“I don’t want people to use my father’s face unthinkingly. I don’t like to see him stitched on the backside of a pair of mass-produced jeans. But look at the people who wear Che T-shirts. They tend to be those who don’t conform, who want more from society, who are wondering if they can be better human beings. That, I think he would have liked.”
– Alieda Guevar.( Daughter of Che Guevara)
There are things that all of us want because they somehow stand for all that we believe in, stand for things that we would like done, echo the vehemence of rebellion, represent the spirit inside us, mirror our state of mind whether it be belief in ourselves or disillusionment with the system. For me, a Che Guevara t-shirt does just that – it stands for my belief in the possibility of change, it represents my disillusionment with the system, it mirrors my stand of communism…..for me, living in the age of graffiti/t-shirt culture, it is my way of saying that change and radical change is what I want. But how much of all that makes any actual practical logic? Is it just a way for me to be ‘cool’, to be that ‘going against the tide, communist?’. Filling my wardrobe with the face of the same hero’s face is all too well but the question here is whether I do it because I want to and I will try to be like the revolutionary that he was or because I know that since I can never actually be a real activist or revolutionary, I might as well pose as one and what better way of doing that than acting like a staunch Che ‘fan’. Fan – I used the word because I think no one is a follower or emulator or even an inspired being anymore. All that the youth today is, are fans……….wanting to be part of the wave that swept popular culture, being a pawn in the large nexus of corporations who mass produce and sell the image of the man whose very stand of communism goes against them.
The newest addition to my wardrobe is a t-shirt in bright pink color with Alberto Korda’s famous photograph of Che, which is also his most reproduced likeness. A friend of mine liked it a lot and went on saying how she thought ‘the guy’ on the t-shirt is really hot and how even she wanted something similar and how she thought that ‘the guy’ must be French or Italian and went on to ask me, which band he played for. Well, my deep-in-love-with-Che consciousness was zapped. This was hilarious; it was an abdominal shame, something to “go-die” about. How could she say or even imagine that Che was some rocker/musician for some band? How could she connect him to something which was so juvenile and petty when compared with the life that he actually chose for himself? But I thought about it later and well, I didn’t blame her after all. This mix-up was but an unavoidable result of mass production of his image, this was something that didn’t happen only in case of my friend but a lot of people, who still don’t really know who Che Guevara, the man was but yet want to flaunt his face on t-shirts because it is ‘oh-so-cool’. The cause that he lived and died for means nothing, the values that he stood for means nothing, his sacrifice means nothing, his unconventional notions of educated violence and rebellion means nothing. Shelf Life Clothing even sells a Che Guevara shirt with the slogan “I have no idea who this guy is” underneath the picture.
Seeing all this leads me to think if all of us have sold his ideology to the very establishments that he stood against? Well I am no one to judge all that considering the fact that even I am one of those caught in this cult of buying anything with his face on it….mugs, pens, bags……to his followers, it is painful to see his commodification while to those for whom he is a negative character, it is hurtful to see the face of someone branded as callous and meaninglessly violent being celebrated and given ‘veneration’. But personally, I agree with a friend of mine. When he saw my bright pink t-shirt, first thing he said was, “He wouldn’t have like it. Che would have never liked THAT pink”.