long been, occupying digital worlds to stay informed and stick together in the face of uncertainty.

2. Board games gone online

Author: Andrea Friedmann Rozenbaum, MSc, Anthropologist, University of Amsterdam alumna. You can contact Andrea at andy.rozenbaum@gmail.com

Field site: In isolation in the north-coast of São Paulo (Brazil), in the hinterland of a sea-side town called Camburi. I consider my field site being both the neighbourhood I am at and the people with whom I am interacting online.

I’ve been playing board games since I was a kid. But for an extended period, this activity became rarer. About eight years ago, I was reintroduced to this ‘world’ through a group of friends who met regularly to play such games. Little by little, I learned new games, and I came to appreciate these meetings. Suddenly, I was converted into a board game player, arranging game nights with varied groups of friends.

Picture of a live board game session (taken by a participant before social isolation)

Within my player community, some individuals had other board game groups amongst different friendship circles, enjoying their encounters to play several games and to socialise. There were also those who, apart from that, would attend gatherings for a specific game in which players were not necessarily friends, and, in such events, socialising was secondary.

With the social isolation recommendations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, board games seemed to be doomed to end, since they would assume a physical encounter was possible. Suddenly, board game enthusiasts realised that socialising through game nights wasn’t a possibility anymore. But, just as many activities found online solutions which allowed them to keep happening, board game players would have to uncover their solution. Within some of the board game circles I participate in, members have started to suggest online platforms for board games. When I first saw this, I remembered that about a year ago, a friend had recommended we play a virtual match, as we were living in different countries. It didn’t catch my attention back then, and now I start to wonder why it did now.

Both myself and many friends who used to play regularly together have moved countries. While our group meetings stopped, none of us ever gathered to play online. However, the former members of the groups didn’t stop playing. Each one found different game partners and created new groups, gathering other friends to play offline.

I’ve been observing how some of the former ‘original’ groups, separated by many miles, are now gathering online to play their beloved board games together. Even though such virtual platforms already existed before the pandemic, they are only turning to them now. Aiming to understand why and how this online response to social isolation is taking place, I conducted informal interviews with some people, who shared their experiences and perceptions. Among them, one is a woman, while five are men, and their ages range from 21 to 36 years old. They are Brazilians currently living in different regions of the country.

The pandemic as an incentive

Regarding what has been driving people to play games on online platforms, most people said that physical isolation was the main incentive for this new practice. For one player, it all started as a way of finding games to entertain his grandmother during the pandemic. [i] He says, “I consulted with friends with whom I used to play non-virtual games, and some options emerged“. Additionally, he suggests that due to the current situation, with everyone having more free time, playing such games is a way of connecting with people he misses.

One player suggests that before the pandemic, he could find other people to play face-to-face, and they could meet whenever they wanted. However, as he says, “today we are in quarantine, and it is a way of gathering, even if it is virtually”. Another person mentions that even though playing board games virtually was a possibility before, since the platforms already existed, today it is the only alternative.

One research participant compared the new practice of meeting people to play games virtually to other new activities people are participating in due to the quarantine. She says, “it’s funny because it’s for the same reason that we didn’t meet virtually and now we do, right?”. As she puts it, now that the possibility of meeting people face-to-face is in suspension, then it’s as if it doesn’t exist. Such reality is valid both for social and game gatherings, making people create new ways of adapting these activities to online platforms.

A participant mentioned that before social distancing, he had some preconceptions regarding online board gaming because he knows that it is not the same as a live encounter. However, when a friend suggested it, he was excited to discover “a new dynamic of gathering”. As they played, his prejudice was left behind. “There aren’t better options for socialising, and everyone has more available schedules, now this is a good choice”, he suggests.

In brief, although the possibility of playing board games online already existed, it was only incorporated into players’ routines due to the current situation most people are in. Engaging in this activity is a way for people who were already regular players to continue practising a social event they enjoyed.

Picture of a computer screen displaying the online version of Catan Universe (taken by the author)

The socialising aspect

When I asked about how people deal with the socialising aspect of online board gaming, all of them told me that the game platform itself doesn’t completely cover it. They usually organise a collective call by voice or video in parallel so that players can interact throughout the game. One player tells me that, as they communicate by phone while playing the game on their computer or smartphone, the socialisation element is maintained. He has tried playing the same games with strangers online, but he says the communication component is missing in those cases.

