New generation lives to see another Che
May 26, 2004 5:32 PM   Subscribe

New generation lives to see another Che "Che Guevara is widely remembered as a revolutionary figure, to some a heroic, Christ-like martyr, to others the embodiment of a failed ideology. To still others, he is just a commercialized emblem on a T-shirt. But for Latin Americans just now coming of age, yet another image of Che is starting to emerge: the romantic and tragic young adventurer who had as much in common with Jack Kerouac or James Dean as with Fidel Castro. The phenomenon began a decade ago with the publication of his long-suppressed memoir known in English as "The Motorcycle Diaries," which has become a cult favorite among Latin American college students and young intellectuals..."
posted by Postroad (24 comments total)
bad article, good point:

"Che the Lionhearted's image is still ubiquitous on college campuses. But in the wrong places. He belongs in the marketing, PR, advertising – and especially – psychology departments. His lessons and history are fascinating and valuable, but only in light of Sigmund Freud or P.T. Barnum. One born every minute, Mr. Barnum? If only you'd lived to see the Che phenomenon. Actually, 10 are born every second.

Here's a "guerrilla hero" who in real life never fought in a guerrilla war. When he finally brushed up against one, he was routed.

Here's a cold-blooded murderer who executed thousands without trial, who claimed that judicial evidence was an "unnecessary bourgeois detail," who stressed that "revolutionaries must become cold-killing machines motivated by pure hate," who stayed up till dawn for months at a time signing death warrants for innocent and honorable men, whose office in La Cabana had a window where he could watch the executions – and today his T-shirts adorn people who oppose capital punishment!"
posted by lotsofno at 5:38 PM on May 26, 2004

the romantic and tragic young adventurer who had as much in common with Jack Kerouac

I don't know, Jack was terrible with money.
posted by clavdivs at 6:26 PM on May 26, 2004

Che Guevara, third base, San Diego Padres, right?

Whenever I see some college kid in a Che t-shirt that he probably paid 40 bucks for, I feel a flash of anger, then I realize that the poor dufus dosen't realize that if Che's plans ever came to fruition his parent's Hummer and his Powerbook would become state property and then I just regard him with a mixture of amusement and pity.

Of course we can thank Guevara for this flick featuring some of the worst casting in history.
posted by jonmc at 6:38 PM on May 26, 2004

Here's a "guerrilla hero" who in real life never fought in a guerrilla war.

I think that the Cuban Revolution qualifies as a guerilla war. Che and the Castro boys (Super Castro Bros.!) started out with about 50 men.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:54 PM on May 26, 2004

yup and what about his work in Chile.

so if fidel is Bert, is Che ernie....ummmm
posted by clavdivs at 7:06 PM on May 26, 2004

The movie ("The Motorcycle Diaries") is marvellous.
posted by nandop at 7:23 PM on May 26, 2004

For those that are fans of The Motorcycle Diaries, Chasing Che by Patrick Symmes is a great read. He retraces Che's route on a bike of his own, meeting people that met Che on the original trip.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:12 PM on May 26, 2004

jonmc you seem to look down on an awful lot of people. Don't get me wrong, I get your point and agree with you, but it seems like I'm always reading your comments that involve hating rich posers, getting mad, but then just pitying them. Did some BMW-driving-leftwing-asshole-dirty-hippie steal your girlfriend in college or something?

Anyway just an observation, don't be mad, I like reading your comments.

As for Che, it's amazing what fashionable headgear and good looks can do for a person. Of course, the very idea of revolution in and of itself is attractive to a lot of people, there's nothing wrong with that... without revolution we wouldn't have America, book-learning, freed slaves, etc. What happens afterwards is usually immaterial to those who support the charismatic figures who bring change. Catalysts will always be romanticized and villified, depending on your point of view, but no one can deny that they aren't necessary.
posted by cell divide at 8:26 PM on May 26, 2004

It sure seems young intellectuals fall for some pretty sad shit nowadays. I mean, back in my day, we used to... wait a second. This is my generation were talking about. Anyways, I was sitting at U of O university talking to some chicks I met at the sign in office and this other dude walked by with a che geuvera shirt. I think I am going to get one because girls dig guys who are all political and stuff. Besides, Che just looks cool. Am I rite guys?
posted by Keyser Soze at 9:00 PM on May 26, 2004

I have to agree with Jonmc that I myself hate rich posers vehemently, yet not one has ever personally done anything directly to me. I think its the part about them being rich, and being a poser that makes it a one-two punch in my moral system, you know?
posted by Keyser Soze at 9:07 PM on May 26, 2004

The Che and Fidel thing sort of piss me off, as they do jonmc. I do disagree about whether they were genuine guerillas- the record of the Cuban Revolution is, I think, incredibly clear on that, as Mayor Curley pointed out.

