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The Eternal Irony Of The “Che” Guevara T-Shirt


They say that if you live long enough, you’ll see yourself turn into the very thing you hate. Think of all those hippies in the sixties that became the yuppies of the eighties. History has a tendency to be ironic. For example: Hitler’s hero is Napoleon, Hitler studies Napoleon’s tactics, Hitler then commits the same catastrophic blunder as Napoleon in trying to invade Russia. That’s ironic. Possibly one of the most ironic phenomenon of the last 50 years involves Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara and t-shirts. How did one of the most famous Marxists of all time become a capitalist commodity?

It all began in 1960, when official Cuban Revolution photographer Alberto Korda took a picture of Che at a funeral. In the picture, Che appears to be wearing the same jacket that Michael Jackson would one day wear in the “Thriller” video. His expression gives off a strong, firm, angry vibe, as if he’s about to throw a Molotov cocktail at whoever he’s looking at. The photo is an insight into this complex, soon to be iconic figure. In 1965, Che was killed trying while trying to raze a ruckus down in Bolivia. He soon entered into the revolutionary pantheon of the sixties. Hippies and activists here and in Europe adopted Che as an emblem against their own struggles against the establishment, man. Before you could say capitalist pig, the famous picture was turned into t-shirts, posters, hats, and pretty much everything else. You weren’t a real lefty activist unless you had a poster of Che in your dorm room. Wearing a Che t-shirt pretty much told everyone that you were a rebel, just like Che. Or at least that was the idea. Mostly it said that you were a wanna-be bourgeois arm chair revolutionary, the very thing Che would have hated. Wearing a t-shirt does not make you rebel. It just covers your naked chest so people don’t have to see how hairy your back is.

If you travel anywhere in the world you will see Che’s face on a t-shirt. You’d expect it in Cuba and the rest of Latin America, but I’ve seen it in Turkey, England, Greece, Africa, and anywhere else I’ve traveled. Some would say that Che’s image appears wherever people feel oppressed. Possibly, though I don’t know how many people are oppressed in Austin, Williamsburg, or LA. The Che t-shirt has become an icon of rebellious youth specifically because it supposedly pisses off parents for its perceived subversiveness. But it’s not really that subversive anymore, is it? It’s like how 30 years ago and earring on a man was considered hardcore. Nowadays, you have to implant those metal horns in your head to shock anyone. 90% of the kids you see wearing a Che t-shirt neither know who he was, what he stood for, or what he did. The actual person behind the shirt doesn’t matter anymore. The image is what’s important and what it stands for: sanitized culturally acceptable rebellion. Whether or not you love or hate Che, it is pretty hilarious that a guy who fought and died to dismantle capitalism is now the cornerstone of an entire industry predicated on duplicating his image. He would probably rip out his beard and puke in his beret if he could see what’s been done to his face. Then again, maybe not. His daughter Aleida Guevara has said, he probably would have been delighted to see his face on the breasts of so many beautiful women. Gross.

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