Friday, October 13, 2006


Today a conservative coloumnist, who shall go unnamed, made some bogus, simple-minded connection between Kim Jong-Il's regime and some hypothetical student stereotypes he addressed as 'you, yes you in the Che Guevara t-shirt' .

Now Ernesto Guevara was probably not a saint. Cuba is a one party state and one party states - wherever they position themselves, whatever they say - tend to abuse the rights of their own people, indulge the ruling elites in disproportional luxury and swim in corruption. A one party system is like having a job you can never be fired from. No incentive exists to actively hold on to the position. It's yours and taken for granted. But the wearing of Che t-shirts is most often not a display of support for Guevara, Cuba, Castro's government or anything like it. I think it's completely otherwise.

The 'Che' t-shirt phenomena is a simulacrum. It's not 'Che' so much as this one specific image of him taken by Alberto Korda at a funeral. You don't see people sporting other images of Che. No Che smoking cigar photos; no Che on the slab. Just this one cropped Korda photo endlessly replicated as a basic, bold-coloured print.

It fits that the poster style was early rendered on the image by Andy Warhol, the artist who best represent the spirit of consumer culture. It's the icon of romantic individualism, the personal ethos of the consumer culture. In this culture everyone desires to be an individual, to be special and unique. Ironically everyone attempts this by purchasing the same items thought generally to connote this quality. If you want to be a good looking rebel, a glamorous law unto oneself don't actually be one. You'll get arrested. Buy a Che t-shirt. It's what you feel inside.

The original photograph is intense and stark. It brings to mind 1960s European art-house flicks full of existensial angst and rage. But this is rarely seen. The gaudy-coloured copy everyone's familiar wth comes straight from 1960s ads for Coke. The only commentary the image makes about 'socialism' is that it made money for everyone but the guy who took it. It's only a political image in the sense that the Rolling Stones were a political band. Of course inside Cuba the photograph is something different a propoaganda symbol of the regime. Outside even amongst 'revolutionary socialists' it's what Warhol made it.

And this goes double for the G20 protestors.

Anti-globalisation protesting is an oxymoron. The movement so-named is a phenomenon of the very processes it supposedly opposes. At it's heart the movement is an amalgamation of various groups who for different reasons want to disrupt the corporate-governmental elites who 'plan' globalisation. It's kind of a grass roots counter-call to the suits. I doubt if a significant percentage of anti-globalisation protestors know exactly what the agenda of G20 participants actually is. For the summiteers many, notably Tony Blair, respond in disbelief that they are doing exactly what the protestors demand should be done: ie ending poverty.

This is met all round with understandable skepticism. Corporations whose products are made in factory sweatshops staffed by persons who receive a fraction of the very low local cost of living don't exactly seem likely to voluntarily improve the disgraceful conditions they've helped create. Developing nations like China who's economic edge is exactly the capacity to keep labourers in such low-paid circumstances without pesky trade union activism are unlikely to rock the boat. 'Developed' countries like Australia who's edge is their lucky lolly shop of natural resources added to the cultural capital of Anglo-Saxon nations won't want to disrupt their populations' artifically high standards of living. Ditto Indonesia and Canada respectively. The G20 is certainly more representative of the world, thus more inclusive, but it's not like the poorer countries are getting a look-see. Apart from South-Africa there are no nations from that continent. Also no Peru, no Vietnam, no Fiji: no intention of letting the poor folks of the world in on the action.

The G20 is a club for G7 wannabees organizing better the getting rich process. Well what's wrong with that? Nothing provided it's open to the world in general and doesn't result in the planet becoming a wasteland trash pile in record time. And this is what the G20 protestors have in common, not an objection to 'globalisation' per se rather an objection to riches at the expense of entrenched poverty, prosperity at the expense of future generations and free markets at the expense of free people.

G20 members are all defined as market economies regardless of their political systems which seem irrellevant. China and Saudi Arabia are definitely not democracies. Indonesia, Turkey and Russia all have dodgy human rights records. The rest of us would score pretty badly if you added economic elements to human rights: the Unted States' large impoverished population, the indigenous people in Australia, the mass slums in Brazil.

Still in my opinion the stiching up of a global economic nexus will probably, long term, aid the process by which the entire human race can escape the shackles of short-brutish, disease ridden lives. The moral disposition of persons participating in this process is not as relevant as the placard wavers think. But the placard wavers are not as irrellevant as the suits think either.

The economy is not the entire story in the success of an civilization. Economic 'prosperity' if restricted to an elite few is not progress. The short, brutish life continues for most whilst the few enjoy comfort, good nutrition and the benefits of medical science. It's a continuation of medieval society with airplanes and TV. And the placard wavers serve to deliver a message to the number-crunching lords; and to the rest of the world.

What message?

I met a girl on a train years in November of the year 2000. At the time September the 11th brought to mind the furious anti-globalisation protests that'd occured a few months earlier in Melbourne. There was a lot of bullshit, unecessary violence on both sides of the picket line. But this young woman hadn't gone there to scream at Bill Gates or punch a cop. I asked her why she went. "To change those people's reality", she said. I think that's the message. The world is not a conference room in a luxury hotel. It's not filled with ample arses in tailor made suits. The world is out here.

And what you people in there do affects us out here, remember that.

The protestors are partbof the chaos inherent in the system. Che t-shirts here do not signify North Korea or Cuba or any other dictatorship because what they do signify is not allowed in such places. The Che t-shirts signify something beyond words although words like dissent, colour, chaos, freedom, kick, poetry and madness might be compatible. The irony of the simulacram is that it brings to heart so many things that Guevara was not himself and would never approve of. The Che icon is a symbol of capitalism and against it, one and the same time. It's the emblem of a precious lack of order at the genius core of modern civilization

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