PRIVATELY OWNED PUBLIC SPACES IN BRAZIL: Shopping Mall “Flash Mobs” or Rolezinhos
A novel social phenomenon recently began among adolescents in São Paulo and then spread to Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, and other cities. Mobilized by Facebook, YouTube, and other social media, ”flash mobs” or “rolezinhos” in Brazilian slang, often comprised several thousand teenagers, gather at shopping malls for social interaction on designated days. Organizers argue that the teenagers have nothing to do during the long, hot summer school vacations — the malls are attractive as safe, air-conditioned places to have snacks, hang out, and cruise for romance.
Mall managers, store owners, and many shoppers regard the large adolescent crowds as unruly and disruptive. Mall security and even police forces sometimes evict the groups, raising issues of access and equity. Mall officials have begun to monitor the social media to ascertain when mobilizations are planned. In some cases, the malls have closed on the days of planned “invasions,” such at the posh JK-Iguatemí shopping mall in Brasília’s Lago Norte district on Saturday, January 25.
Efforts to restrain these “flash mobs” have been criticized by some political leaders and groups in Brazil. Recent upward social mobility of poor families into the lower middle class has encouraged the teenagers to pursue social interaction on par with the upper middle classes. The malls’ rejection is perceived as perpetrated by a white, rich elite (managers and affluent shoppers) against the mostly disadvantaged teenagers of color.
Accusations of social and racial discrimination have included those of the Municipal Secretary for Racial Promotion in São Paulo, Netinho de Paula (PCdoB-SP), an Afro-Brazilian leader. Indeed, organizers of the rolezinhos have been linked to the UJS-Union of Young Socialists — part of the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) — and other political parties.
Several mainstream parties have denied collaborating with the young organizers, and some youth leaders have rejected political affiliations. Organizer Vinicius Andrade recently met with the UJS, but later declared to the press: “I am not affiliated with any party or political entity. They were willing to help us in the disputes over rolezinhos, but I do not want to know about any political party. Our movement avoids partisan politics.”
Meanwhile, the controversies have gone to the courts. São Paulo Judge Romulo Russo recently approved the request of the shopping mall association ALSHOP and prohibited an upcoming rolezinho. Russo noted that it would be illegal to prohibit the right of people to come and go in the stores, but argued that the malls were unable to accommodate such large crowds and recommended that in São Paulo the events take place on “squares and public parks, the sambadrome, possibly in mall parking lots.”
Stay tuned for more updates on this controversy over the use of privately-owned public space in Brazil. For an interesting account in English, see the work of American journalist Vincent Bevins, who recently published an article on this phenomenon in the Los Angeles Times.