Monday, October 31, 2005

Che Guevara should be scorned — not worn

USA Today

By Ryan Clancy

Che Guevara is everywhere these days. Not literally. He is, after all, dead. But 38 years after meeting his demise in the Bolivian jungle, the communist revolutionary has re-emerged as a pop culture icon. In dorm rooms, on the runways of Paris and on merchandising kitsch, the legendary Alberto Korda image of a beret-clad Guevara is the epitome of cool. Don't be surprised if during tonight's trick-or-treating, Che shows up among the goblins. He's that ubiquitous.

Hollywood has taken notice, too. Last year's indie hit The Motorcycle Diaries, which traced Che's youthful wanderlust trip across South America, is soon to be followed by a major studio production featuring Benicio Del Toro.

Che's rock star status will probably be fleeting. Just ask Motley Crüe. But long after Jay-Z stops rapping, "I'm like Che Guevara with bling on," Che will retain the exalted position he has held since the Vietnam War as a symbol of peace and justice. And that is a problem.

Che demanded worldwide revolution, even if it meant a stream of death and misery. He said the utopia that could be built on the ashes of the old world would make the suffering worthwhile. That's why he advocated a nuclear exchange during the Cuban missile crisis.

In fact, if you read through Che's speeches, with his constant refrain of glorious martyrdom, they're remarkably similar to another well-known "revolutionary" — the tall, bearded one holed up somewhere on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Che hated the United States and the global free market system that sustained it. Just ask him. "Let us sum up our hopes for victory: total destruction of imperialism by eliminating its firmest bulwark, the oppression exercised by the United States of America."

If Che's world vision had prevailed, it's safe to say that Apple founder Steve Jobs would have never brought us the iPod. After all, it's tough to innovate when you're stuck behind a donkey farming turnips for the proletariat.

For those who sell Che merchandise, this history is beside the point. Yakov Grinberg, a 20-year-old clerk at Freaks, a shop in Manhattan's trendy East Village, freely concedes: "Most of these people obviously have no idea what they're wearing."

Che isn't the only erstwhile commie scoring cool points either. Chairman Mao and the Soviet hammer-and-sickle are showing up on hipster gear as well. Who knew that bread lines were the new black?

Against this backdrop of ignorance, it's not surprising that Che, as a populist symbol of uncompromising defiance who stood up for the poor and oppressed, transcends the real Che — the one who said judicial review for executions was an "archaic bourgeoisie detail."

What then are we to make of Che Guevara? Che apologists insist he fought "for the people." But when it came to the basics of helping "the people," such as not killing them, he was less than stellar.

Most historians agree upon one fact, however, that can shape our understanding of Che. He was a loser. Big time. I'm talking McGovern in '72, Saddam in '91 and the Chicago Cubs every year since '08.

Che fomented unrest in Argentina, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Haiti, Panama and the African Congo, and every expedition was an abject failure. His single enduring political achievement, Cuba, is not even threatening enough to make the Axis of Evil.

So, instead of Che being held up as a beacon of peace and justice, let us hereafter revel in his futility. He'll be an exemplar of the idea that hard work does not always pay off. In fact, I already have a new shirt in mind. Take the same iconic picture of Che and just add the heading, "I tried to conquer the evil Yankee imperialists and all I got was this stupid T-shirt."

Ryan Clancy is a freelance writer living in New York City.


Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

Uniformed, anonymous comments are not welcome here. take your communist propaganda elsewhere.

Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

Start your own blog jackass.