Slapping a sticker on your car’s bumper or wearing a controversial T-shirt is a fashionable way of making a statement.
In this town, nothing is sexier among the Subaru crowd than a “Save ANWR” sticker.
For those still navigating a skateboard, the handsome high-contrast image of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara is where it’s at.
Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Colour Purple and a political activist, said in one of her novels that “the key to resistance is not understanding.”
In other words, to know something is to believe it — so don’t get intimate with the other side’s argument if you want to make change, and don’t think for a minute that you can change anything from the inside.
If Walker is right, and I believe she is, it doesn’t much matter if the average ANWR supporter’s or Che worshipper’s individual politics don’t hold water, so long as they are making waves.
Dissenting voices are essential to democracy.
And youthful, even naïve, ideas operating from the fringes of society have always played a key role in exacting change where it counts in the middle.
Most of us live on the fringe, in that few of us have access to mass mediums in which to express our opinions.
We must rely on things like bumper stickers and T-shirts instead.
In Israel, mobile rhetoric has become a ubiquitous medium that reflects the deep political divide there, as well as a climate of violence.
That climate has most of its citizenry bottling up its rage even as it can’t resist expressing an opinion or two on the butt of its automobiles.
Wearing your politics on your sleeve or your Subaru has the effect of bringing like-minded people together.
And like-minded people, not unlike a painted-up crowd at a soccer match in West Ham or a gaggle of skater kids at a park in Whitehorse, enjoy looking alike too.
But what if the latest fashion trend has been ripped from the fabric of another nation’s political identity?
Urban Outfitters sells a scarf in a variety of colours that is better known in black and white as a kaffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. Outside Palestine, it first became popular in the UK in the 1980s.
But in the United States recently, the nation’s youth have hijacked the kaffiyeh as a symbol against the war in Iraq. This quickly led right wingers in the US to put enough pressure on Urban Outfitters that it dropped the scarves from its US stores.
Talk about a controversial accessory.
Among the Israelis, some are outraged that the West has embraced these ‘scarves of terrorism.’
And among the Palestinians there is disgust that the political and cultural importance of the kaffiyeh is being dyed fuchsia and called ‘so cute.’
The bindi, a red dot in the centre of the forehead worn by women in India, was less controversial at the height of its global popularity in the 1990s, but lots of cultural toes were certainly stomped on when this symbol of perfect feminine purity was made popular in the West, along with henna hand tattooing, by none other than pop culture’s ‘virgin,’ Madonna.
And camouflage…? Does wearing cammie pants mean you love war? Would a peacenik be caught dead wearing them?
Which brings us back to Che.
It was in 1960 during a political rally that Alberto Korda snapped the photograph of Che Guevara that would eventually be graphically altered into its immortalized T-shirt version.
After Guevara’s death in 1964, Korda’s picture became one of the most reproduced photos in the world.
A lifelong communist, the photog never asked for royalties because he felt the proliferation of Che’s image helped promote “his memory and the cause of social justice throughout the world,” at least until a vodka producer tried to use it in one of its advertisements.
What’s wrong with kids wearing “Che” on their shirts, according to some adults, is the simple fact that Guevara was a communist, a fact I think most youth are OK with, even in America.
But for others who were alive during the Cuban revolution, and particularly some Cuban-Americans who lived in Cuba during that time, Che was a terrorist who put innocent people in front of firing squads.
They liken the Che T-shirt phenomenon to wearing a shirt with Osama Bin Laden’s face on it — why would anyone do such a thing?
Unfortunately, the collective memory is short nowadays and what’s left of Che is the cotton knit version of a sound-bite.
The Che graphic embodies not an accurate history of what happened in Cuba during the 1960s, but something more concise and idealistic.
I believe people wear “Che” because they believe in his dream of social justice; I try not to worry about whether they’ve done their homework.
As for ‘Save ANWR,’ I have one of those stickers on the rear of my Honda.
And do I know the issues? (Hmmm… Rolling hills, breathtaking herds of Porcupine caribou… vs…The destruction of all that by money-grubbing Big Oil…)
I know the issues well enough.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.