[sixties-l] Che Guevara lives on, if not in our hearts at least on our chests (fwd)

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Date: Mon Mar 18 2002 - 02:29:21 EST

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    Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2002 13:48:21 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Che Guevara lives on, if not in our hearts at least on our chests

    Che Guevara lives on, if not in our hearts at least on our chests


    Sydney Morning Herald
    March 15, 2002

    The popularity of a long-dead radical as holiday wear
    suggests a disaffection in middle Australia, writes
    Rachel Roberts.

    In my hometown, Byron Bay, Ernesto "Che" Guevara lives
    and breathes. I see him regularly. Sometimes at the
    Railway Friendly Bar, where he comes most nights to
    drink and listen to live music. Other times in cafes
    sipping coffee, nodding and looking intense among
    friends. Often I stand behind him in the queue at the
    post office, where he comes to send postcards of
    dazzling beaches and sherbet-coloured sunrises to
    relatives and colleagues he has left behind, although
    temporarily, in Sydney and Melbourne.

    Naturally I don't mean the real Che Guevara, the
    guerilla revolutionary who joined Fidel Castro in
    overthrowing Cuba's repressive Batista regime in 1959.
    As most of us already know, he died long ago, executed
    deep in Bolivia by Bolivian soldiers shortly after
    1.10pm on October 9, 1967. The Che Guevara I am
    referring to is the one I see displayed over chests of
    all shapes and sizes on the streets of Byron Bay. The
    iconic picture of Che we all know so well, young and
    compelling, printed over khaki, red and
    rainbow-coloured T-shirts wherever I look. Given that
    visual images are frequently adopted to communicate
    political trends, what might Che's growing
    contemporary popularity mean?

    Few of us would argue that the picture isn't
    wonderful. Captured in 1960 by the official
    photographer of the Cuban revolution, Alberto Korda,
    it invokes our deeply rooted romantic understandings
    of revolution: our concepts of intellectualism,
    political defiance, liberation and, ultimately,
    martyrdom. There is an unsurprising blaze to Che's
    stare, one that speaks of profound idealism and dark
    resolve. Unsurprising, because the photograph was
    taken at a memorial service for 75 people killed and
    several hundred others injured when the French
    munitions ship La Coubre mysteriously exploded in
    Havana harbour. Cuba believed the explosion to be a
    US-assisted counter-revolutionary strike, and against
    the backdrop of that suspicion, the service became not
    simply a commemoration of the lives that were lost,
    but an opportunity for Castro to denounce US
    imperialism and affirm Cuba's commitment to socialism.

    How the Che photograph came to leave Korda's control
    and enter the hands of another is a fascinating story
    of entrepreneurialism and injustice in itself.
    Nevertheless, what is equally interesting to me is why
    the image has captured the imagination of a new kind
    of person of late. Formerly a symbol embraced mostly
    by students and radicals, the image and myth of Che
    Guevara have seeped, it seems, into the heretofore
    unconverted ranks of the urban professional middle
    classes. Fleeing the cities on their annual holiday to
    Byron Bay, Sydneysiders and Melbournites rush to buy
    the T-shirt in their droves, wear it happily around
    during the one or two weeks they stay there, only to
    abandon it then to the bottom drawer on returning to
    their normal white-collar lives.

    Why this is so is open to interpretation. On the one
    hand, you could convincingly argue that we are drawn
    to Korda's image of Che because it is cool, evocative
    and, quite simply, sexy. A marketer's dream come true
    primarily because Che is dead, therefore neither can
    his face age, nor can his mystique be shattered. (And
    when you think about it, when have any of us seen
    T-shirts of poor old Fidel for sale?) On the other
    hand, perhaps the popularity of the image represents a
    broadening disaffection among the middle classes with
    the global and domestic political environment that
    keeps them desk-bound for much of their lives. In
    particular, it may be a way of trying to resist
    capitalism and mass corporatisation in the only way
    many of us know how - by buying a product and letting
    it do the talking for us. It is becoming harder and
    harder to be subversive these days. The pull of
    capitalism and economic rationalism co-opts us in so
    many ways that it is difficult to survive in a truly
    radical way. Let's face it, we all have to live.

    It could suggest that the Prime Minister, John Howard,
    has misjudged the mood of his much-loved middle
    Australia, reflecting instead its lack of support for
    the Coalition's performance in relation to matters of
    public conscience, not least the uncompromisingly
    cold-hearted policies on refugees and the stolen
    generations. Or maybe, in the wake of September 11,
    donning the T-shirt denotes the wearer's sympathy for
    Che's own antipathy towards the US and what many of us
    see as its alarming gung-ho nationalism and insidious
    cultural colonialism.

    Whatever the reason people buy and wear Che T-shirts,
    one thing is sure - someone must be doing well out of
    his unique appeal. In Byron they sell for about $25.
    They couldn't cost more than a few dollars to produce.

    Che's bones must be turning in his grave.
    Rachel Roberts is a freelance writer.

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