Cherry Guevara [a popsiscle] and other examples of what could be called Che abuse are now on display at the International Center of Photography in midtown Manhattan for an exhibition titled "¡Che! Revolution and Commerce."...I know a lot of people get really mad about all the Che imagery. This article takes the attitude that the runaway popularization actually defeats Che's politics. Revolution is processed into rebelliousness. Are we supposed to feel good about the way our culture drains serious meaning out of things?
The exhibit works, too, as an object lesson in the power -- and on some level, the formidable beauty -- of market economies, which can absorb and commodify anything, even their bitterest enemies. Today, there are dozens of Web sites selling stuff with Korda's Che shot emblazoned on it....
In the United States, Che's life story and ambitions seem beside the point, or maybe they've just been reduced to caricature. The guy's face is shorthand for "I'm against the status quo." He's politics' answer to James Dean, a rebel with a very specific cause. And since very few people know anything about the cause, or the rebel -- besides the basics -- the Che shirt has about it the whiff of inside info. It makes you part of the thrift-store intelligentsia, even if your real focus is beer pong.
This, in brief, is why capitalism won. It's the only system that understands that we'd all like to change the world, but we are way too lazy for that sort of thing. Especially if there's ice cream around. When you get done with a Cherry Guevara, you're left with a wooden stick with the words "We will bite to the end!" stamped on it. If there are nails in Che's coffin, this, no doubt, is what they look like.
I'm trying to think of a way to connect this story to the current insanity around the depiction of Mohammad in cartoons. If one has an important character at the center of a political or religious movement, will the propagation or the suppression of his image serve your cause better? Should you want to propagate but control the image, so that it's presented on your terms, with the prescribed elements of reverence (nails pounded into flesh, yes, submersed in urine, no)? And if you oppose a political or religious movement, what is the more powerful move, suppressing the image -- stop showing that Che picture! -- or diluting it with ridiculous over-reproduction?