Before we continue, let's be clear about what Michael Casey's new book, "Che's Afterlife", is all about: the study of a picture found worldwide.
According to the review by Michiko Kakutani, Casey's book "is not only a cultural history of an image, but also a sociopolitical study of the mechanisms of fame. It is a book about how ideas travel and mutate in this age of globalization, how concepts of political ideology have increasingly come to be trumped by notions of commerce and cool and chic."
It is NOT a book on the life of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. It is an investigation on a social phenomenon, which is clearly explained by Casey:
[Excerpts from epilogue]
"Humans have always used meaning-laden images to promote (sell) ideas, to build loyalty among followers (customers), to cultivate a sense of belonging within communities (markets), and to differentiate themselves from their enemies (competitors)."
"Choosing a brand—much as choosing to display a loved one’s photo, to don a religious pendant or national flag pin, to wear a favorite team’s colors, or to declare our admiration for a political, artistic, or sporting hero—is a personal act. Brands, symbols, and images are incorporated into a person’s identity. They form part of the idealized self with which we define our place in the world."
"In fact, the brand is powerful because, quite independently of Che and his story, the icon that emerged from Alberto Korda’s photograph is independently capable of stirring the forces of human imagination and of tapping into deep-seated longings for a better world."
Fortunately, Casey is not the only one that has investigated the various incarnations of Korda's "Che." The 2007 documentary "Personal Che" [trailer] also conducted a similar investigation and came to a similar conclusion: "fact or history is of little importance when compared to these people's desire to see Guevara through their own lens... [Personal Che] is a documentary not about 'Che' Guevara, but about how this man continues to be reinterpreted by many around the world in ways that would probably surprise 'Che' himself." The documentary shows Korda's "Che" appearing as a holy icon in one part of the world, and also on the shirt of a Neo-Nazi in another part.
Another recent documentary, called "Chevolution" [trailer], also studies the unpredictable development of Korda's "Che." The directors conclude "that there is a mythology that grows from Che and it happens in all sorts of ways in different cultures, and that's one aspect of it. And there's also this development of the icon itself. And what's interesting [...] is that there's this open source where no one really specifically controls it. And it keeps changing and remodifying. It becomes this open vessel that's constantly evolving without one person or group really dictating where it goes."
So you get the picture right? Korda's famous picture of "Che" has taken a life of its own since it was captured in 1960. It operates as a personal symbol which sometimes brings people together (or separates them), but has little (or nothing) to do with the real history of Ernesto Guevara.
But, interestingly, there are some people who don't care about all that, and only see Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, the "Killing Machine."
[Photo above of Alberto Korda (1928-2001)]