One person shares that interacting ‘live’ by phone is good, so everybody can “follow the game minute by minute”. Another player says that apart from commenting on the game, they use this opportunity to keep each other updated on their lives. One of the participants takes a more critical stance with regards to the gaming platform, suggesting that if they had taken the time to improve the usability of the tools,  and if the Internet connection was more stable, it would be better. He adds, “apart from the usual problems relating to conference calls, there is the fact that we can only talk one at a time to be heard … which makes us pay less attention to others’ moves … you end up focusing more on your own moves“. This is different from a live game where you can pay attention to every move – online, it’s harder to pay attention to the game as a whole. On the same matter, another interlocutor mentioned that on the Board Game Arena platform, if you purchase a subscription, it’s possible to unlock a video call feature during matches, even though he hasn’t tried it yet.

As we can see, socialisation is a vital aspect of board gaming. Since the current online platforms don’t offer sufficient – or free – ways for players to socialise, they counteract this by finding alternative solutions. Using video or voice calls helps them maintain social bonding. Additionally, such communication tools help them to follow the game more accurately.

Online gaming vs. Online board gaming

It is important to highlight that there is a vital difference between online gaming and online board gaming. Online gaming has increased significantly with the lockdown, being used as a tool for entertainment.[ii] One main difference is that board games have a hidden purpose – that of gathering people around a table for them to socialise. For instance, one player says that in comparison to online games, “board games usually require communication, while the others don’t, so, it’s not the same”.

Moreover, players explained to me that the part of the brain that people use to play board games is different in comparison to the one used to play video games. Most board games involve strategic thinking, and a dynamic of turn-taking, which gives participants time to ponder. Crucially, in the majority of video games, what matters is the player’s ability on the controller and reaction speed. Thus, they presume different brain activities. Another participant says that, although video games are developed for the purpose of end-to-end online play, online board games are simply the adaptation of these games to the digital environment. He says that although this seems to be carefully thought through, the technical obstacles can be noticed.

So, the fact that board games have a virtual option doesn’t make them analogous to video gaming. Such differences are due to their socialising aspect, their cognitive activation, and the nature of their developments.

Screengrab of a smartphone screen displaying an online board game match (sent by one of the interlocutors)

A temporary or a new practice?

Reflecting on the temporality of this new activity, I  asked people if they thought they would continue playing online board games when social isolation ends. Most of them answered positively, saying that they imagined they would play these with friends who live in other cities, but not with the ones they can meet in person. For instance, one says, “I think that it’s a habit that we’ve already established, so why not keep it?”

However, some revealed possible obstacles to this becoming a regular practice. They mentioned time zone differences and issues due to people’s availability. For instance, one person says, “I think it is already a bit difficult to establish the right moment to play since we are distant. It’s not like when people meet [face-to-face], and then they eat and then they play. Now it needs to be more planned“. As she puts it, coordinating people’s time to meet virtually seems more laborious than when they meet in person. One player also highlighted once more the technical issues of the online platforms, which could discourage people from continuing to play.

When I questioned individuals about the possibility of playing with strangers online, all but one said this idea doesn’t resonate with them. Some said they had thought about it, while others told me they dislike it. As one participant reiterates, “the social aspect is significant, and I don’t like to socialise with unknown people. I would rather play with my friends“. The only person who said he enjoyed playing with strangers highlighted the fact that it is different because you never know what to expect. He adds, “in a way, it’s cool because you end up creating some kind of bond with these unknown people”.

Perhaps it is still early to affirm that online board gaming is a practice that is here to stay. Although people are enjoying this possibility, looking at it positively, imagining it in a future without physical isolation, a future that features social distancing, we will only know for sure when this is over. In the meantime, I invite those who haven’t yet tried to arrange an online board game session with friends or family to do so. It is definitely fun!

[i] The interlocutor’s grandmother did not end up playing online board games. He recommended online card games to her, since he found the interaction through board games to be too limited.

[ii] See BBC, CNET, and the Daily Mail.

3. Who would have thought it? Exercise and live concerts go online

Author: Marina Frid, a postdoctoral researcher in Communication and Culture at UFRJ, Brazil. You can contact her at marina_frid@yahoo.com.br.

