Saturday, December 23, 2006

Targeting Che

Target stores, an American discount department store, has withdrawn CD cases offered for sale which featured the picture of Communist revolutionary Che Guevara. It has also offered an apology to those whom it offended. A story in the Chicago Tribune relates the tale here.

What particularly caught my eye were the following brief paragraphs:

Guevara photos are often seen on T-shirts and posters, but some critics thought Target went too far when it put Guevara's photo on a Target-branded item it was selling in stores. Guevara, a key figure in the Cuban revolution, has been frequently criticized on the right for his violent tactics.

"What next? Hitler backpacks? Pol Pot cookware? Pinochet pantyhose? Target gives this monster a pass, while using common sense on almost everything else it sells," Investors Business Daily editorialized on Dec. 13.

First I must say that it strikes me that we have missed a golden marketing opportunity: who could resist buying Himmler hot pants? I ask you. Investors may make contact with me in care of this blog.
But more seriously, this line is deeply confused: '[Che] has been frequently criticized on the right for his violent tactics.' This is wrong; Che has been frequently criticised on the right for being on the left. The right, or at least certain elements of it (at times including America), have been entirely willing to employ violence in whatever cause they have found compelling. To take an obvious example from the above paragraphs, General Pinochet staged a coup in Chile against a popularly-elected leftist president, with the support of America, and during his time in power killed and tortured numerous people who were considered 'dangerous'. Now, obviously no one has suggested putting Pinochet's picture on children's lunchboxes or what have you, but that is not the point, this is: (certain elements of the) right, left and centre have all employed violence to achieve ends they have thought worthwhile. For conservatives to cavil at the use of Che's image because he was violent seems distinctly hypocritical.
Honestly, I have often thought that the adaptation of Che's image for use in all sorts of consumer goods, particularly t-shirts, to be a singularly ill-fitting tribute to the man who fought for the people's revolution in parts of Central and South America and Africa. His image has been co-opted to support and drive the very sort of consumer capitalism that he resisted, so that certain well-placed people can become fabulously wealthy whilst so many others are kept in menial, demeaning, ill-paid jobs. (I'm willing to bet that the t-shirts which bear his likeness are not made in domestic, unionised shops -- but I'm willing to be corrected with sufficient evidence.) Which brings me to this final observation:
It seems to me that, given the sort of deep insult it is to Che's memory to have his image become part of consumer capitalism with all its attendant problems, the right would be supporting just this sort of trivialisation of the man and his memory. I find it deeply troubling.
Unless I can find someone to market my "Che" brand designer jeans. (Enquiries in care of this blog, please.)

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