[Marxism] Che Guevara movies

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 22 07:31:48 MDT 2004

Just a pretty face?

For 40 years he has been a sex symbol, heroic victim and the ultimate 
poster boy of revolutionary chic. But behind the myth of Che Guevara lie 
darker truths. On the eve of a new film, it is time to reassess the 
Sixties' most enduring icon

Sean O'Hagan
Sunday July 11, 2004
The Observer

On the outskirts of Vallegrande, a mountain village in Bolivia, there is 
a single airstrip, little more than a long ribbon of rubble and dirt. It 
was there, seven years ago, that a team of forensic scientists from 
Argentina and Cuba began digging in search of the skeleton of a man with 
no hands. They found it after a few days, buried alongside the bones of 
six others.

Thirty years after his death, the remains of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, 
whose hands had been cut off following his execution by his Bolivian 
army captors, were finally returned to Cuba, the homeland he adopted and 
helped remake in his image. His final resting place is a mausoleum in 
the suburbs of the city of Santa Clara, a site of almost religious 
significance to Cubans who lived though the revolution of 1959. 
Vallegrande, where his corpse was put on public display following his 
execution, remains much as it was, a forlorn place with little trace of 
his presence save for the hawkers of cheap Che memorabilia who wait for 
the tourist buses. On the wall of the town's public telephone office, 
someone has written, 'Che - alive as they never wanted you to be'.

In the tumultuous year that followed Guevara's death, that sentiment was 
echoed in the slogan 'Che lives!' which appeared on walls in Paris, 
Prague, Berkeley and Belfast. During the political unrest of 1968, it 
became a clarion call for what seemed like a spontaneous global 
insurrection and, for a brief moment, it seemed like the old order - 
capitalism, the Cold War, conservatism, militarism - might actually be 
replaced by something (though what exactly was never defined) younger 
and freer. That something was symbolised by the doomed romantic figure 
of Che Guevara, whose short life ended in a kind of martyrdom in the 
mountains of Bolivia, where the CIA openly admitted their role in his 

'In a way, 1968 began in 1967 with the murder of Che,' says the author 
and political journalist, Christopher Hitchens, who describes himself as 
'a recovering Marxist, not ashamed, not unbowed, but thoughtful'. Like 
many who came of age politically in the late Sixties, Hitchens was in 
thrall to the personality cult that attended Che. 'His death meant a lot 
to me, and countless like me, at the time. He was a role model, albeit 
an impossible one for us bourgeois romantics insofar as he went and did 
what revolutionaries were meant to do - fought and died for his beliefs.'

Almost 40 years on, the wave of romantic revolutionary idealism Che 
helped ignite seems as unreal as Alice's wonderland, and the Communist 
ideology that inspired it dated and anachronistic. Che's defiant image 
may still hang in the offices of Andy Gilchrist, leader of the Fire 
Brigades' Union, and Bob Crow of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union 
but, politically at least, it is a relic of a bygone era, as arcane in 
its way as as those old ornate union banners. Internationally, too, 
Guevara's ideological legacy is in tatters, his memory kept alive only 
by the few remaining leftist guerrilla movements such as the Zapatistas 
in Mexico, or the recently established People's Democratic Republic of 
the Congo, whose guerrilla leader Che trained back in the Sixties.

In Cuba, Guevara remains a quasi- saintly figure, as well as a symbol of 
what was, and what might have been, in Castro's now faltering state. 
Though it has survived decades of sanctions and attempts to assassinate 
its leader, the socialist republic of Cuba is now under threat from 
within: sex tourism and Castro's treatment of dissidents and gays have 
long since sullied the idea of equality that underpinned the revolution 
of 1959. And yet, the myth of Che endures.

That myth has long since floated free of Cuba and its revolution, 
becoming an amorphous entity that has little to do with Guevara's 
politics or the historical context that produced him. In 1967, the same 
year that Che died, the radical French activist Guy Debord wrote The 
Society of the Spectacle which, among other things, predicted our 
current obsession with celebrity and event. 'All that was once directly 
lived', wrote Debord, 'has become mere representation.' Nowhere is this 
dictum more starkly illustrated than in the case of Che, who, in the 
four decades since his death, has been used to sell everything from 
china mugs to denim jeans, herbal tea to canned beer. There was, maybe 
still is, a brand of soap powder bearing his name, along with the slogan 
'Che washes whiter'. Today, Che lives! all right, but not in the way he 
or his fellow revolutionaries could ever have imagined in their worst 
nightmares. He has become a global brand.

The late Alberto Korda - whose iconic photograph of the bearded and 
long-haired Che wearing a beret with a red star may be the most 
appropriated image ever - won a moral victory of sorts when he 
successfully sued a British advertising agency for using it in an ad for 
Smirnoff vodka. The appropriation, though, is unstoppable, and radical 
chic was elevated to a new level of absurdity when Madonna recently 
dressed up as Che for the cover of her single 'American Life'. As I 
write, Korda's image is being debunked in the poster for Politics, Ricky 
Gervais's stand-up show, which sees the creator of The Office sporting a 
beret, beard, fatigues and fake tan. Had he wanted a real one, he could 
have booked a holiday with 'Che Trails', which offers trips to Cuba 
where you can 'follow in the footsteps of the famous revolutionary'.

'Ironically, Che's life has been emptied of the meaning he would have 
wanted it to have,' asserts Jorge Castañeda, author of Compañero: The 
Life and Death of Che Guevara . 'Whatever the left might think, he has 
long since ceased to be an ideological and political figure.' Castañeda 
insists, though, that Che still possesses 'an extraordinary relevance. 
He's a symbol of a time when people died heroically for what they 
believed in. People don't do that any more.

full: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,6903,1258340,00.html

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