Marc Cooper pointed us recently to a new book, Nation of Rebels : Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture in a post on Sunday, saying that the authors "raise (and answer) the hard question: how much activism today is thought-out, strategic and effective? And how much of it is rather just a lifestyle option, a hobby that makes its participants feel better about themselves while accomplishing nothing?"
But also in my inbox a couple of weeks ago came a link to this article by Jay Nordlinger about the commodification of Che Guevara, and I couldn't resist sharing the above picture from there. Nordlinger also tells this revealing story:
A few weeks ago, the Hartford Courant ran a photo of a Trinity College freshman who was protesting the execution of a serial killer. He carried a sign that said, "Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?" — and he was wearing a Che Guevara hat!
NOTE: Thanks to Stacey Philbrick Yadav, a Cairo-based Ph.D. candidate in Political Science from Penn, blogging at al-Hiwar, for helping me figure out how to let text wrap around photos!
My husband has a bright red shirt with a hammer and sickle, and it's been interesting to see what this signifies in the different places we've lived and traveled. (I should own up now to the fact that he bought it at H&M, and that we in fact do suck, but I'll relate our anecdotes anyhow).
In Miami, where there is a large Cuban population (many of whom have some pretty strong feelings about Castro and the Soviets), an old man came up to us and started shaking a finger and yelling at us in Spanish (which neither of us speak). Most people, however, if they made note of it at all, expressed amusement.
In Cairo, by contrast, it's elicited quite the response. When I'm feeling particularly irritated by the level of censorship (both official and unofficial) that we live with and I'm looking to push the envelope, I put on the t-shirt. I've learned, however, to always wear a coat that can be closed over it. It generates so much excitement on the street, from guards and policemen to doormen, to butchers, everyone! Only twice has anyone confronted me directly, though - one cab driver asked me if I was an atheist (to which I replied "my relationship to God is between me and God - a good stock answer for travelers in the Middle East), and a guard at the U.S. embassy housing complex gave me a real "talking to" about wearing it there.
While I agree that most people wear this kind of stuff for the cheap political cache, and that we started out this way too, we've learned a lot about the boundaries of acceptability from that shirt.
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