Fieldsite: I am staying in touch with a group of 16 informants who live and work in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and are quarantining in different parts of the city. From my home in Rio, I am interviewing them over the phone, Skype and WhatsApp video calls.

At home, but moving

Social isolation rules forced all sorts of activities to adapt to online environments, including those related to health. State and municipal guidelines led physicians to cancel elective surgeries and limit face to face appointments to urgent and serious cases. To encourage patients with minor or chronic conditions to stay home, the Federal Council of Medicine (CFM) determined that “telemedicine” – patient orientation, treatment supervision and exchange of information between physicians through distance communication channels – would be considered possible and ethical, exceptionally, while the country fights to contain COVID-19. Besides medical doctors, psychologists, physical therapists and physical trainers were also removed from their ordinary spaces and routines.

My informants talked about their various experiences as providers and users of these new forms of health assistance. Gabriela had just started doing psychotherapy when the crisis began in Rio.[i] Already in her second session, she had to connect with her therapist over a video call. Adjusting to online therapy was not difficult for Gabriela, because she already uses digital platforms for most of her work meetings. Though virtual, therapy sessions are helping her cope with changes brought on by the pandemic, especially, work overload and staying at her parents’ house. “My life is very digital in almost everything I do. (…) it’s not hard for me to have a hybrid life. It’s not an issue.”. The therapist did ask Gabriela if she had any objections to online appointments, but she thinks it makes no difference to her.

Pedro and his wife, Joyce, closed their physical therapy clinic as soon as social isolation measures were imposed in mid-March. They started using apps like WhatsApp to treat patients over video calls and decided to do in-person sessions only if a very severe case came up. Also, they were filming themselves doing the exercises and sending the file via WhatsApp to elders that do not know how to use the video chat function. Their older patients usually need the assistance of a family member or caregiver to do video calls but feel comfortable with the asynchronous exchange of messages. That is, they do not have trouble opening video files nor texting their questions regarding exercise instructions.

As a temporary response to the pandemic, Pedro said this system of distance physical therapy was about 70 to 80% satisfactory, but not enough for the appropriate treatment of patients. As we entered the sixth week of social isolation, he was beginning to think up strategies to reopen the clinic in May. Distance physical therapy “lacks touch, some manipulation procedures that are typical in our profession, almost mandatory in 90% of treatments.”. Though patients can provisionally do certain exercises by themselves, the physical therapist’s handling of their bodies is important in most cases. The professional is trained to observe bodies in the flesh, not their pixelated images. Pedro, Joyce and their patients adjusted to the online sessions to some extent. The couple’s dog, however, was having a bit of difficulty in conforming to their work from home situation, making special appearances in the middle of sessions.

Workout routines were also affected by social isolation. Every fitness centre in the city had to close, outdoor group classes were suspended, and personal trainers were discouraged from visiting clients at home. Gabriela stopped attending her CrossFit classes one week prior to social isolation decrees due to news about first cases of coronavirus in Brazil. Since commercial establishments were officially shut down, her instructor has been offering distance classes and sharing daily workout routines for those unable to connect or reluctant to use video conferencing apps for that purpose. Gabi is joining online classes Monday through Friday at 7am. She says it is not exactly the same thing as doing classes in person. Problems like poor internet connection affect the experience, but one has to be flexible. “The alternative that’s been given to me is much better than nothing. I’d be going crazy if I wasn’t throwing away that energy”.

Figure 1 – “How do I flatten that curve?”. A cartoonist’s drawing about gaining weight during social isolation became a popular meme on Brazilian social media.

Memes on social media reveal a sense that people forced to stay home during the COVID-19 crisis are gaining weight. They would be eating more and exercising less. Most memes on that subject reached me around the third and fourth weeks of social isolation. Mila used to workout in her lunch hours. With social isolation, she subscribed to the online fitness program of a popular instructor based in Rio. She had been following him for some time on Instagram at the recommendation of friends. The instructor runs a gym centre and had a distance training system in place before the COVID-19 crisis.

Figure 2 – Meme of body shape before and after COVID-19.

Some fitness centres in Rio are already firing employees due to financial constraints. Four of my informants are fitness instructors and have had their work significantly disturbed by the pandemic. Jacqueline has been dismissed from one of her jobs, so has Alex. Fortunately, both of them have other jobs and private clients which are giving them some financial safety, at least for a while.

