Mercedes Benz expropriated Che Guevara iconography last Tuesday to sell cars at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. What happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas.
Outraged Cuban-Americans demanded an apology. They buy cars, too, so Daimler-Chrysler obliged. The manufacturer contritely explained that the image of the Communist guerrilla with the Mercedes insignia superimposed over the star on his beret was intended to convey “the revolution in automobility enabled by new technologies.”
Can we forgive the Cubans for remembering that Che’s word was his deed when he said that he wished to transform each Communist into an “effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine” through “hatred”? Perhaps they overlooked his connection to gas-propelled wheeled contraptions and the latest in applied science that Mercedes noticed.
Mercedes certainly isn’t the first corporation to embrace Communist symbols. “Show your love for the former USSR during training time in this Adidas Marx A-Flex Russia cap,” the German sneaker company petitioned consumers in hawking a hat featuring an oversized hammer and sickle. North Face recently sold “CCCP” track jackets. There’s even a Hammer and Sickle Vodka that retails at $26.99 for a fifth.
There is something offensive going on here. But to whom?
For anyone who lived through Communism, or is even vaguely aware of its record of murder and oppression, using Che Guevara in a marketing campaign is terribly repugnant. Was John Wayne Gacy’s likeness unavailable?
Communism executed people for wearing glasses in Cambodia; set fire to voting booths in Peru; forced people to eat their own excrement in Romania; put dwarves in concentration camps in North Korea; and sent strikers to the bottom of the Volga River with stones tied round their necks in Russia. But in America, Communism is a cute marketing symbol.
And that’s the rub. Oh-so-serious ideologues enjoy neither being made sport of nor being exposed as frauds. The irony here is that Mercedes didn’t transform Che Guevara into a product pitchman. He was always that. His admonition to “create two, three, many Vietnams” was as much a marketing slogan as anything else and the ubiquitous portrait of his determined visage is something out of the iconography of the (Marxist) saints. If Mercedes distorts the historical Che, they do so in a way that enables a candid glimpse of the real man.
Che Guevara was always more style than substance. His appearance in a corporate advert isn’t anything revolutionary. Before Mercedes used him to sell cars, Castro used him to sell Marxism. For people to whom politics is all about the pose, Guevara’s stoically heroic pose under that beret has proven a powerful commercial that seduced them into purchasing the product.
If that helped them fall for Communism in the sixties, maybe it will make them fall for a Mercedes now. That’s how trendy people roll.
Che is proof that bad people enjoy good publicity. They call it “the glamour of evil” in church. An overseer of firing squads who ultimately experienced what he meted out, Che is a lot like the ideology that he peddled. For both, evil deeds strangely begat good press. Communism left 100 million corpses in its wake yet Westerners find a campy appeal in the products associated with it.
Lenin prophesied, “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” But he was a false prophet. What really happened is that Communists now sell us automobiles. Some overfed capitalist in on the joke laughs himself silly.
On the day of his death, Guevara lectured a Bolivian teacher that it was “anti-pedagogical” to expect poor students to learn in her ramshackle schoolhouse while “government officials drive Mercedes.” He added, “That’s what we are fighting against.” He’s now fighting for Mercedes.
Che may be rolling in his grave. But it’s only because Mercedes Benz spits on it.
Viva la revolución capitalista.