I am a graduate of Brandeis University, a respected institution of higher learning that is also a bastion of liberal and left-wing thought. It’s a sure bet that most, if not all of Brandeis’ professors are registered Democrats. While never overtly political, I was content to go along with the liberal crowd for years — until September 11, 2001.
During my years at Brandeis, dorm rooms were decorated with posters and photos of rock groups, pop stars, famous actors and a man so handsome that the first time I saw him, my teenage heart skipped a beat. There he was, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, so-called heroic martyr of the Cuban Revolution. While I never displayed any images of Che, for many years I, too, ignorantly regarded him as an admirable rebel who fought bravely for “the people”. Then I became a Republican and learned some facts about Mr. Guevara, as the New York Times might respectfully refer to him. Here’s a list of just a few of the humanitarian acts performed or sanctioned by the Left’s favorite pinup:
- Killed dogs for sport as a child – a common trait in psychopaths
- Imprisoned, forced into hard labor and tortured countless Cubans he considered enemies – including artists, dissidents, homosexuals and those in the wrong place at the wrong time
- Ordered and/or presided over the summary executions of scores of suspected enemies, including pregnant women
- Brutally murdered a teenage boy whose only crime was trying to prevent Che’s henchmen from killing his father
But facts matter little in a world where image is everything. This explains why it’s Che on college walls and articles of clothing and not his revolutionary compadre, Fidel Castro. Che was a babe, with flashing eyes, an aquiline nose, and lips made for making out (if one didn’t mind all the torture and murder) Fidel, on the other hand, while a fiery speaker and brilliant strategist, lacked Che’s physical beauty and movie star charisma. Plus Che was dead, and as the result of a phony, public relations-generated resume that turned him into a symbol of gone-too-soon youthful idealism, was something Castro could never be: a martyr. Like James Dean, the ultimate dead movie star, Che is frozen beautifully in time.
I found photographs of a smiling Che cuddling a puppy, and standing with Castro, celebrating the “liberation” of the Cuban people, with no hint of the fifty years of enslavement to come. Another picture shows that movie star flash in his eyes, the light just-so on his prominent cheekbones, a cigar jutting defiantly out of his pretty mouth. If ever a man were made to be plastered across the chests of a million useful idiots, it was Che Guevara. Many young women looking at the photo of the recently-killed Che lying on a cold and unforgiving slab might imagine reviving him with a kiss. Never mind the cold and unforgiving facts — they have no bearing on the feelings the image of the dead Che conjures up for dewy-eyed liberals. He is the ultimate movie icon, hiding behind the convenient façade of good looks and an early death.
Hollywood’s preoccupation with image as truth have led to the sanctification of Castro’s chief executioner in two recent pieces of movie fiction. Both “The Motorcycle Diaries” and “Che” conveniently ignore Che’s cold-blooded and vicious disregard for human life and decency; rather, he is seen as a romantic figure and idealistic spokesman for “the people”, cut down tragically in his prime. Liberal critics may have issues with some artistic aspects of these films, but not their purported “facts.”
The power of Che’s image is not unlike the charisma of JFK or Barack Obama, men whose mass appeal brings with it the challenging implications of the great disconnect between representation and reality. Like our greatest screen stars, they supply admirers with a warm place to project many kinds of feelings – heroic, sexual, rebellious, yearning. To the uninformed, Che Guevara is James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Montgomery Clift rolled into one, when in reality, he would have made a really terrific Nazi SS officer. But the ignorant liberal masses, operating on emotion, rebellious urges and disregard for facts, refuse to recognize this and continue to take to Che as if he were just one of those fabulous faces that the camera loves. He is the quintessential movie star, blindly worshipped by many, seen clearly by all too few for what he really was – monstrous evil wrapped in a beautifully seductive package.
Footnote: Brandeis stopped getting my money several years ago because of their insistence on bestowing honorary doctorates on anti-Semitic former Presidents and left-wing radicals. So imagine my surprised delight when recently I discovered the existence of the two-hundred member Brandeis Republican Club. My check supporting their activities was in the mail the next day. Several hundred fact-loving conservative kids on an uber-liberal campus, with nary a Che Guevara poster or tee-shirt in sight — gives one hope, doesn’t it?