15 February 2006

The Capitalist Commodification of Communist Chic

Why Gen Y Thinks Che is Cool, Even Though They Don't Know Jack About Cuba

Everyone has witnessed this scene at some point in their life: A teenage punk with bedhead who smells like he sleeps in a dump walks by, bedazzled by a series of spikes and chains wrapped around his neck, wrists, and other parts of his lanky frame that is shrouded in a red T-Shirt that declares, "VIVA LA REVOLUCION" in bright, white letters underneath a silhouette of communist rebel Che Guevara. The ultimate non-poser has proven himself to be yet another member of that "undifferentiated ego mass that demands conformity" as the Family Guy line goes. Whether he knows it or not, Mr. Punk is as commodified as the tube-top-clad Britney Spears imitators that sit next to him in study hall, chatting on their cell phones and calling everything "hot."

A recent article, The Che Cachet [Washington Post] uses the opening of a new exhibit in New York titled "Che: Revolution and Commerce" to discuss the capitalist commodification of this communist rebel icon. Tainted with the usual amount of PC lingo (statements comparing Marxists to "freedom fighters"-- in the probable words of Katie Couric and the staff of CNN, "that's so hot") the article reveals, unintentionally, I would assume, the brilliant strategy honed by communists the world-over in their continuing battle with freedom.

The strategy is generally termed Orwellian for those in-the-know, but for anyone who hasn't read Animal Farm, suffice to say that today's communist has learned that the best way to forge revolution is to convince the people that the revolution has already been won. How so? By pretending that history's losses didn't really happen at all. What better way to take advantage of today's postmodern couture than to become kitschingly self-referential? After all, self-effacing humor got the Jews out of the ghetto and into every living room across the country. So, why not mock-homage yesterday's rebels in order to get into the minds of tomorrow's revolutionaries?

How does the Washington Post writer describe the Che display? "It's the story of a single photograph and its flukey journey from contact sheet to international ubiquity and then into the farcical maw of commercial kitsch." Right now, alarm bells should be going off in unbrainwashed minds over the use of the words "ubiquity" "farcical" and "kitsch." Tsk, tsk, Mr. Washington Post, too many buzzwords in one sentence is NOT hot. It is, however, functional. The modern lingo is buzz, as one online merchant of Che-wear explains: "Our other big seller is beer pong shirts," says Shayn Diamond, a college student in London, Ontario, who a few months ago started selling Che-wear with some friends at Cheguevarashirts.com. "He's a rebel, and along with rebel comes the cool factor and trendiness."

Communism is now "cool" and "trendy." Wouldn't Stalin be proud? Actually, he probably wouldn't mind the snide way Red merchants explain the popularity of commie chic among the capitalist masses: "The U.S. has always had the ability to appropriate rebels," says Meyer, on the phone from his studio in Mexico. "It's a cheap way to deal with your urge to be rebellious. You buy a T-shirt and you don't have to do anything more." In other words, capitalism is such an exhaustive force that it renders you useless to act, let alone react to the world around you. Consumer culture isn't about free choice as much as it is about satisfying your urges by following the latest trend. Who said free markets led to free thought?

The undifferentiated ego mass theory goes a step further when the actual facts of Che Guevara aren't brought to light: "But at least the Cubans know whom they're glorifying. In the United States, Che's life story and ambitions seem beside the point, or maybe they've just been reduced to caricature. The guy's face is shorthand for "I'm against the status quo." ... It makes you part of the thrift-store intelligentsia, even if your real focus is beer pong." Translation for the non-college crowd: Here's my statement that someone else made for me. I don't need to know what it means; I just need to look good wearing it. How do I know I'm looking good? Because other kids like it. Not that I care what they think, because I'm an individual and I don't need their trendy crap.

The writer's thesis says it all: "This, in brief, is why capitalism won. It's the only system that understands that we'd all like to change the world, but we are way too lazy for that sort of thing." A lie repeated often enough passes for the truth. The communist strategy is simple: The ultimate goal in commodifying the rebel image is to quell the idea of rebellion against communist principles. Instead of encouraging young minds to question the ideals placed before them, teens and young adults are trained to literally buy into the thought process without thinking about what they are doing. Modern-day Leninists don't need brochures, pamphlets, or soapboxes any more; they're using pop culture to lead the next generation "by the hand into Revolution."

How do they justify this lack of thought and personal responsibility? By claiming that a free market society, with its commercialization of everything under the sun, doesn't allow its citizens to think freely for themselves. Go ahead; wear that T-Shirt-- the sales clerk, the shop owner, the big white guy in the corporate office made you do it. It's okay, it isn't your fault you're unwittingly supporting mass murder and a freedomless society, c'mon-- here, come here, it's hug time. There, there, the fatherland will make it all better.

So, how do we loyal capitalists respond to the commie chic? You could buy a "Viva La Reagan Revolucion" t-shirt and do your part to over mediate the argument and "represent." Or, better yet, you could use your voice. Call the communists out into the public square for exactly who they are and what they really mean. Don't argue their doublespeak-- denounce it, loudly. We can scream conservatism all we want, but until and unless we stand firmly and proclaim the truth, nothing will ever change. More symbols will be created, more martyrs will be honed, more t-shirts will be sold, and no one will be the wiser.

We can't rely on standard authority figures to teach us right from wrong anymore. Already, an entire generation has been unleashed upon the world without the ability to think analytically and critically about the necessities of daily life. We have two choices: to start teaching (and, in some cases re-teaching) basic analytical comprehension by exposing the lies, or we can start printing up T-shirts reading "Viva La Reading Writing and 'Rithmatic Revolucion" to counter the bumbling idiocy that will completely consume us in the very near future.

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