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 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.