The Corner

Not My Idea of Glamour . . .

To live in the developed world in the 21st century, it really helps to be culturally multilingual — in other words, to have a sympathetic understanding of dramatically different worldviews. Consider this lead sentence, from an editorial in the British Catholic magazine The Tablet praising the resurgence of “liberation theology” in today’s Vatican:

Liberation theology has always had an aura of slightly edgy glamour, the equivalent in words to images of Che Guevara on posters.

Now, in my own worldview, an image of Che Guevara does not have “an aura of slightly edgy glamour”; it is a picture of a murderer and a thug. But the reason I don’t get terribly upset when I see someone wearing a Che T-shirt is that I understand that “a slightly edgy glamour” is almost certainly all the person wearing the T-shirt intends to convey. More specifically, the person is sending two messages: 1) I think of myself as a politically aware person who sympathizes with los pobres de la tierra but 2) I am actually ignorant of the real-life atrocities of the man whose image I am bearing.

So I think the Tablet editors are telling the truth about the worldview of people who wear Che T-shirts: It really is just a matter of “slightly edgy glamour” to them. (I leave out of consideration a possible handful of people who wear Che T-shirts because they are thoroughly informed about his life and actions, and strongly endorse them. The fact that they wear Che T-shirts is probably among the least of their problems.)

Note that this defense is not available to the people — reported on by our friend Florence King in a recent book review in the print NR — who wear T-shirts with the picture of Charles Manson on them. The career of Charles Manson is too well known in the culture, and he is famous for one and only one thing. The only defense available in that case is that the T-shirt wearer is intending to be ironic, albeit doing so in very poor taste.

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