Two Thumbs Way Down for Che

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Over at Slate, Paul Berman gives two thumbs way down for the new Che Guevara film, The Motorcycle Diaries:

I wonder if people who stand up to cheer a hagiography of Che Guevara, as the Sundance [Film Festival] audience did, will ever give a damn about the oppressed people of Cuba–will ever lift a finger on behalf of the Cuban liberals and dissidents. It's easy in the world of film to make a movie about Che, but who among that cheering audience is going to make a movie about Raul Rivero?

Che, Berman notes, "was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster….Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction….Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system–the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims."

Whole thing here.

But he sure cut a good-looking figure–good enough, noted Cynthia Grenier in her Reason commentary on Che's African diaries, that Mike Tyson even got a tattoo of the guy on his ribcage. Read all about it here.

More Reason on Cuba:

Havana Hustle
Cuba's New Socialist Man learns to wheel and deal

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  1. Che is the number one icon of lefty stupidity.

  2. The irony of course is that upper middle class kids like young Che can no longer recreate the motorcycle trek across Latin America without getting kidnapped in Colombia by Marxist guerrillas.

    Thanks, Che!

  3. What’s even weirder is the Mao tattoo on Tyson’s arm. What’s up with that?

  4. Actually, the number one icon of lefty stupidity anymore is Mumia Abu-Jamal. And as a lefty, I can without reservation say, I hope the cop-killer dies in jail.

    As for Che, he’s way too 60’s to be an icon for liberals today. The only reason anyone under 30 remembers him at all is because the Alberto Korda photograph is so cool.

  5. I’m sorry, but when upper-middle class white high school students in New Jersey are wearing Che T-shirts, defending him as an equivalent of George Washington (no lie) the world is coming to an end.

    Next spoiled, pubescent quasi-intellectual I see wearing a Che shirt is getting punched in the face with no explanation given.

    Have a nice weekend.

  6. Humberto Fontova wrote a classic piece about Che:
    “Che was hell on smiting his enemies, all right ? thousands of them ? but only when they were bound, gagged and blindfolded….In anything like a fair fight Che was consistently routed, stomped and humiliated.”

    Amongst the many places it’s mirrored is:
    http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2002/6/24/212049.shtml

    When I was looking for the URL I found that he’s written a more recent piece of bile about the movie:
    http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2004/2/23/171252.shtml

  7. “It’s easy in the world of film to make a movie about Che, but who among . . . ?”

    Ok, but before we all get into Hollywood-liberal-bashing, have you seen “Before Night Falls”, which specifically addresses the hardship and opporession of Cuban homosexuals in thw workers’ island paradise?

  8. “It’s easy in the world of film to make a movie about Che, but who among . . . ?”

    Ok, but before we all get into Hollywood-liberal-bashing, have you seen “Before Night Falls”, which specifically addresses the hardship and opporession of Cuban homosexuals in the workers’ island paradise?

  9. Psuedo, I expect a full and detailed report of all the encounters you have with any “spoiled, pubescent quasi-intellectual” that you find wearing a Che shirt. 🙂

    Here in Phoenix, the house music community actually had shirts made with a picture of Che on the front, sometimes with the words “House Souldiers”. At least some people knew enough to speak out against the foolishness of a supposedly positive community using such a bad person as it’s face. The shirts are still around though…

  10. Peter K.,

    be sure and check out Roger Ebert’s review of “Before Night Falls”, where he makes it clear that gay Cubans are to blame for any oppression they suffer.

  11. “Next spoiled, pubescent quasi-intellectual I see wearing a Che shirt is getting punched in the face with no explanation given.”

    Get a picture for Julian.

  12. Ross N., you must be referring to these lines?

    “What is most heroic about Arenas is his stubbornness. He could make his life easier with a little discretion, a little cunning, a little tact and even a small ability to tell the authorities what they want to hear. There must have been a lot of gay men in Cuba who didn’t make their lives as impossible as Arenas did.”
    http://tinyurl.com/4whda

    Yet I fail to grasp how you come to your interpretation that Ebert thinks that “gay Cubans are to blame for any oppression they suffer”. All he is stating is simple fact, that applies to all gays, everywhere.

  13. “be sure and check out Roger Ebert’s review of “Before Night Falls”, where he makes it clear that gay Cubans are to blame for any oppression they suffer.”

    I checked it out. Ebert says no such thing. You need to re-calibrate your anti-liberal-hollywood sensors.

    http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/2001/02/020203.html

  14. I’m with Ross. I don’t think gay men in Cuba “make their lives impossible.” I think Castro does that.

    Obligatory Simpsons reference…

    “Americans love me! They even named a street after me in San Francisco. … It’s full of WHAT?”

