Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

The Apotheosis of Frida and Che: Secular Saints and Fetishized Commodities

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

The Apotheosis of Frida and Che: Secular Saints and Fetishized Commodities

Article excerpt

It is not unusual to find altars dedicated to Che Guevara or Frida Kahlo during El DIa de los Muertos. As two of the most influential Latin Americans of the twentieth century, they are remembered on this important religious/secular occasion as a means to call attention to their continued cultural and political salience. While Day of the Dead celebrations originated from ancestral Central Mexican rituals to commemorate and (re)call the dead, today the occasion focuses less on religious aspects. Instead, celebrations for the dead serve as a mechanism to cohere Latino communities in the United States (Marchi 2009). In addition to the annual commemoration of their spirits, the images of Che and Frida adorn innumerable items that function as potent icons of Latina/o, feminist, and queer identities, politics, and popular culture. Simultaneously, however, their likenesses are mass-marketed without concern for content, context, or message. Frida and Che have ceased to be historical figures as their images have become commodified as part of the rampant consumerism that typifies modern global capitalism. Rather, they have been converted into pop cause celebres--consumed by audiences that care little to understand the complexities of their ideologies, desires, and agendas (Kellner 1995, 299). I will, in this paper, explore these contradictory positionings of these two iconic, exotic, and erotic tragic figures as their imagery and meaning are appropriated and reconfigured in contemporary consumer society.

My reading of Che Guevara and Frida Kahlo draws from my perspective of being of an intermediate and underdetermined subjectivity--that of Chicana.1 In particular I am interested in exploring the interstices of being and not being, of belonging and not belonging, between desire and despair that these two individuals present. Frida and Che reside in a pantheon of Latin American and Latina/o demigods serving as imperfect models, quixotic to some, but valiant in their struggles for ideals that continue to resonate within the alterity of the conquered, exploited, and marginalized. As such, Frida and Che are situated at a locus of resistance and struggle, serving as potent markers of progressive, radical, and /or feminist ideals. Numerous interpretations and analyses of Frida and Che abound, begging the question, at least for me, can we endure one more attempt? However, in perusing the extensive literature on these two iconic yet iconoclastic individuals, I believe there remains fertile ground for exploration.

The idea for this paper came about during a trip to the mall in my former place of residence, the Midwestern city of Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska is considered a "red state," that is, republican. The state is also home to the "Big Red," the University of Nebraska football team. The purchase I made was a red T-shirt with the image of Che Guevara and the words "Resist Oppression." I found the shirt to be ironic and iconic. The international revolutionary that fought and died in the cause against capitalism and imperialism has become merchandise in the service of his enemies. What fascinated me most was that the shirt was for sale at Hot Topic which caters mostly to the young Goth and alternative crowd. I wondered how many of the store's patrons could identify Che--if they cared, and why. Perhaps this item fell into the category of apparel as social commentary for its shock value. Or perhaps, the image has become fashionable after promotion by socially critical music groups such as Rage Against the Machine. Regardless of what the T-shirt represents to possible purchasers, this image and symbol of revolution and the struggle against capitalism is being marketed and commodified. The content of the symbolism has ceased to be dangerous and has been domesticated to serve the goals of global hyper-consumerism. The symbol of Che is finally so non-threatening that his image can be reproduced and sold as a mere fashionable piece of attire. …

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