Sunday, September 26, 2004

Worshipping Che



"Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …"

Che Guevara may be the most popular icon ever to come out of Latin America, yet these words -- cited by Paul Berman in a review in Slate -- are nowhere to be found in the new movie, "The Motorcycle Diaries," about Che's vagabond adventures through Latin American in 1951-52. Berman also has this to say about the movie's romanticized depiction of Che:

Yet the entire movie, in its concept and tone, exudes a Christological cult of martyrdom, a cult of adoration for the spiritually superior person who is veering toward death—precisely the kind of adoration that Latin America's Catholic Church promoted for several centuries, with miserable consequences. The rebellion against reactionary Catholicism in this movie is itself an expression of reactionary Catholicism. The traditional churches of Latin America are full of statues of gruesome bleeding saints. And the masochistic allure of those statues is precisely what you see in the movie's many depictions of young Che coughing out his lungs from asthma and testing himself by swimming in cold water—all of which is rendered beautiful and alluring by a sensual backdrop of grays and browns and greens, and the lovely gaunt cheeks of one actor after another, and the violent Andean landscapes.
A friend who spent some time in Chile a couple of years ago reported seeing t-shirts with an image of Che on one side, Osama Bin Laden on the other. I didn't see that here in El Salvador, but similar attitudes prevailed among hotheaded university students who celebrated the destruction of 9/11.

As long it continues to follow the tired old cliché -- "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" -- why should anyone be hopeful about that (dominant) strain of the Latin American left?

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