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Blog // Images
June 17, 2005

Che-nough Is Enough!

Had an interesting online discussion with some pals yesterday (well I found it interesting, I suepct they felt I was unhinged) concerning the commercialisation of Alberto Diaz Korda’s iconographic image of Che Guevara, taken during a 1960 protest rally at the CIA’s sinking of the Belgian cargo ship, La Coubre. It is an image we […]

Had an interesting online discussion with some pals yesterday (well I found it interesting, I suepct they felt I was unhinged) concerning the commercialisation of Alberto Diaz Korda’s iconographic image of Che Guevara, taken during a 1960 protest rally at the CIA’s sinking of the Belgian cargo ship, La Coubre. It is an image we all know well and one that has been the subject of commercial controversy in the past.

There seems to be a new trend of putting the Che image on mass market T-shirts designed for the teenage market. I find this loathsome, not just because it reeks of “cashing in” on this icon, but because it evacuates the image of its revolutionary and ideological significance. Instead of Che the Guerrillero, we have Che the patron saint of idle rebellion and misplaced victimhood. It makes my blood boil. Damian suggested that this t-shirt might be an appropriate way to ‘take the micky’ out of the commercialisation of Che. I suggested that violence was an appropriate response to that response and to anyone wearing that response.

OK, so in hindsight that was pushing the point a little: I’ll admit that on this one my well of postmodern irony is running a little dry. That is not just because of my disgust at the “re-branding” of Che but also because of a deeper sense of the trivialisation of Latin American culture. All too often Latin America seems to represent nothing more than tex-mex food, football, the Rio carnival, Ricky Martin and Shakira. The last three raise and important point because in mainstream pop culture these days, Latin America is portayed as having little to offer besides exotic eroticism, a point succinctly but brilliantly exploited in the film Spanglish. However, Che reminds us (or should remind us) that there is much, much more to be said about life in Latin America and whilst I disagree with great swathes of both Che’s ideology and praxis, I nonetheless feel compelled to respect the struggle he undertook and the catalysing influence he was. Current problems in Bolivia and Peru only highlight how much of what motivated Che, remains unresolved.

Trivialising the image of Che, even with the most playful of postmodern intentions, makes a rich and diverse culture as well as a fraught and desperate struggle seem insubstantial and irrelevant. It says (to me at least), that the answer to a pointless use of the image is an even more pointless use of the image. Wow, what an acheivement that isn’t. How about problematising a pointless use of an image with a point-filled use of that image? Reclaim the image rather than subject it to further trivialisation.

So, if the vision of early-teens branding Che’s image on a t-shirt makes you gag, then you have my full sympathy. If you want to do something about it, get your hands on a copy of Garcia and Sola’a excellent Che: Images of a Revolutionary, or watch The Motorcycle Diaries (despite the innacuracies), or read Anderson’s brilliant Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life. All those help reclaim the full “image” of Che. Just don’t put mickey mouse ears on Che, please.

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Toni 17 years ago

“Instead of Che the Guerrillero, we have Che the patron saint of idle rebellion and misplaced victimhood. It makes my blood boil.”

Interesting.

We must be of an age, you and I. Yet to me the image of Che has always been that of the fake revolutionary – the would-be fashionista looking for a little icon that is instantly recognisable. A gauche alternative to “Harley Davidson Motorcycles”.

Maybe it’s growing up in a culture where the ‘hysterical struggle of the latins against a humourless uncle Sam’ has failed to touch mainstream society. Or maybe it was ‘citizen Smith’.

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