Kids With Guns
Update: I accidentally posted Cidinha e Doca's proibidão version of "Rap das Armas", even though they credit Junior and Leonardo as the authors. Thanks to DJ Zezinho for correcting me.
Before I got an Internet connection installed here in the house, I went up the street to a LAN House, as they're called, to take care of my digital business. I brought my laptop, so all I needed was to hook up a cat-5. Lucky, too, because all of the terminals with a full rig were constantly occupied. I'm not sure I ever saw a free computer in that place.
Most of the customers were kids, under the age of 16, if I had to guess, and they were almost always playing first-person shooters. It's a genre of computer game to which I can profess considerable familiarity, having passed more hours than I'd like to admit blowing my friends to pieces. I was always firmly against the argument that violent games inculcate violence – if you're maladjusted enough to let a game cause violent mood swings, perhaps you've got deeper problems than what you're playing on your PC. And in the case of Grand Theft Auto, everyone's favorite target, I think critics focus on the possibilities permitted by the game mechanics but miss the brilliant social satire, especially evident in the in-game radio. Not that it didn't hit too close to home in some places (note that it was also banned in Brazil, not that it's stopped some of the video game parlors I've seen in Rocinha, who might appreciate the tragicomic aptness of this parody).
On the whole though, such games are simply difficult to take seriously when you have a BFG9000 at your disposal. In the case of my suburban friends and I, such games were the closest we ever came to any weapons, whether they be the absurdity of Doom or the realism of Counter-Strike.
In the case of Rocinha, it's more or less the opposite. The public presence of guns has been a part of every young resident's life since birth, and likely they saw them in person before they ever held one virtually in a game. Certainly, the same goes for those in the asfalto, as the police pack plenty of firepower as well. But the concept of "police" still comes with a kind of separation from the average citizen (on-duty, off-duty). Not that my corner bandidos aren't uniquely different from Seu Jose and his family upstairs – they most certainly are – but it's a kind of 24/7 role. They don't seem to become "civilians" the way a police officer might at the end of the day. Indeed, that's part of how Amigos de Amigos (or ADA, the criminal faction that rules Rocinha) maintains its control, by remaining visible in the community and, as Paul Sneed has explained, firing magazines upon magazines into the air . . . in celebration, in mourning, in reminding you they're still on top.
So it happens, then, that I'm checking my e-mail in the LAN House with young kids on my left and right ripping through virtual decaying urban landscapes, blasting each other with assault rifles, only to have one of the traficantes working the nearby boca-de-fumo ("mouth of smoke", where drugs are sold, and hence the reason I always have bandidos on my block) walk in to watch the Mexico x Argentina match of the Copa América while idly holding an assault rifle. The leap from virtual to real was only a few feet away from every gamer in there.
Are Rocinha kids who play violent video and computer games more likely to join up with the ADA when they grow older? Sounds like a sociological study for another time, another place, another person. But suffice to say: life imitating art imitating life in a very disconcerting way.
Maybe I'm just the still-sensitive gringo who's not used to seeing high-caliber weapons on a daily basis. It's been a fact of life here for decades at least, cf the lyrics of Junior e Leonardo's "Rap das Armas". The closest I could find to the original is the cover by Monobloco, which only changes a few words; and even if you don't know Portuguese, there's some universal shorthand in there, M-16 anyone? Famous in its time, the track that was completely misinterpreted by the media: Junior e Leonardo were tagged as apologists for the criminal factions because they sang the phrase "paz, justiça, e liberdade (peace, justice, and liberty)", the supposed slogan of the Comando Vermelho, when they themselves had no clue that was the case (anecdote recounted in Paul's thesis). It was really just a rap about their quotidian lives . . . which happens to include an extensive catalogue of weaponry.
With an old school Volt Mix beat along with "Planet Rock" and "Push It" samples, it's a veritable classic of funk antigo. The live music video is also extremely dated, but in the best possible way. I've heard they live in Rocinha and someone at I2I knows them, so I may have to pay a visit.
Junior e Leonardo - Rap das Armas