Thursday, July 17, 2008

La Lucha Continua, Señor Beck

ratm_che Lately, conservative television commentators have increasingly focused attention on tee-shirts depicting the image of Che Guevara. While T's of El Che were popular throughout the 90's (See: Zach de la Rocha), these T's and their wearers have received venomous attention in the post-9/11 world, a world in which the meme seems to have become the most important materiél in a war against radical Islamic extremism née radical extremism née terror [Maybe it always has been, but now even the U.S. government is acknowledging it. ~ Ed.].

glennbeckIn his commentary, "T-shirt depicts 'brutal and pathetic' legacy,"  enlightened pundit Glenn Beck again takes up the issue, citing the use of a Che-based tee as costume in a Columbian-army hostage rescue operation as proof positive that "When you are wearing a Che T-shirt, you're wearing the same shirt that makes terrorists believe you're just one of the gang." [I have the same luck every time I wear my Hines Ward jersey to Heinz Field. Want to see my Super Bowl ring? ~ Ed.] Now, Mr. Beck's position is untenable in several ways.

First, Mr. Beck assumes that at some point one of the FARC members looked at the t's-shirt, indexed it against known images that signify rebel or nationalist, and decided to accept the false identity of the rescuer based solely upon the tee. I offer this: If the forces of terra' are that trusting and simple minded, why did it take five years to rescue those hostages? Why has W not held a celebratory Roast-Bin-Laden-On-A-Spit-In-The-Rose-Garden media event? Not only is it likely erroneous to suppose that the Che tee tipped the scales for a successful op, but it is also dangerous—if Americans believe the "bad guys" can be duped with a t's-shirt, will those Americans take those rebels seriously?

Second, Mr. Beck only espouses the capitalist, post-industrial, hegemonic narrative of Guevara. As an opponent of colonialism who used violent means in an attempt to liberate countries from settler colons who would not go quietly, peacefully, or at all, Guevara deserves to be seen as a more complex figure. Would it be fair, I might ask Mr. Beck, if we were to simply our description of the current Commander-in-Chief as a war-mongering, fact-fabricating, nation-deceiving, imperialist who engineered the overthrow of a sovereign country in order to revenge his biological father and follow the message of his spiritual father? I submit that it would not [Totally avoids his anti-science, pro-oil positions. ~ Ed.], and I assume Mr. Beck would agree.

However, if Mr. Beck wishes to pigeon-hole Che, I have a few suggestions of other tee shirts featuring colonized people who used violent, unconventional means to secure their own liberty and freedom:

SamAdams   greenback

Of course I am being hyperbolic, and I am not seriously equating George Washington with Che Guevara, but I am suggesting that each figure, each person who walks this earth, cannot be reduced to one or two adjectives, no matter how politically expedient it might be. Moreover, by simplifying Che, painting him as a "murderer," glosses over the very real social injustices Che witnessed and was committed to correcting.

But, for most speakers who rage against the Che tee, that is probably the point.

BTW: Who knew they made patriotic Cosby sweaters?


  1. Hey, thanks for your comment, even if it was an ad for your own posts! ;)

  2. I just don't get the whole "You're wearing a t-shirt that is offensive to me; therefore you are a bad American" argument. I mean, The First Amendment gives people the right to say things that may offend other people. They even have a right to say things that others might think make them seem ignorant. Glenn Beck exercises that right frequently, albeit at the other end of the political spectrum, so I don't understand why he's so upset.

  3. Hi, Jane--
    I suppose he's so upset in the way that most conservative pundits get upset: they think their use of free speech is the RIGHT use of free speech. That's what makes them so conservative (or, more accurately, reactionary) I think.
    Thanks for the comment!