Throughout modern history youths have needed an icon. Once there were the Beetles; then there was John Lennon. For those youngsters who love martial arts there was Bruce Lee followed by Jackie Chan.
Now in the visible youth culture of today who is the youth icon? The honest answer is Che Guevara.
The cigar smoking good looking South American Marxist today looks at us from every T-shirt and stares from beyond his grave through facebook walls. Cult of Che Guevara is marketed in the every conceivable consumer item that a youth may use. And he has been a grand success.
What makes Che a youth icon?
He is perceived by a vast majority of youths as a rebel who fought for a just world and gave his everything for that cause. For a youth who wears Che in his T-shirt, it’s a proclamation that he is a co-rebel in that cause. Forget that the youth in question may actually toil in the call center for US of A consumers. Forget that the youth in question may drink Coca Cola and burp fried chickens with Kentucky labels. Still with Che’s stern eyes looking out of his clothing, he can consider himself a rebellious quintessential angry youth. It’s the easy way out to be a rebel and at the same time lead a life confirming to all consumerist tendencies.
But the problem is not just a superficial statement of being a pseudo-rebel. Che is also a Trojan. Because in adoring Che, unknowingly certain thoughts get internalized and enter the general youth psyche like the worm malware tunneling into the computer. The youths begin to venerate the ideology that created Che and the violence that is inherent in it. In fact one important aspect of Che’s life philosophy has been violence – cold blooded calculated violence. In the ‘Message’ he sent his comrades he wanted them to develop “hatred as an element of struggle”. He elaborated this further: “unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine.” The supreme irony is that the youth who wears Che on his clothing thinks that he is wearing an icon of universal love and making a statement of universal compassion!
And slowly the poison enters his system: the poison of hatred for the ideological enemy – the demonizing and dehumanizing of the other. Che made diary entries when he was leading his ‘revolutionary’ life. They reveal a pathological killer in love with murder. For example, in January 1957, Guevara had a problem. Che developed doubts about one of his comrades Eutimio Guerra – that Guerra might be a spy. In his own words let us hear how he solved the problem: “I ended the problem with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain.... His belongings were now mine.” The pattern is repeated in diary entries – Che’s solution seems to be simple: when in doubt kill.
Even Che’s martyrdom was a constructed myth. Far from being a socialist martyr fell by the despicable capitalist and imperialist forces, information about Che’s movements in Bolivia which were passed on to the army, seemed to have originated from Cuba and reached CIA through Soviet hands. The ultimate betrayal of Che happened through his own personal weakness which was used by KGB to shadow him. And even in the end when he had actually an opportunity to become a martyr fighting the army, Che came out and surrendered to the authorities. He came out of his hiding with hands raised, pleading to spare his life as he was ‘more valuable to them alive than dead’.
The peak of paradox is that the very capitalist forces which Che despised so completely were the ones who had converted his face into a youth icon. Marketing Che as the face of the rebel youth started in 1997 – coinciding with the spread of globalization. Copyrights to Che merchandise generated income for capitalists in the American continent. Che is the globalized face of Euro-centric Marxism – essentially a colonial statement rather than a genuine statement of revolution or love for all humanity. In short Che is the Coca cola of revolutionaries.
Nevertheless youths do need an icon. They need an icon, who can enthuse the consumed youths of this consumerist age, with ideals to live and grow by. The world needs an icon who can charge the youth to become harbingers of true reform not in little bits and pieces but “root-and-branch reform”.
We need an icon to galvanize the international youth into action by appealing to their innermost being and their most profound love. We need a personality who can assure the youth of today with conviction that Love and not brutal violence that shall bring the final victory. We need as our icon someone who will ask us straightly at our face, “Do you love your fellow men? Where should you go to seek for God -- are not all the poor, the miserable, the weak, Gods? Why not worship them first? Why go to dig a well on the shores of the Ganga? Believe in the omnipotent power of love. Who cares for these tinsel puffs of name?” We need a youth icon who can assure us that if we have love we are omnipotent; if we are perfectly unselfish then we are irresistible.
There is such a youth icon in Indian history already. With face radiant and with eyes that rival sun itself in brilliance, he stands on the rock surrounded by roaring waves. And he sends a clarion call to the youth – not appealing to their anger and hatred and not forging violence as the weapon- but appealing to the noblest elements vibrant in the youth of all ages. He calls us to work for a new world of oneness and peace and proclaims the heralding of that wonderful future with peace and benediction.
It’s time we make Swami Vivekananda replace Che as the truly international youth icon – forever.