Hasta la airbrushed T-shirt revolutionPoor Che Guevara. Imagine how horrified he’d be if he were alive today and forced to walk up and down Itaewon’s main drag.
The commie messiah would see money-grubbing shopkeeper after money-grubbing shopkeeper selling those T-shirts with his well-bearded visage. And those T’s, with the battle cry “Hasta la victoria siempre,” would be surrounded by countless others bearing the likenesses of the Backstreet Boys and Jon Bon Jovi.
And poor you. Last weekend you went to see the new Che biopic “The Motorcycle Diaries,” only to realize a couple minutes in that it was in Spanish, with only Korean subtitles. You cursed yourself for being monolingual, for knowing little but English ― the language of imperialist domination. You started to leave, but realized that if you do, the neo-cons win.
So you stayed, then left two hours later knowing little more about the real Che, besides how good he was at bagging Colombian peasant bimbos.
This columnist, though almost that Che-ignorant, decided recently to buy his very first Guevara T-shirt, in case he ever needs to prove his anti-capitalism bona fides. The responsible thing, I decided, was to buy one from the most responsible shopowner ― the one who knew the most about Che himself. Like which country he was from (Argentina).
A few wrong answers later (three Cubas, one Bolivia), I ditched that idea and simply chose the store with the best selection: a nameless shop just off the main drag, where T-shirts of Bruce Lee, Bon Jovi and Kurt Cobain, as well as our Che, are hung out on the sidewalk to lure shoppers. To get there, walk a few meters east of the Quiksilver and Levis stores, then go down a few steps.
The pickings are vast. The shop offers four Che designs ― the standard one and three montages ― and umpteen Bruce Lee styles, in every martial art pose imaginable.
But the real fun starts once you get past Guevara and Lee: you find yourself in a veritable museum of bad or dead recording artists, with stacks upon stacks of shirts for KISS, Hendrix, Morrison, Marilyn Manson, Hide and Hanson, all black and all in that decadent airbrushed style.
The clerks, a few middle-aged Korean men, will give you the run of the shop without being pushy. A shirt will set you back 18,000 won ($17), but you can haggle it down a few thousand.
As one friendly clerk dug for shirts in my size, I decided to quiz him. Asked whether Che was for war or peace, the clerk said peace: “I’ve seen some documentaries on him, and he was for peace, for the people.”
Well, he’s half right. Che was for the people, but he was fine with using military force (“two, three, many Vietnams”) in the process. And, as a matter of fact, he was fine with getting hedonistic and a little reckless along the way.
So maybe he would have liked Itaewon after all.
by Brian Lee