Onibus 174


I watched an interesting Brazilian documentary called Bus 174 last night. I’m not sure that I would recommend it for viewing, necessarily, because it isn’t the most pleasant and light-hearted movie in the world; however, it is an incisive look into the structure of Brazilian–and by extension, all–society. It concerns an event which took place on a bus in Rio, where a street kid held all of the people on the bus hostage for several hours. On the surface, it’s just another crime in the city, another sensationalized piece of terror on the nightly news. You normally would have been watching the event and commenting on what kind of sick individual would hijack a bus. You wouldn’t have known that sick individual’s name or life story, where he came from and what brought him to the point of violence. This movie provides all the background, all the societal settings which led to this event. And by the end of the movie, you come to realize that it is not just that individual who is sick–it is society itself, with its inevitable populations of homeless and prison-bound and destitute, that is sick.

I won’t go too in-depth into the movie, as you may want to watch it–but I found it an enlightening approach to a criminal act. Rather than casting blame and simply labelling the criminal as a monster or drugged up or crazy, the movie takes the time to humanize him, to examine his personal history, to examine the world that he lived in. And through this process it becomes evident that there is no such thing as an individual apart from the world–even when that individual is one of the “invisible,” one of the street kids who have no identity apart from hustling because they are given no place to be themselves. Sandro’s act of holding people hostage is then seen as an attempt at empowerment, to make himself heard and seen to an audience that normally wouldn’t look twice at him.

Violence of all forms is, I believe, at root level a desperate plea to be known and understood–it is all of the words and thoughts and emotions that had never before been released. If you are reading this blog right now, then you are obviously articulate and literate–articulate with technology and able to read and write. Imagine if you were illiterate, and that you had no forum in which to give voice to your thoughts and feelings, that in fact the environment in which you lived would not allow you to give voice to your feelings except through the mediation of drugs, social workers, or TV. So you’ve got this whole world inside of you, needing to be shared, but finding no cathartic outlet–only in short bursts, fragments. Eventually it build to a point where it is seething, explosive. It is at that point that a gun becomes a twisted substitute for the pen.

Seen through this kind of light, where one attempts to understand a criminal and an act of crime from the point of view of empathy, rather than anger, fear, or hatred, violence is understood then as a kind of tipping point, of which there are warning signs and pressures–and always a chance of finding a resolution, rather than allowing it to explode. Which means that the violence of the individual is a symptom of the larger body of society. Which means that when some random guy in Wisconsin, or Colorado, or wherever it happens to take place next, walks into a school and shoots random kids–this is an event which should concern all of us. Not only as a media spectacle, but as human beings attempting to relate to other human beings. What drives people to do such things? What sickness is there in society?

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Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

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