Figure 3 – An Instagram post advertising a new at home training routine available for subscribers of an online fitness platform.

Diana works mostly with elders, many of which have some form of dementia. Part of them are private patients, but she also works with a group undergoing treatment in a public health centre as part of her specialization in an extension program called LAB (pseudonym). One of her concerns related to social isolation is that these elders may suffer significant functional losses if they stop exercising for weeks in a row. Since confinement measures were determined, she continues to give private training sessions to her 91-year-old patient, in person, at the request of the family. She has persuaded two younger private clients to train over Zoom or other video conferencing apps, but not her other older clients that depend on caregivers to handle the technology.

To continue assisting patients of the public health centre, Diana contributed to LAB’s initiative of making short videos with exercise orientation. Videos are sent to caregivers via WhatsApp, posted on Instagram and uploaded in the program’s website on a weekly basis. In fact, this material is available not only to their patients, but any elder stuck at home in need of moving their bodies and distracting themselves. “My mother’s neighbour is receiving my videos and is able to do the exercises.”.

On the fifth week of social isolation, Diana started offering live online classes twice a week under the supervision of LAB’s coordinator, Ana. The last time we spoke, she had done three sessions and was very pleased with the level of participation. Patients and their caregivers/relatives (spouses, daughters, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren) exercised with Diana via Jitsi Meet.

According to Ana, some of the patients were becoming very inactive at home. Though carers showed them the exercise videos, they were having trouble focusing on the instructions and, therefore, losing interest. Hence, she decided to try the live sessions with Diana, hoping the interaction would stimulate them.

Caregivers of the public service patients are very collaborative because they were already used to participating in workout sessions at the health centre. But the caregivers of private patients used to take advantage of Diana’s presence to have time for themselves or other activities. “It’s a moment when the wife goes to the supermarket, takes a nap, or the caregiver takes a shower.”. Because online classes require their participation, they perceive them as another responsibility to take on, not as something helpful. In this time of social isolation, Diana feels that engaging patients who have smartphones and use WhatsApp in an exercise routine is easier than accessing those that rely fully on the mediation of carers. She said:

“My perception is that I depend on the caregiver a lot. I depend on someone willing to stimulate that elder. (…) I receive videos from certain patients every day – from their caregivers, themselves or their grandkids, and everyone is doing the exercises at home. On the other hand, there are caregivers that tell me ‘I can’t do it, no way, it’s too complicated”.

Ana said that accessing the video conferencing platform for the first time was not easy for some older carers. She and her team had to help them over the phone and with video tutorials sent via WhatsApp. It is all new to health professionals, patients and caregivers. But motivation and patience on both sides help them overcome barriers.

Live and comfy concerts

The arts and entertainment segments are suffering a great deal with the social isolation regime. Singers and musicians are prevented from touring and performing on stage to crowded audiences. As a response to these restrictions, a new form of presentation has emerged and become quite popular: live concerts streamed from home on social media.

The popular artist Gusttavo Lima was one of the first to attract a huge audience with his live-streamed performance. In his first concert, up to 750 thousand users watched him at the same time. His second live show, on the 11th of April, lasted more than seven hours and reached a peak of 5.5 million concurrent viewers. During the concert, Gusttavo Lima got drunk and cursed in an unrestrained manner.

Figure 4 – Gusttavo Lima livestreamed his show from home on YouTube and Instagram.
Photo by Mariana Agunzi/Folhapress. Available at: https://folha.com/406sf2kn.

Joana has been gathering with friends over Zoom to watch live-streamed concerts of famous artists – usually in the “sertanejo universitário” genre – “together”. She says Gusttavo Lima’s seven-hour concert was pretty fun to watch:

For instance, in some cases, like Bruno & Marrone, Gusttavo Lima, their ‘lives’ are becoming very popular because the guys drink during the show. Well, you can imagine how things get after seven songs or so. You end up laughing… Gusttavo Lima, his last ‘live’ went on for seven hours. The guy even cooked during the show. So, it’s a distraction.

