The iconic branding of CHE

In Che’s Afterlife, Casey explores what has now become the brand of Che. The book outlines the ironic legacy of Che – a Marxist revolutionary who was completely against the commodity fetishization of capitalism – has become a cultural product made popular through the very channels of capitalism that Che sought to obliterate. Che, as the guerilla revolutionary, sought change through an armed revolution (much like how Fanon said that violence is necessary to achieve revolutionary ends.) However, many groups now use the iconic Korda image of Che to brand their revolutionary aims in posters, t-shirts, sweatbands, tattoos, and more. These new groups use the idea or ideal of Che as a way to gather support, yet the progress of these groups stops short of actual change. By hiding behind the branding of Che, these groups prove that ideas and ideals that may bring people together but will not bring about structural change; a brand cannot replace direct action.

Casey also explores the commodity tourism that the brand of Che has created. The powerful image broadcast globally is stripped from any photographic roots and replaced with an artistic illusive style; this has created a fetishization that brings travelers to South America to experience the life of Che. It is completely ironic that the legacy of Che is creating a market that many have exploited for profit. The tourists that buy into this market are not interested in the revolutionary ideas of Che but are instead drawn to the revolutionary spirit, which has inspired an eternal celebrity that lives through a youthful and sexy image. Casey compares the Che image to the iconic Marilyn Monroe picture and says that the Monroe picture is the only other image worldwide that has gained similar popularity. However Casey points to the fact that the Che image has achieved further global reach, appropriated by subcultures everywhere to stand for anything they wish. Casey tells us that, “The photos borrowed some of the sex appeal of pre-revolutionary Cuba and planted it in the framework of what many assumed would be a politically liberating new era. They turned Castro’s revolution into a top-selling cultural ‘product,’ an international brand” (88). This is completely contrary to the idea of the “new individual” that Che tried to emulate, “A New Man concerned not with material possessions but with ‘inner wealth’ and driven by a ‘love for humanity’… Utopia lay in the denial of desire” (60). Society today instead turned into a global culture motivated by our capitalist desires and a love for commodities. Che may originally embody ideals of the “new individual” but we have appropriated him to become a desirable commodity, one that can be used within our capitalist framework, appropriated by the youth who feel rebellious associating with the image, but would never want to leave the comforts of their material possessions.

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