Wednesday, June 28, 2006
All over the world, there are t-shirts with Che Guevera. They look like this:
If you hang in college towns, you have definitely seen them, most frequently on unattractive white people.
Not surprisingly, Che-shirts are all over the souvenir stands in China, along with Mao shirts and the occasional Osama bin Laden. This is not because the Chinese are anti-American -- the souvenir hawkers will sell anything that Westerners will buy, including American flag logo Chinese silk scarves. They would sell t-shirts of Ronald Reagan or (perhaps especially) Richard Nixon, if there were demand from Western tourists.
As previously reported, the Mao-chic goes well beyond the usual market for Che-shirts. Middle class teenagers traveling with their parents in China buy Mao shirts. There are so many, there must be huge demand for them among tourists, including especially Westerners who would never be caught dead in Hitler or Stalin logo attire.
All of this led my son to ask a couple of sharp questions over dinner. Why do people -- Westerners, he meant in this case -- wear Mao t-shirts, but not Hitler or Stalin t-shirts? Frankly, I can think of but one answer that stands up to the test of history: Mao murdered millions of Asians, but Hitler and Stalin slaughtered Europeans. Westerners, particularly the paternalistic left, do not value Asian lives according to the same standard, so they are willing to forgive the murder of tens of millions of Chinese. Anybody want to try their hand at a different explanation?
This is why so many on the left were willing to let Iraqis continue to suffer under Saddam Hussein, and believe that "stability" in the Arab world is more important than popular sovereignty. Arabs aren't capable of democracy, you know. It also explains why the interventions in Bosnia, Servia and Kosovo were justified for their humanitarian purposes (according to the left), but the invasion of Iraq was not.
Then my son asked, why don't people wear t-shirts with George Washington's picture? Even in the United States, there must be a hundred or a thousand t-shirts with Che Guevera for every George Washington, or any of the fathers of our own extraordinary revolution. If one were inclined to wear t-shirts with depictions of revolutionary guerrillas, I would think that anybody other than an unreconstructed commie would prefer to honor a man who built a great nation wisely and humanely, rather than brutal anti-democrats who left little more than misery and pain in their wake.
I could give no answer to my son that made any sense at all.
I'll take a stab at this enigma. I think Che represents some kind of muddled idea of continuing struggle against... I don't know, fill in the blank. (Whereas Washington's struggle is, thankfully, long concluded.)
The people who worship at the altar of Che obviously know little or next to nothing about him. Or at least I should hope that's the case.
Hey, there's always this shirt.
history classes taught us in school that hitler and stalin were awful. they really didn't teach chinese history at all. or cuban/latino. so i would say it is mostly driven by historical ignorance. the only people who "study" che are marxists, and they tend to propagandize on his behalf.
conservatives celebrate/venerate their heroes in different ways than those on the left. while che and mao get the t-shirts, GW and TJ get mt. rushmore. you decide which makes the more lasting statement.
I'll have to echo sirius and CP:
1. It's a fight-the-power thing. It's always more cool to be against the status quo than for it, which appeals to kids and the immature.
2. They were never taught that Mao murdered literally millions, so unlike Hitler and Stalin, they can wear a Mao T-shirt without having to think about the consequences of the philosophy behind the figurehead they're sporting.
I know you disagree with me TH, but you're seeing the consequences of historical ignorance which is very much a function of PC in academia. It is not "PC" to say Communism was responsible for the deaths of millions under Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, but perfectly PC to magnify every single failing of American democratic ideals.
The result is a loss of moral proportion quite similar to that displayed by a press corps that saturates us with photos of Abu Ghuraib while ignoring the very real human rights abuses of terrorists who mutilate people while they're still alive and stuff their corpses with explosives to kill their grieving families.
But then we never see photos of that, do we? Maybe if we did, a few people would understand, and I mean REALLY understand, what it is we're fighting against.
What a wonderful trip you're on.
I have a dark blue Mao suit which a relative brought back from China in the 70s. I was going to give it to my daughter to wear, but per your post, will provide a tee of George Washington to wear with it, jacket open. Or a USA flag patch on the sleeve and maybe some serious bling to really funk it up. She'd be very cool about the statement, I think.
Our history studies in this country are sadly lacking in big perspective. Too many university historians seem to think that to impart a global perspective one must give historical narratives in narrow Other World terms that minimize external "objective" truths and downplay any legitimacy to the American POV.
Oh, didn't you know? Che is chic.The curator of the new exhibition "Che Guevara: Revolutionary and Icon" at the Victoria and Albert Museum explains:
"Rashomonesque in its multiple appearances, Guerrillero Heroico [the ubiquitous Che photo reproduced on the T-shirt] has remained fluid yet buoyant. Its meaning is always clear even to those who know little about the man himself."
I guess it depends upon what your definition of "clear" is.
When my middle son was five or six, he asked me whether he couldn't have a Jesus action figure, and whether it was possible to get a Devil one for him to fight.
I imagined the TV commercial:
"Jesus and his saints take on Satan and his evil minions. What would Jesus do? Kick his butt!"
Kids don't like school, or anyone they're forced to learn about in school. They like to be different and a little anti-authoritarian. It's really not very anti-authoritarian to wear a t-shirt of a guy whose birthday is a national holiday. Plus it's hard to sell the idea that powdered wigs are in any way cool.
I agree, Che doesn't belong on t-shirts and pajamas. How about Ayn Rand tees...
absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
wear a Hitler t-shirt
revere a mass murderer
proudly show your ignorance
absurd thought -
God of the Universe thinks
let's PLAY communism
pretend to fix the world
by destroying it
Capitalists Selling Communism