But, while I understand the romanticizing of revolution, the lefties who condemn Abu Ghraib while at the same time celebrating a regime that imprisons librarians and has been torturing and imprisoning for purely political causes for 40 years is ridiculous. And it isn't particularly a rich poser thing, either; while that is irritating, much more disgusting is the duplicity of the new Spanish government, which has long supported Fidel's dictatorship yet is outraged by Bush. I mean... I'm as outraged by Abu Ghraib as anyone, but the selective memory of the communist-cuba-loving far left in both the US and Europe are just as outrageous as anything the far right is currently trying to pull. At least in the US, they are subject to elections; no such luck for Cubans.
posted by louie at 9:30 PM on May 26, 2004

Another use of these symbols is described in this article (unfortunately in Danish, so most of you will have to take my word for it), relating how radical right wing groups in Germany have begun using the old left wing symbols (Che, Palestinian scarfs etc.), because their own symbols scare to many potential followers away.

Also thereby trying to create a common front of radicals (both wings) against 'the system'. Like this t-shirt (fourth from the top) reading 'Soon there'll no longer be any 'right' or 'left' - only the system and its enemies'.
posted by AwkwardPause at 1:48 AM on May 27, 2004

Che and Trotsky are the last remaining Communist icons, because they never gained enough power for people to be able to see the results of their beliefs. Now that Communism in practice has failed everywhere, revolutionary Marxism stays alive through fantasy.
posted by fuzz at 1:57 AM on May 27, 2004

If you've ever visited China or Vietnam you'd realise that in no way are Che and Trotsky the 'last remaining Communist icons'.

Mao & Uncle Ho are everywhere.
posted by the cuban at 2:17 AM on May 27, 2004

Guess I should've said " ... for idealistic but painfully naive Western college students."
posted by fuzz at 2:44 AM on May 27, 2004

Did some BMW-driving-leftwing-asshole-dirty-hippie steal your girlfriend in college or something?

Nope, never really had any people of that type do anything to me, but I have seen them in action and I was not impressed. That's all.

As for Fidel: like I said once before, when people climb on homemade rafts in Miami to get to Havana, then maybe I'll take them seriously.
posted by jonmc at 7:37 AM on May 27, 2004

Y'know, making Cuba this land of mystery, this place that you can't visit without being hugely fined for going to, etc., probably does a bit to fuel the Che/Castro fixation. And there are plenty on non-political things about Cuba and its history that could be used to fuel romantic fantasies to begin with. It feels weird to be banned from visiting any place as an American - that the best I can do, without getting fined out the nose, is to stand at that cheesy little southernmost U.S. spot/90 miles to Cuba thingie in Key West and stretch out my arms and feel those Cuban vibes.

I remember seeing a Russian treasures exhibit after the Cold War, and thinking that I wouldn't have been as excited by it if all the treasures had come from any place else but this place that had been described as enemy territory since the day I was born. The Russian exhibit came off as exotic (although it had been an easier sell to make Russia sound like a totally bland place with fat women with no teeth, etc., during the Cold War - with Cuba, you can't do that.)

By contrast, no one romanticizes China so much in America because we all buy and use cheap Chinese crap all the time.

OK, I'm getting all confused here. I'm just saying that making a place unknowable, except through images, only increases the chances of its becoming fetishized in many different ways.
posted by raysmj at 8:17 AM on May 27, 2004

Back when the Taco Bell Dog/Che commercial came out in the mid-90s, I had a big argument with a friend who was going through a Communist phase. He was really pissed off about the appropriation of the image of a communist hero for a silly commerical; I said that if you've reached a point where you have no sense of humor about your movement, to the point where there are sacred cow images and figures that must not be mocked on pain of blasphemy, well, you should reexamine yourself. Like, if an image is that sancrosanct to you, you're probably in beyond the point of rationality.

We didn't settle the argument at the time, but a few years later he drifted out of the Red phase and eventually admitted that Che Guevara was just as mockable as anyone else and yeah, being a humorless zealot was no fun.
posted by COBRA! at 8:30 AM on May 27, 2004

The article in question is, however, not so much talking about American Che fetishists as those in Latin America. And they sound more similar to the young Russians discussed in this article - ones disillusioned with the embrace of free-market economics and democratic ideology that have been pushed on formerly communist or authoritarian countries in an often dogmatic fashion. Putting democracy and capitalism on a pedestal, and failing to ever admit failings or how the reality doesn't match the talking points (see: Iraq), etc. doesn't help matters much here.
posted by raysmj at 8:51 AM on May 27, 2004

Che will forever remain a symbol of the struggle against the crushing oppression of US-backed murderous thug dictators like Batista. That kind of youthful idealism is a good thing.
posted by JackFlash at 10:47 AM on May 27, 2004

I have an idea:
Marti T-shirts.
posted by clavdivs at 11:49 AM on May 27, 2004

Che himself wasn't nearly as good-looking as that roguishly handsome figure of him that well have all seen on t-shirts, book jackets, posters and Mike Tyson.

posted by psmealey at 12:08 PM on May 27, 2004

the struggle against the crushing oppression of US-backed murderous thug dictators like Batista. That kind of youthful idealism is a good thing.

...And so supporting a differentgroup of murderous thugs who happened to be underdogs made Che somehow righteous and awesome? I could be crazy but I think youths can be idealistic without idolizing murderers.
posted by dhoyt at 12:18 PM on May 27, 2004

That kind of youthful idealism is a good thing.

Not when it's accompanied by more violence and oppression. If I was a Cuban-American and I saw some gringo wearing a Castro/Che t-shirt, I'd be tempted to pop 'em one.
posted by jonmc at 2:22 PM on May 27, 2004

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