'Che Guevara was an iconoclast,' Cuban historian Hebert Perez Concepcion said. 'He would not approve of the proliferation of his image by corporations.'

Che sera, sera: Argentine revolutionary would not have approved

His face appears on everything from t-shirts to lunch boxes and soon in a new feature film, but according to a Cuban professor, Che Guevara would likely not approve.

Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was killed over 40 years ago when he was just 39 years old. A key figure in the Cuban revolution in the 1950s, this bearded, beret-wearing Argentinian revolutionary has become an iconic symbol.

But Hebert Perez Conception, a Cuban historian and professor says he could never imagine Che walking around with an image of Karl Marx on his shirt.

“Che Guevara was an iconoclast,” Concepcion said. “He would not approve of the proliferation of his image by corporations.”

Marketing experts have realized the resonance that Che Guevara’s image, taken by Alberto Korda in 1960, still has around the world. Some say the image is the most reproduced in the world and has been used to sell virtually everything from watches to vodka.

David McCarthy teaches at Centennial College. He has developed a course on corporate and political propaganda. He believes such advertising campaigns dilute political language and fill consumerism with pseudo-political intrigue.

“(The image) has been continually used for artistic, commercial and political purposes,” McCarthy said. “The brutal irony here is that such overexposure has reflected the very sorts of materialism and capitalistic trends that he so despised and fought against,” he added.

Concepcion calls such marketing shameful. He echoes Che Guevara’s own daughter, Aleida Guevara, who has been pleading with companies around the world to stop using her father’s image for profit.

“Using Che Guevara’s image to sell products is as shameful as it is to make dolls of President Barack Obama’s two young daughters to make a profit,” Concepcion said.

McCarthy believes that although renewed interest in Che offers an opportunity to understand the man and his principles, harm presents itself in the commercialization of his image.

“The most devastating effect of the business trend toward emptying serious symbols of their political content by deploying them in commercial contexts is that many people, especially youths, come to confuse consumption with political action.” McCarthy said.

Concepcion offered an explanation for Guevara’s appeal and resilience.

“People identify with Che Guevara because they see a rebel in him,” he said. “This concept of rebellion can be applied to many situations; rebelling at school, home or against the establishment for example.”

Filed by Monique Plessas