Gusttavo Lima’s audience probably did not remain focused on his performance for seven hours straight. Joana did other things while she listened to the concert. As she put it, people that have a smart TV can leave it on the show all day instead of leaving it on Globo (the leading Brazilian TV network). In a similar way, Gabriela found that leaving her parents’ television on live stream concerts of “pagode” and “sertanejo” bands is a good strategy to keep household harmonious: “They love it.”. The artists’ performances give them something to talk about other than politics.

Both Joana and Gabriela highlighted Marília Mendonça’s concert as one of the live streams they most enjoyed watching over the past weeks, in social isolation. Among YouTube’s ten most-watched concerts in real time in April, seven were by Brazilian artists. Marília Mendonça appeared at the top of that list, ahead of Andrea Bocelli’s Easter concert livestreamed from the Duomo cathedral in Milan (Reuters, 2020).

Figure 5 – An ad for Marília Mendonça’s upcoming concert “Todos os Cantos da Casa” (“On Every Corner of the House”) posted on her Instagram account.

Diana and her husband are enjoying live concerts on social media almost on a daily basis. “We are living on ‘lives’ here in our home.”. They experience the shows as if they were hanging out in a bar, with cold beer and nibbles. There are so many bands and singers doing live stream concerts that Diana’s husband even wrote down a list with those they were planning to watch over the week. In the first couple of weeks of social isolation, Diana watched the primetime news on Globo to keep herself informed. But, since getting caught on this live concert spree, she basically let go of that habit. “The Chromecast is plugged on our TV, ready for ‘lives’ and nothing else”.

These “lives”, as Brazilians call the live webcasts, are not just entertaining informants, but have become opportunities they take to socialize with friends and relatives over video chat and with the people in their homes – husbands, wives, parents, siblings. For instance, Carol told me that one of the most pleasant moments she has had during social isolation was watching the concert of musician Nando Reis with her mother.

Live streams of musical shows require an audience used to social media. But, television networks are also broadcasting some of the online concerts by popular artists. My grandmother was able to watch Andrea Bocelli’s Easter concert live on CNN Brazil, a cable news channel. Globo also broadcasted concerts by famous Brazilian artists like Roberto Carlos and Ivete Sangalo, who performed from their homes to audiences on television and social media.

On my first interview with Mario, I was forced to interrupt our conversation for a moment and move to the living room, because a musical performance began in the patio of the apartment building behind mine. My husband then told me the singer, Dan Levy, enjoys some popularity in Rio de Janeiro’s nightlife, especially, in bars and clubs in the city’s West Zone. His concert was livestreamed on Instagram and YouTube for two hours straight with residents in the surrounding buildings singing along from their windows.

Figure 6 – Screengrab of Dan Levy’s livestream on Instagram.

Mario is a musician and played in the carioca nightlife until recently. Today, he gives private guitar lessons and performs in events, besides occasionally producing his own shows for music halls. In fact, he had to cancel a concert that was scheduled to happen in April because of COVID-19. In our first chat over Skype, Mario did not mention any interest in doing a live stream show. But, just a couple of weeks later, he performed live, from his home, on Facebook. He did the show at the request of a colleague who manages a community music centre. Mario rehearsed for the concert in two “pre-live” sessions for friends that helped him decide whether to use his computer or smartphone, the best way to position the camera and how to better light his room. For his setlist, he chose to play famous old songs by Roberto Carlos and Erasmo Carlos. Another decision he made was to not interact with viewer comments during the show because that could be too confusing to him. It was a “challenging” experience, but he was very happy with the result.

Regarding the experience of the pandemic as a whole, Mario thinks we are all witnessing something entirely new. The technology was available prior to COVID-19, but telemedicine, workout sessions over Zoom and live-streamed shows were not a part of my informants’ everyday lives seven weeks ago. In ordinary circumstances, people had to wait for months or years to enjoy a brand-new performance by their favourite Brazilian artists. Now, they are having a chance to see most of them in a different light, for free, from the comfort of their homes. In Mario’s words, “who would have thought it”?

References

F5 (2020). “Gusttavo Lima acorda de ressaca após mais de sete horas de live: ‘Atropelado por caminhão’”, Folha de S. Paulo, 12 April. Available at: https://folha.com/406sf2kn.

Reuters (2020). “How Housebound Brazil Popstars and CEOs Caught Streaming Mania and Dominated YouTube”, The New York Times, 29 April.

[i] I have changed the names of all informants to protect their privacy.