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The LA Times looks into the Obama-Che iconcography connection

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By See-Dubya  •  May 31, 2008 05:36 PM

This is buried deep within a (worthwhile, if creepily non-judgmental and incomplete) piece about the merchandising of Che Guevara’s image, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the LA Times make the connection between the visual cult of Che and the cult of Obama:

Rebels and activists the world over still take inspiration from Guevara. But the image has lost something; Che’s face on a poster in 1968 isn’t quite the same thing as it is on a mousepad 40 years later. Perhaps it is precisely that loss — the shedding of Che’s radicalism and ideological rigor — that renders him so supremely marketable today. Things are not going well these days. Kids don’t want revolution so much as, um, something different.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that L.A. artist Shepard Fairey, in his design for a Sen. Barack Obama poster, looked to Korda’s Che. Fairey’s Obama is not wearing a beret, and he’s looking left instead of right, but his face tilts at the same angle as Che’s. His jaw is set with the same willfulness and strength, and he too is gazing recognizably upward into the future (hasta la victoria siempre . . . ). Obama’s eyes, though, are filled not with righteous anger but with vague and lofty hope.

Good, good, don’t blow it…*

Che means change, if nothing else — and not necessarily Marxist or anti-imperialist or radical at all.

Aw, crap. You guys were so close.

Look, you just can’t hide from Che’s history. It’s like putting a David Duke for President bumper sticker on your car and then explaining that for you, personally, it’s just about traditional values and not about white nationalism. It’s like flying a Hezbollah flag and just claiming that you’re not for terrorism or wiping out Israel, you’re just opposed to Zionism. This swastika tattoo? Why, it’s just a Hindu/ American Indian good luck symbol, friend–not a Nazi thing at all. Shame on you for thinking so.

I think this cuts both ways–you might, say, want to wear a Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride. There’s actually a much better argument to be made than in the hypotheticals above that the Confederate flag has been rehabilitated–transformed into a symbol of pride in Southern heritage and divorced from its racist connotations. But you shouldn’t be surprised if it raises a few eyebrows from people who understand it as A: a flag of armed rebellion against the United States and B: the flag of a pro-slavery cause.

Even if you’re telling the truth and those things subjectively mean something totally innocuous to you, you’re an idiot for ignoring the commonly accepted symbolism as well as the historical context. You might want that Che T-shirt just to stand for “change”, or for “hey, hippie chicks, I would like to make dirty hippie love to you”, but there’s just not much getting around the fact that Che was a murdering sociopathic Commie ideologue.

Which I think is also what Michelle and Charles are saying about the keffiyeh. Maybe it’s just a cool exotic scarf to you. But there’s a very important background to it that you don’t know or are ignoring, and if you really understood what it meant to Islamic terrorists in the current, ongoing conflict, why would you possibly want to wear it?

P.S. If you just have to wear a keffiyeh, one of the dozens of links at Michelle’s post (sorry, forgot which) had the interesting idea of subverting it. Get one with American flags on it. Or Stars of David. Or the little Mohammed bomb-turban Danish cartoon.

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*More about that Shepard Fairey dude from me, back here.

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{Post by See-Dubya}

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