  15. you’ll notice the original ebert quotation reads “lives AS impossible”

  16. If you’re all done plucking the low hanging fruit?

    I’ve got a small quibble with Berman’s piece, in which he wrote that the Latin American insurgencies (allegedly) inspired by Che achieved nothing. I’d argue they achieved quite a bit.

    Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala (hell, and Mexico) didn’t abandon the old caudillo/plantation social and political systems for democratic republicanism because the oligarchs wanted to, but because they were forced to.

    Forced to, by ragged guerilla armies who had legitimate, native grievances of their own, and who finally gained the ability to stand up and do something about them because – swallow hard – Cuban and Soviet Communists provided the with the inspiration and tools they needed.

    Damn shame it wasn’t us, they could have been democratic republican revolutions (thus cuttign out the middleman), but we were openly siding with the caudillos and plantation owners.

    BTW, did anyone ever read about what OUR revolutionaries did to the Tories?

  17. Good points, Joe, but it’s silly to compare events from 40 years ago to events that happened 230 years ago. You might as well say, “Forget about Che, what about those violent neanderthals!”

  18. Che is popular in Western culture for one reason, and one reason only: He lived fast and left a good looking corpse.

    Image is everything.

    Paul

  19. joe,

    you gotta site for what happened to the tories?

    -Richard

  20. Patrick,

    do you really think that gays in the USA are as oppressed as ones in Cuba? Ebert is torn between his love of Castro and his support for gay rights. Try to imagine Ebert making the same statement about an oppressed group in Pinochet’s Chile. There would be nothing about “heroic” gays, just (deserved) bile at an oppressive regime.

    SM,

    I’ll admit my sensors are wrongly calibrated when I see Ebert’s review of MD and he doesn’t whitewash Che’s vile crimes.

  21. Ok, but before we all get into Hollywood-liberal-bashing, have you seen “Before Night Falls”, which specifically addresses the hardship and opporession of Cuban homosexuals in thw workers’ island paradise?

    Hollywood is willing to make a film critical of Castro, so long as it focuses on the one really bad thing that he did: oppress a gay artist.

    The trivial stuff he did, “murder thousands of political prisoners” or “mire his entire nation in grinding poverty” don’t merit their own films.

    Yet I fail to grasp how you come to your interpretation that Ebert thinks that “gay Cubans are to blame for any oppression they suffer”.

    Ok, you obviously missed the three sentences that followed the portion you quoted:

    “There must have been a lot of gay men in Cuba who didn’t make their lives as impossible as Arenas did. Consider the character of Diego in ‘Strawberry and Chocolate,’ the 1995 movie by the great Cuban director Tomas Gutierrez Alea. The movie is set in 1979, Diego is clearly gay, and yet he lives more or less as he wants to, because he is clever and discreet.”

    So Ebert blames Arenas’s oppression on Arenas’s own stubbornness. Ebert claims that there must be lots of unoppressed gays in Cuba. Ebert gives an “example” of such an unoppressed gay man: a fictional character from a movie whose director used to make propaganda films for Castro. And you don’t think that Ebert is blaming homosexuals for their treatment in Cuba?

    All he is stating is simple fact, that applies to all gays, everywhere.

    No, actually, it doesn’t. You don’t have to be a “clever and discreet” gay man, in most of the Western world, to avoid being thrown in prison, deported, or locked up in a concentration camp for AIDS patients.

  22. Doesn’t the fact that a gay man has to be “clever and discreet” to keep himself out of prison imply that he is oppressed?

  23. Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!

    Yay, BILL!!!

    That ruled.

    Richard, I have a number of sites for that info, but they’re all libraries in small Massachusetts towns. Sorry.

  24. Doesn’t the fact that a gay man has to be “clever and discreet” to keep himself out of prison imply that he is oppressed?

    Well, Ebert didn’t say that the (fictional) character would have been thrown in prison; he simply says that being “clever and discreet” lets the character live as he wants to. If Ebert was acknowledging that homosexuality was illegal in Cuba, he did it in an awfully euphemistic way. It’s just not credible to suggest that he considered Cuban governmental repression to be a serious issue, if it’s only a threat to the “stubborn”, and not to the “clever”, because “lots of people” don’t get hassled by them. That makes Castro’s goons sound like they’re only capable of oppressing people who insist on being oppressed.

  25. “The trivial stuff he did, “murder thousands of political prisoners” or “mire his entire nation in grinding poverty” don’t merit their own films.”

