Che-volution : Che Guevara for Branding and Commercial Motives

Who gave Cuba its independence?

This was the question I had once asked a kid from our block. Of course, there was a reason behind it. He was flaunting a ‘Che T-shirt,’ yes, the one with Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s picture printed on it. The poor kid was in doubts and had answered sheepishly – “ Certainly, not me.”

And immediately, I was reminded of The Clap’s famous number from Chevolution, “You’re a Che Guevara T-shirt wearer, and you have no idea of who he is…”

Well, this is indeed a sad thing – the man who had given Cuba its independence is known today as a mere fashion symbol, some vocalist of some band, a rock star, and more depressingly as a rebel icon. Fashion photographer Alberto Korda’s photograph of this revolutionary hero is today famous on T-shirts and many a fashion merchandise. But, Guevara’s work remains disregarded. Korda had successfully captured this guerrilla leader’s anger. But, the picture is no longer seen as the depiction of the enthusiasm of a confident man with a purpose in his life. Rather, it has been raised to fame as the ‘Guerrillero Heroico’ and lowered to dust as a lame representation of teenage rebellion.

This image of Che is over fifty years old now. But, it still is as popular and as marketable as ever. Of course, the photograph never earned Korda any fame or fortune. But, it did transform him into a photographer for the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro’s friend.

Today, this famous face has been mercilessly used for commercial interests, brand and merchandise promotions, and a hell lot of other advertising purposes – from screen printed T-shirts to graffiti arts, ice-cream wraps and cigarette butts. Che Guevara has become a brand, an icon for those who dare to think offbeat. But, how ethical are such activities? Ranging from incidents like the one in the year 2000, when Korda sued Smirnoff, the Vodka company, for using Che’s image in an advertisement, to Mercedes-Benz’s lame apology of using it to promote a ‘revolutionary’ car sharing event, to Unilever’s cherry and guava flavored Che-version of the Magnum ice cream, to Converse selling Che sneakers, and to the Taco Bell Chihuahua flaunting a Che beret, it only shows how weak we go on the knees in the name of turning the tides.

Somehow, the original meaning of the image has been side-cast. The image has outlived its matter. The brave face has turned into a logo. And very few people actually know about this person shining upon their T-shirts, shoes, wristbands, underwear or what-so-ever, let alone the fact that Alberto Korda was the one who had taken the picture.

The Cuban Revolution has died down and with it, communism. Cuba now is known as some island in the Atlantic, merely. There isn’t any reason and aren’t the circumstances as to why Che should still be roving around in fashion items. Like the Clash once sang, “…You think it’s funny, turning rebellion into money?” Of course, this young man was once a voice of the common man. But, is it reason strong enough to portray him as a fashion statement? Is it doing any justice to this hero and his deeds? Think.

Che is more than just a young, handsome, confident face on T-shirts. Connect to him as an idol, not as a fashion statement.

A post by Chayanika Deka. 28th January, 2015.


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