Browsing the archives for the fashion tag.

Che (cont.), a photo gallery: the irony of the icon

Culture, History, International Politics, Politics

First, an anecdote. Back in 2006, I was visiting Amsterdam. A friend and I were wandering around downtown, and came across an exclusive cigar shop. Very fancy. They had some of their most eye-catching products in the shop window. I am no cigar afficionado, I don’t even smoke, so none of it meant much to me. Something caught my attention though. What was that we saw? A true prize item. A large, beautiful wooden box (humidor is the word, apparently) of real Cuban cigars … adorned with a picture – that picture – of Che Guevara.

The box even featured, in a handsome scrawl, the famous appeal: “Hasta la Victoria Siempre!”

Price of said humidor: Euro 3,000.

It was designed, apparently, by the exclusive Parisian manufacturer Elie Bleu, which produces “some of the world’s finest humidors [..] handcrafted from natural or tinted mahogany and sycamore.” Each box features a “meticulously brilliant finish, a delicate process done by hand.” The Che Guevara range was, of course, a strictly limited edition.

The box in question is still on sale online: here, for example, for $5,000, or here for $4,785. Or you can order it here at the smart price of just 2,340 euro. Bizarrely, it comes accompanied by a Che-themed ashtray, available online for just $350.

Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

Hey, didn’t Jay-Z rap, “I’m like Che Guevara with bling on”? Now, Che is the bling. 

In the same spirit, I want to take you through some of the Che-related, Creative Commons-licensed photos on Flickr. I always trawl through Flickr to find illustrations for these blog posts. For the Che post from the other day, there was more than could fit with the post. Hence, this photo gallery. Oh, the humanity.


Taking the biscuit: Using Che to promote the stock exchange. Photo by patapat, used under CC license.

Be realistic: demand the impossible. Billboard for Swissquote, the Swiss leader in online trading. Discover the world of the stock exchange with the Swissquote Box for 29,90 Swiss Francs!

“Be realistic: demand the impossible”. Billboard for Swissquote, “the Swiss leader in online trading”. Discover the world of the stock exchange with the Swissquote Box for 29,90 Swiss Francs!


Mixed message? Photo by TobiasAC, under CC license.

The Finnish market recycles the Che icon. The photographer keenly observes: What I dont understand is the political implications: does owning this mean I love you, Che Guevara, so much that I want you to greet me every day as I come home or Up yours, Che Guevara -- I wipe my feet on you!? This, I do not know.

How the Finnish market recycles the Che icon. The photographer keenly observes: “What I don’t understand is the political implications: does owning this mean “I love you, Che Guevara, so much that I want you to greet me every day as I come home” or “Up yours, Che Guevara — I wipe my feet on you!”? This, I do not know.””


Gay Che, donning the pink. photo by s.o.f.t. under CC license.

Gay Chuevara, with pink beret: Part of the Art Below exposition in the London tube

“Gay Chevara” with pink beret: Part of the Art Below exposition in the London tube.


Che at the ration card office. Photo by Alex Barth, under CC license.

Ration card office, La Habana, 2000

“Ration card office, La Habana, 2000”

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Che Guevara, or when history becomes pop culture

Culture, History, International Politics, Politics
(Image by mikebaird used under CC license)

(Image by mikebaird used under CC license)

The holiday season is often used to reflect back on items that are not exactly current news, but worth a re-read over time. This selection is inspired by an off-hand blogger’s comment about Che, but any occasion would have been a good one to dig this one up from the archive.

On a forum,  a couple of years ago, I recommended an article by Alvaro Vargas Llosa that was published in TNR in 2005 with these words:

Everyone adores Che as a pop icon.

But the icon means ever less.

For me the following article was an absolute eye-opener.

First, it fillets the visible postmodern reduction of “Che” into what is, in effect, merely an extraordinarily successful market brand. A feel-good product for the young and rebellious. A pre-fab idealistic dream; an instant badge of revolutionary street cred. This part may make you laugh. In recognition; and at the surreality of it.

But then, having wrapped off the countercultural commerce of Che as icon, it also digs into the actual historical record. To recount the rather more sordid story of who “Che” really was. Because filmic sketches of the man’s soul are fine — but what did he mean to those who lived under his actions?

The filmic and biographic portraits of Che seem to almost portray him in a vacuum; an individual soul, a romantic one-man story. But Che held real power. The Cubans and others who had to suffer his idealism are strangely absent in the iconic version of Che. This author puts them back into the spotlight.

This article is very long, and doesnt always make for comfortable reading. But it should be an obligatory read for anyone ever caught wearing a “Che” t-shirt.


Don’t be mistaken about the ironic birds’ eye view of Che-the-icon in the beginning of the article. The rage of the author is real – and very well-informed. It is not that of just another reactionary, either – note the very last section. It is that of one who sees history and fashion reward bloody zealots, and forget those who fought tyrants without killing a fly, and actually achieved results. Because those gentle reformers are so much less glamorous than your failed, bloodthirsty revolutionary.

You can still love the myth if you will. But before you put on the shirt, know about the politics behind it.

The TNR archive is still lost in the site’s technological fail, but the article can be read in full here: The Killing Machine: Che Guevara, from Communist Firebrand to Capitalist Brand.

(Image by нσвσ used under CC license)

(Image by нσвσ used under CC license)

About Che as icon, by the way — did you know that the famous Che image now adorning the t-shirts of millions of rebellious teenagers came about through a little bit of what we’d now call Photoshopping? To get the “t-shirt Che”, just take the real Che’s photo and make him “slimmer and his face longer, by about one-sixth”.

That was noted in a New Statesman article from 2007, found via the opening post of an instructive thread about Che on the forum Able2Know, Che Guevara … Forty years on.

That thread also features this post on a more serious note: how has Cuba’s death toll under communism compared with that of the brutal Batista dictatorship that preceded it? Not well at all, according to the work of one statistician, R.J. Rummel, who recorded that the Batista regime “killed 1000 of its citizens from 1952 to 1959, for an average rate of 143 per year,” while the Castro regime “killed 73000 of its citizens from 1959 to 1987, for an average rate of 2607 per year”.

According to his data, then, the Castro regime killed at an 18 times faster rate than even the despicable Batista had done, or at a 12.6 times higher proportional rate if you take population growth into account. Admittedly Rummel appears to be a highly controversial figure, so I’d love to hear about alternative estimations, though I can’t imagine an alternative computation would suddenly reverse the roles.

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Not amused

Culture, European culture(s), International Politics, Politics
Sweatshirt I bought @ Target, writes Flickr user Eshm (photo used under CC license)

"Sweatshirt I bought @ Target," Flickr user Eshm (photo used under CC license)

Living in the Netherlands, ca. 1998, meant increasingly being confronted, not just with that ubiquitous icon of wannabe rebel teenager identity, the drearily mass produced Che tee, but training jackets and the like saying DDR, or CCCP. Not because there was any suddenly resurging affinity for the former Eastern Bloc regimes, but because those were the thing to have for any self-respecting ironic hipster.

It went with, say, nodding your head to the latest abstract beats, or dancing to the soundtrack of a soft lesbo porn movie from the seventies with a knowing smile. Aren’t we being cool!

I never got it. Stunned at the baffling lack of … awareness, I suppose. Even if I knew that no disrespect was intended toward, say, the victims of communism — all was tongue-in-cheek, after all! The postmodern game being played out transformed me, instantly, into an old crank. It did so right at the moment that I refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of that irony; the moment I failed to think, “oh that’s OK then”.

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