    Says who ? Did the Hollywood Central Politburo of Funding & Denigration of Family Values issue a diktat to that effect ? Maybe Castro-Despisers should put their money where their ideology is and make the movie instead of expecting “Hollywood” to do it for them. Or they can always blame market failure.

    “Ok, you obviously missed the three sentences that followed the portion you quoted:”

    And the two preceeding lines are –

    “What is most heroic about Arenas is his stubbornness. He could make his life easier with a little discretion, a little cunning, a little tact and even a small ability to tell the authorities what they want to hear.”

    In other words, he’s saying that Arenas didn’t take the easy way out by accomodating the authorities. And the succeding paragraph suggests only that he “enjoyed” playing at poet maudit & would probably have been an outsider anywhere. That’s an apology for “totalitarian straightness” ?
    By the way, how many here have actually seen the movie ? It’s pretty good.

  26. Che was never anything more than a poster.
    I’ll never forget uranizing with Malcolm X staring at my unit from behind the terlit.
    The moment has remained with me, but my ruthless philosophy has remained unshaken.
    My unit was shaken three or four times.

    No more.

  27. Of course I don’t think that life is not better for gays in the US than in Cuba. My point was merely that most gays DO choose to make their life easier by being discreet, as Ebert stated. Believe me, gays who aren’t discreet are treated like shit everywhere, not just Cuba. I will admit, though, that Ebert’s wording is a little… odd, almost as if he can’t wrap his mind around the fact of Castro’s thuggish regime. But that does not amount to “gay Cubans are to blame for their oppression”.

  28. I saw a T-shirt with a Che-style sillohuette picture of Ronald Reagan. Awesomw. A great way for the small-gov movement to co-opt the ONLY thing Che had going for him: A cool T-shirt. That’s it. Otherwise he was no better than Stalin.

  29. You know, as good as it usually is to read Joe’s comments as a constant defender (at least in some degree) of the left, it’s horribly sad that he’s stooped to defending Che.

    Our revolutionaries were just that – revolutionaries. Real revolutionaries don’t fight for centralized state control.

    It’s one thing to recognize genuine problems with the systems that men like Che were fighting, but quite another to extend that into even vague support for their methods of rebellion and preferred systems of government.

  30. Ross N wrote –
    “I’ll admit my sensors are wrongly calibrated when I see Ebert’s review of MD and he doesn’t whitewash Che’s vile crimes.”

    Well, those here who are tough on Ebert and joe for being insufficiently critical of Guevara should spare some contempt for William F. Buckley. His Blackford Oakes novel “See You Later, Alligator” has a unacceptably sympathetic portrayal of Guevara as a decent and altruistic sort. Just sayin’. I’ll expect a denuncialion of Big Bill from Ross N shortly.

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1888952512/reasonmagazinea-20/

  31. Says who?

    Well, I didn’t find any much in the way of anti-Castro Hollywood films in the IMDB.

    Did the Hollywood Central Politburo of Funding & Denigration of Family Values issue a diktat to that effect?

    That’s nice. Major Hollywood players fly down to Cuba on a relative basis to suck the old communist’s dick, and it’s the *critics* of this practice who get compared to the Politburo?

    Maybe Castro-Despisers should put their money where their ideology is

    You mean you *don’t* despise Castro? I would think that even people who dislike criticism of Hollywood would have the basic human decency to despise a man responsible for as much death and misery as that bastard.

    and make the movie instead of expecting “Hollywood” to do it for them.

    Look, dipshit, I was observing that Hollywood gives Castro a pass for his countless crimes against humanity. If all you’ve got in response to that is “Oh yeah? Go make your own movie!”, then I consider my point made.

    That’s an apology for “totalitarian straightness”

    Yes, the idea that he was only oppressed because he pissed Castro off most certainly qualifies as an apology for totalitarianism.

  32. My point was merely that most gays DO choose to make their life easier by being discreet, as Ebert stated.

    Well, in Ebert’s review of “Strawberry and Chocolate” he wrote: “Diego is obviously gay: He’s swishy, wearing his sexuality as a badge of honor.” So presumably Diego is “clever and discreet” about something other than his sexual orientation.

  33. I hereby denounce Bill B. for his unacceptably sympathetic portrayal of Guevara as a decent and altruistic sort.

    Try again, SM. I’m not some dumb neocon.

  34. This thread’s probably dead, but I’ll go ahead and ask.
    I recently saw a picture of some libertarian activist w/ a Che shirt. Under the pic said ‘Che deserved to die.” Does anyone know where one could procure that shirt?

