Che’s Beauty/the Pretty factor

I was interested in the repeated references to the “prettiness” of the Korda Che as the root of its appeal.  Of course, Casey starts out by saying that the sexiness of the image is not nearly enough to explain its widespread and long-living popularity.  This seems like a substantial claim; Casey justifies it by saying that although

“linking rebellion and sex has always sold well…Elvis, the Beatles,…James Dean…but…if it had been nothing more than the superficial packaging of chic rebellion, the mass marketing of the image would have milked it dry years ago, killing its appeal…the resilience of the Che…icon…lies in the political reality…, not in the stylistic interpretations advertisers later gave to it” (32-33).

Yet although the book is supposed to be about all the things that go into the Che image that are not based on its sexiness, the pretty factor returns again as the most basic reason why all of the other appealing aspects of the photo can exist at all.  Alberto Korda is described as discovering his interest in photography when he was a young boy fascinated by “’the immense attraction of the image itself,’” and he kept a scrapbook of “’things he found pretty;’” when he did start taking pictures it was to “capture that image,’” rather than to be published (73).  Korda’s world is described as “a veritable parade of beautiful women” (74). Che is described as “a striking-looking human being, supremely photogenic:” the perfect subject for a fashion photographer who is interested in images above all else (89).

The book concludes with a crew of journalists interviewing a 14-year-old girl called “Chica del Che” because she always wore a Che T-shirt.  The interview was mostly intimidating to the girl, who “seemed to assume she was being subjected to a history exam” (345).  Mostly, she was unable to say anything articulate, and most of what she did say were erroneous tidbits about Che’s life.  However, Casey points out that the few genuine explanations she did offer were along the lines of, “’Because he is beautiful,’” and “’I always sleep with him;’” Casey’s point is that her version of Che “was bound up in ideas of beauty, love, and dreams…what she sought in his image was beauty” (346).

I thought that where Casey went with this point was really interesting.  He considers the girl, Jaquelin, to have a future that “is fairly bleak” (346).  Realistically, he considers that “her escape from this depressing situation [lies] not in political mobilization but in the refuge of beauty” (347).  In this case, beauty refers not only to the glamour or “prettiness,” but also to the way in which “making the …Korda Che a part of herself …allows [her] to dream, to imagine, to believe in magic, to do all those things that make her human and give her life purpose” (347).  This seems like the most interesting of all the contradictory uses of the Che image.  He is used by communist and capitalist camps alike, but the tenacity of his expression and the ideas he represents (even where they are debated) seem to at least all amount to a call to action.  Here the image is being used as a way to make peace with an underprivileged existence.

One response to “Che’s Beauty/the Pretty factor