Che Guevara: The Man on The T-shirt

The iconic image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara can be found ont-shirts and dorm room walls around the world. He is the handsomeface under the black beret, staring off into the distance.  Inthe more than 35 years since his death, Che Guevara, who stands asone of the most important political figures of the 20thcentury, has been transformed from guerilla revolutionary to popculture icon.

A new movie, released last Friday in theatersacross the country, centers on the early years of Guevara’slife.  “The Motorcycle Diaries” is based on journals he and aclose friend kept during their 1952 journey across LatinAmerica. 

The subtitled film by Brazilian directorWalter Salles stars Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien) as ahandsome 23-year old Che, and Rodrigo de la Serna as his palAlberto.  In their travels across the countryside the twoencounter the immense poverty and suffering of the poor anddowntrodden.  These eye-opening experiences eventually pushGuevara to shift to a life of politics, but the movie does notdelve into his political beginnings.

Washington Post critic Desson Thomson’s reviewof the film notes that “their fate is not the point of thestory.  It’s the youthful journey that led to it.” He goes onto say the film “could be accused, legitimately, of furtheringChe’s ubiquitous T-shirtification.”

Other critics, thoughpraising the film’s cinematography and plot, question its depth.Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly argues, “‘The MotorcycleDiaries’ is glazed over by its worship of Che Guevara.”

“The Motorcycle Diaries” isone of the first motion pictures to explore the turbulent life ofthe Argentine revolutionary.  Guevara was born on June 14,1928 in Rosario, Argentina to a middle-class family.  Heattended Buenos Aires University where he studied medicine andshowed little interest in politics. 

A traveler by nature,Guevara  took the first of his many trips to Argentina in1949; it was during this time that he first came into contact withpoverty.  This experience changed his life and led him to joinCastro and other Cuban rebels in Mexico in 1954. Che proved to be aresourceful guerrilla leader and became one of Castro’s closest andmost trusted friends.

After the overthrow ofCuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1958, Guevara went on to leadviolent, bloody revolutions throughout South America andAfrica.  During this period, he also served as Minister ofIndustry and president of the National Bank of Cuba.  In 1967,during a failed guerilla movement in Bolivia, he was captured by aBolivian army unit and killed. 

He is rumored to have toldhis executioner, “shoot, coward, you are only going to kill aman.”

In the years since hisdeath, Che Guevara has truly become a James Dean-type icon: young,handsome and rebellious.  Jon Lee Anderson, author of “CheGuevara: A Revolutionary Life” believes,”There is something aboutChe’s face – the iconic image – which seems immediatelyidentifiable to young people of almost any generation and almostany culture.”

Whether his legacy becelebrated in film or on a t-shirt, it is evident that Che Guevarais still the personification of revolution and defiance for ourgeneration.