Saturday, June 14, 2008

Che's Children

Reading about Che Guevara's children and their dismay at the commercialization of their father's likeness reminded me of something I wrote some four years ago.

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Losing significance
27 November 2004

No, Che Guevara is not the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine, neither is he a rock musician. Sadly a lot of kids seem to think he's one or the other, especially the ones who just bought the t-shirts because they looked cool.

Blame RATM, pioneering rap-metal band (yes, there were bands like them and Faith No More before Linkin Park and Korn) espousing left-wing politics, for releasing a tour shirt featuring Che's mug. Blame the counterfeiters for mass-producing these and distributing them everywhere – from American Boulevard stores in shopping malls to Paco Public Market. Heck, blame an educational system that produces kids who don't know their historical figures or a pop culture that encourages conformity without question.

The modern t-shirt is a medium for communicating ideas. From jokes and punchlines (like "Smokers don't grow old, they die young" or the classic "I'm with stupid") to sports teams' insignia, the contents of t-shirts say a lot about the wearer. Shirts that show school emblems or organizational logos proudly declare the wearer's affiliation, while those with emblazoned statements are assumed to reflect the wearer's opinion.

So it's mildly annoying for me to see people wearing stuff they know nothing about. I remember back in the early 90s when even lolas who sold tuyo at public markets wore the yellow and black Sepultura shirts or Pearl Jam "Alive" shirts (the one with the stick figure) beneath their aprons. Of course one seriously doubts any of them are really fans of the said bands. Same goes for kids who wear baseball caps of baseball teams none of them have ever heard of.

But that's just fine. The designs probably caught their eye. It's not like they're posing as rock music or baseball fans. But the Che Guevara thing is slightly more irritating since it verges on the political. His face is a symbol of struggle so it seems out of place on some guy who just happens to like a stylized rendition of a mustachioed face with a beret. What's worse is seeing it on some coño kid driving an expensive car while listening to his iPod (the very thing Guevara is against) or a jolog who thinks Che is a Pinoy rock icon (which is just plain stupid).

What's sad is that the intention of the original shirt designer has been weakened. From a decidedly political message it has been watered down to something that's merely "cool." Like the Dalai Lama, Che has been turned into a pop icon whose significance lies mostly on the fact that his face is on t-shirts everywhere.

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