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◌  Che shirt alternatives

8 August 2009


I happened to see a Che shirt online today and got to wondering why they bother me so much.

Perhaps, I thought, it’s Che’s obscurity: that very few people with his likeness must know anything of what he actually stood for and how he fought for it. In a person’s thinking, abstraction happens in an instant, but as a culture does it, it takes years, is never finished, and branches as it goes. So we’re stuck with a popular image whose meaning, let alone whether it should mean that, is unclear.

But this seemed kind of glibly overthinky, so I let it go.

My next idea was more specific – that there’s something I resent, almost, about the idea of martyrdom. That it’s too easy to revere someone who died young and never had to live with their mistakes or eat what they had planted. Anyone can start a revolution and look good doing it; when it comes to running countries, you get a lot of Castros and Maos. In fact, you get some Guevaras: he had time to be a tyrannical killer. And to seize on the young dead politically (even if they would have approved) gives me a terrible inkling of the Dolchstosslegende. It seems like an excuse to hold resentment for resentment’s sake, to promote an insidiously oppressive great-man view of history, to say that whatever went wrong wasn’t our fault, even though it’s surely the job of the conscientious revolutionary, if so much really does depend on one person, not to get them killed.

But I didn’t like this either, because after all we never see anything really played out in full, and when young people like young martyrs they are only slightly exaggerating the way everyone is judging the world through small windows. It would be almost as much as to say that you couldn’t love someone without knowing them their entire life, or admire someone from a single incident.

Then I realized what was actually bothering me. Che is dressed like a filthy hippie. So, herewith, shirts of moderately obscure political figures who died or were sidelined prematurely and wore ties.

Zoran Đinđić

The Zoran shirt!

赵紫阳

The Zhao shirt!

Dag Hammarskjöld

The Dag shirt!

Joycelyn Elders

The Joycelyn shirt!