No pay for Che

This is how dialogue can take veering lurches off-subject. I asked folks to help me understand the appeal Michael Jackson holds for his most fervent fans, and several people responded. "The Kid" responded at some length, but rather than focusing on his observations about Elvis et al., I find myself seizing upon one minor aside in his comment:

And what’s with the Che T-shirts? Don’t the wearers understand that he was a murderer? Does Fidel get the royalties?

What’s with the Che T-shirts? Good question. As to whether the wearers understand that he was a murderer, I would say either they don’t, or they don’t care. In a world in which it is fashionable almost everywhere but in the U.S. and Israel to romanticize Palestinian terrorists as freedom fighters, this should not be very surprising. And Ernesto "Che" Guevara was a much more charismatic figure than, say, Yasser Arafat. He photographed better, anyway. That one most famous image — the one on the shirts — shows him with a messianic gleam in his eye. You don’t have to admire someone to recognize the aura they emanate. Osama bin Laden, for instance, has a disturbing "holy man" look in his eyes that completely belies who and what he is.

Personally, I think Che manages simultaneously to look malevolent in that famous Negative007031 image, but my tastes are not those of the angry and disaffected. To many such people, a revolutionary who looks ticked off enough to do anything to overthrow the Man is appealing. I would also imagine that some women think he’s sexy. He certainly knew how to make a fashion statement.

Then there’s the recent movie, which depicted the later killer as a sensitive and impressionable young man who is just starting down his journey toward radicalization, driven by righteous indignation at the truly appalling poverty and oppressive class structures of his native South America. That continent has indeed always been in need of a revolution. Unfortunately, Simón Bolívar and company couldn’t deliver the kind that John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington blessed us with. Nor could Che, nor Chavez nor Lula.

But maybe I’m digging too deep. Bottom line is, people wear the shirts because they look cool. They are the ultimate cliche in radical chic, as essential to a dissident’s wardrobe as LaCoste shirts are to a yuppie’s.

Oh, and in answer to The Kid’s other question: No, Castro doesn’t get royalties. Nor did the photographer who actually captured the image, who for a long time was the only person who realized how appealing it was.

Now if you really want to do something about the Che shirts, you can resist the trend by donning an anti-Che shirt. Of course, those would be a lot more attractive if they weren’t being sold next to Reagan Revolution shirts. Why is it that nobody is out there marketing shirts for us sensible folks in the middle who don’t like political extremes of any kind? Well, I suppose some are, but they tend to lack the cachet of the partisans and the lunatic fringes.

Not that it really matters to me. I’d rather make my statements in the newspaper, or on the blog, and let my wardrobe fade into the background. But different strokes and all that.

11 thoughts on “No pay for Che

  1. kc

    Off topic: Please extend my congratulations to Mr. Ariail for his new cartoon – you know, the one in which he compares filibustering judicial nominations to the violent murder by lynching of black Americans.
    He has truly sunk to a new low.

  2. GS

    I suspect the picture of Che on a T-Shirt really represents something “cool” to most of the wearers. In fact most don’t have a clue about him. This unfortunately reflects a gross lack of knowledge about history and reflects on schools, family and others who are so blind that they cannot and will not teach history to the students of today. Enjoyed your article.

  3. buster

    yeah, lots of kids think he was a soviet ’cause of the star on the beret, right? brad, as to the “sensible shirts for folks in the middle”, how ’bout we print up a run of lindsey graham shirts? he seems to be sparking a che-like reaction in your recent LTE’s.

  4. Jordan

    Here’s a reflection on the popularization of “evil” folks, like Guevara. I think that the mass popularity of the Guevara T-shirt in some way probably has something to do with Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine popularizing him. After all, such “evil” folks are heroes to some people.

  5. buster

    i find the teddy bear particularly bizarre – who might that be the “perfect gift” for? anyone?

  6. Dick Turban

    Heck, you could send it to some kid whose ma or pa is there on temporary duty. There’s family housing and families of service members there, their kids might like one too.

  7. Francis X Archibald

    Forget Che. Personally this year I favor two other T-shirts: “2004 American League Champions” which reminds me how the Red Sox fantasticly whipped the Yankees last Fall and a “2004 World Champions” which tells me the Red Sox were baseball’s world champions last year. I can’t say it “reminds me” because I wasn’t around 86 years earlier when they previously last won the championship.

  8. Earl

    It’s 99% about capitalism bro. – if I had to guess, I’d say >90% of the purchasers bought because they liked the way it looked – sort of like Dick Clark’s ABS rate-a-record “I like it because it has a good beat and easy to dance to”.

  9. Ricardo Hernandez

    Everyone can see what other person evil has done tours others, but as americans we keep our quiet about the injustes the govermant of the U.S.A has done to all the nations around the world, so the one persent of the population can exploid the poor in every country they want to. The U.S. government with Bush have kill more tham 600 hundred thousend Iraquis during this so call democratic independence for Iraq. when in reality Iraq war is about the control of oil so texaco, Chrevron, and all the Americans oil companies would gain more profits for their wealth, while they exploid the people of the U.S.A. with high gasoline prices.
    When you guys talk about ignorance just for wearing Che T-shirts, remember those people are more educated than you.
    The reallity hurt so accept that Che live no matter what you try to make out of it.


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