  35. “You know, as good as it usually is to read Joe’s comments as a constant defender (at least in some degree) of the left, it’s horribly sad that he’s stooped to defending Che.”

    Except that I never actually defended Che, didn’t take exception to any of the denuciations of him in Gillespie’s post, don’t like Che, and actually denounced his beliefs in my post.

    But, you know, I didn’t join the Two Minute Hate enthusiastically enough, so I must be one of THEM

    Fucking tool.

  36. Maybe some day someone will make a movie about some of the real heroes of the anti-Batista resistance in Cuba? For example, people like Jose Antonio Echeverria, leader of the Revolutionary Directorate which staged an attack on the Presidential Palace in 1957 and narrowly missed killing Batista. Or Frank Pais, leader of the urban-resistance wing of the 26th of July Movement. (Pais was murdered by Batista’s police a few minutes after getting a phone call from Vilma Espin, later Mrs. Raul Castro. Since Ms. Espin’s phone was tapped, that call was a sure way to lead to the police to Pais’s hideout, though whether this was mere carelessness or something worse on her part cannot be proven). These people were risking their lives every day in the cities under much more dangerous conditions than the Castro brothers and Che faced in the Sierra Maestra.

  37. Next spoiled, pubescent quasi-intellectual I see wearing a Che shirt is getting punched in the face with no explanation given.

    Oh yes, bombastic threats on a blog; how manly.

    Patrick,

    That statement by Ebert is slightly odd.

    Bill,

    Good points, Joe, but it’s silly to compare events from 40 years ago to events that happened 230 years ago.

    One caudillo or another (and his various supporters) has run the majority of Latin American nations until quite recently.

    Dan,

    Hollywood is willing to make a film critical of Castro, so long as it focuses on the one really bad thing that he did: oppress a gay artist.

    I think that you are being slightly unfair to Before Night Falls, and you certainly do a great disservice to the memory of Reinaldo Arenas. You may despise the way Hollywood generally deals with the regime in Cuba, but that’s really no excuse for disparaging this movie, or, by implication, the book and the man that it is based on.

  38. Ross N.,

    Cuba is of course more oppressive; but I don’t see this as anything to be proud of. Cuba appears to treat gay people the way U.S. largely treated gay people in the 1960s; yet in many areas of the U.S. things have not changed all that much.

    Good article on oppression here in the U.S.:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6099953/

  39. Joe,

    “Forced to, by ragged guerilla armies who had legitimate, native grievances of their own, and who finally gained the ability to stand up and do something about them because – swallow hard – Cuban and Soviet Communists provided the with the inspiration and tools they needed.”

    That’s defending Che. Bottom line.

    “I’ve got a small quibble with Berman’s piece, in which he wrote that the Latin American insurgencies (allegedly) inspired by Che achieved nothing. I’d argue they achieved quite a bit.”

    That’s defending Che. Bottom line.

    I’m going to opt to disagree with you and not call you names or use profanity. I leave you on your pedastal to do that.

    It’s really sad that you chose to respond the way you did. If I misunderstood something, by all means, point it out. But your response was infantile.

  40. Matthew, you seem to have some literacy issues.

    If the “bottom line” is that those quotes from Joe count as “defending Che”, then such defense is pretty weak indeed, and hardly morally culpable. For the first quote, one could say almost exactly the same of the Nazi party, the Taliban, or the Viet Cong:

    “Forced to, by X who had legitimate, native grievances of their own, and who finally gained the ability to stand up and do something about them because – swallow hard – Y provided them with the inspiration and tools they needed.”

    As for the second quote, referring to the “achievements” of someone’s actions hardly implies that the speaker judges them to be good. Jeez.

  41. Neither of those quotes comes close to defending Che. They are about another subject – peasants’ revolutions in Latin America – which are tangential to the question of Che’s achievements.

    Literacy issues indeed – you should pay more attention to content.

    Somebody out there must have something intelligent to say on the subject of the consequences of late 20th century Latin American revolutions.

  42. There’s a great Tee shirt with the “NO” symbol superimposed over Che’s face and the caption something like: “Real rebels don’t support centralized state power”

  43. yeah, but is the movie any good? I’m going to see the movie not because I like Che but because I hear its a great movie — Gael Grcia Benal is one of the finest young actors of our times, Walter Salles is a great director, etc. Also — so Che was a creep once he got into politics — and? Doesn’t his transformation to a hero, aided and abetted by America’s wonderful, dymanic culture and capitalism a good thing?

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