Immoral Appropriation of Images?

Angela McRobbie’s notion that “representations are interpretations” which Radway mentions in the introduction of Reading the Romance seems pertinent to Casey’s discussion of the image of Che. Michael Casey, rather frustratingly, seems to flip back and forth between describing the meanings associated with Che as a social construction: “We are not passive viewers of Korda’s frozen moment, which for all its beauty is really just a static template. No, quite the opposite we have collectively filled the image with meaning” (5) and, describing it as an image with an innate importance. For example he argues that Korda “had captured the unspoken essence of Che” (45). Though perhaps the latter example just demonstrates that Casey too gets caught up in the glorified and romantic notion of Che as a handsome, powerful, alpha-male, revolutionary.
Casey notes that it is this sensation of seeing the true “essensce of Che” which gives not only the image, of the texts written by Che their great appeal: “The appeal of reading Che’s words….comes from the sensation that they are hearing the pure, unfiltered, voice of an icon” (56). Which leads me to the questions that Che’s Afterlife really raised for me (I haven’t read the whole thing so this may just sound silly.) Dick Hebdige describes bricolage as the practice by which subcultures reassign meaning to various mainstream culture symbols or artifacts. The Che image has come to symbolism many things, yet it is grounded in the notion of resistance to capitalism. I wonder then, to what extent you can appropriate a symbol without knowing the history behind the image. Clearly, this can happen, but to what extent is it more or less powerful to appropriate an image while being aware of its historical meaning. Perhaps powerful is the wrong word. It seems as though it is almost theft or at the very least simply a disrespectful gesture to make use of a symbol which you do not know much about. Particularly in situations such as Che’s image which is grounded in a story which involved a great deal of death.

One response to “Immoral Appropriation of Images?

  1. Oddly, and this may have no relevance at all to our broader discussions, but your last bit actually reminded me of the Swastika. It’s a symbol that’s been around for a really long time and had represented good things (I think, generally, good luck) until the 20th century. But as everyone knows, that symbol was reappropriated by the Nazis and now it’s rare for anyone in America at least to use it to mean anything good. Yet in other countries it does still hold that initial good meaning. In this case, I definitely feel like the Swastika was “stolen” in some way, especially because it now represents something so horrible. With the Che image, I’m less certain. It seems like it didn’t necessarily have one initial meaning that was globally understood, as was the case with the Swastika, and maybe part of the creation of that global meaning has simply resulted in a wide variety of different meanings for different people. I do agree, though, that people ought to understand the history behind an image if they are going to claim it for a certain representation.