genocidal chic03 Jul 2005
Boris Johnson wonders why the fetishization of leftist dictators in our t-shirt culture is hip and chic, but Nazis are still verboten:
Remind me: who was the greater mass murderer, Stalin or Hitler? Well, Stalin is thought to have been responsible for about 50 million deaths, and Hitler for a mere 25 million. What Hitler did in his concentration camps was equalled if not exceeded in foulness by the Soviet gulags, forced starvation and pogroms. What makes the achievements of communist Russia so special and different, that you can simper around in a CCCP T-shirt, while anyone demented enough to wear anything commemorating the Third Reich would be speedily banged away under the 1986 Public Order Act?
There’s some interesting discussion in the comments, including a link to a good and rather brutal review of Diarios de motocicleta, the movie adaptation of Che Guevara’s diaries documenting his motorcycle journey with a friend, which hits on some of the same points:
On one website dedicated to his memory, for example (www.store.che-lives.com), I found twenty-seven different varieties of Guevara T-shirts for sale, including a distressed olive-green one, one with reflective ink, a black one with glitter, and a black one with red glow. New berets were also available, the site announced with an exclamation mark, as if we had all been anxiously waiting for them, as well as baseball and trucker hats, bandannas, keyrings, Zippo lighters, desk clocks, and brooches. In short, Guevara is not so much an historical figure as a tourist destination. And most tourists don’t read too deeply into the history of the places they are going to.
The latest and propagandistically most powerful product of the Guevara cult is a film of Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries by the Brazilian director Walter Salles. It relies for its effect upon the fact that audiences will all know a minimum about Guevara: for example, that he was a social revolutionary who died in the jungles of Bolivia, and never made a penny for himself. But they will otherwise know little of his actual opinions or actions, and will not have read his tedious and inflexibly dogmatic speeches and writings. It is as if someone were to make a film about Adolf Hitler by portraying him as a vegetarian who loved animals and was against unemployment. This would be true, but again would be rather beside the point.
I think the forces aligning that make this phenomenon happen are two-fold – a healthy combination of: the wholesale abuse of irony as a meaningful construct and sheer ignorance. The drink-soaked trotskyist popinjays for WAR have more on this.