If you have a lick of sense, you wouldn’t emblazon images of Ché Guevara on either your chest or your wall — and yet Ché t-shirts and posters have been a pop culture hit for decades now.
He is cool, we are told, because he was ¡Viva la Revolución! and all that.
Apparently, mass murderers are cool.
But it could get worse. You could sport a hammer and sickle.
Walmart’s website is there to help. Under “men’s sleeveless,” for example, we see an artistic rendering of the old Communist symbol, frankly identified as a “Soviet Hammer and Sickle,” white on black for $14.97. The shirts also come in a variety of other colors, including the de rigueur red. When I poked around walmart.com early last week, I didn’t see the red version in anything but the sleeved version. But now it’s there in sleeveless. Walmart is there to serve you.
Yet not everyone is pleased. Some have even complained.
Who are these “intolerant” whiners?
In case you are not up on relatively recent history, here is the relevant context: Lithuania (along with several other Baltic countries) suffered greatly under Soviet rule. The official estimate is 50,000 Lithuanians died during deportation and incarceration after World War II. So it is not a huge surprise to learn that Lithuania is not alone in banning the symbol. Now, Lithuanian officials have contacted Walmart requesting a cessation in hawking the offensive merchandise. “You wouldn’t buy Nazi-themed clothing,” Lithuania’s foreign minister Linas Linkevicius tweeted, “would you?”
Or sell such items.
Certainly, a lot of people do buy stuff that others regard as “Nazi.” Sometimes to be “cool”; other times to make a controversial political point.
At the Uhuru Store, Gavin McInnes’s “ProudBoys Official” sells a “Pinochet Did Nothing Wrong” t-shirt for twice the price of Walmart’s Hammer and Sickle shirt — and that surely has annoyed leftists who have seen it.
The Pinochet tees are designed to tease leftists — the kind of people who would wear a hammer-and-sickle motif and not be ironic. The back of the Pinochet tee shows five people falling from a helicopter, with the two mottoes, one at top and the other at bottom:
MAKE COMMUNISTS AFRAID OF ROTARY AIRCRAFT AGAIN
PHYSICAL REMOVAL SINCE 1973
The message is not subtle. The notion behind it is that communists are not innocent. Communism — the political system that communists push — murders tens of thousands, even tens of millions, in the last (and all-too-bloody) century. Therefore, the reluctant general promoted to rid Chile of democratically elected Marxist president Salvador Allende and his supporters in the early 1970s “did nothing wrong” to get rid of political murderers.
Somehow, I don’t see Walmart selling this shirt on their website. Nor would I buy it or condone it.
Though it is funny. And grim. And serious.
So, this is the culture war at present.
On the left, the “call-out” culture regularly features mobs of people online — especially on Twitter — regularly finding someone who has offended leftist sensibilities and ganging up on them, demanding that they be “de-platformed.” The latest victim is comedian Norm MacDonald, who offended feminists by expressing wry doubt that women must always be trusted. For his expression of dubiety in a public interview, folks on Twitter barraged folks on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon into disinviting MacDonald as a guest.
“I’m happy the #MeToo movement has slowed down a little bit,” said MacDonald. “It used to be, ‘One hundred women can’t be lying.” And then it became, ‘One woman can’t lie.’ And that became, ‘I believe all women.’ And then you’re like, ‘What?’”
Host Fallon said “senior producers are crying” because of what MacDonald had said.
Meanwhile, 50,000 dead Lithuanians hasn’t yet caused anyone at Walmart enough tears to take down the selling of Soviet symbols on low-priced shirts.
And I’m not even “calling” for this. I prefer free speech and freedom of the silk-screen press not just in law but in the culture at large. If someone says something I find despicable, my first thought is not to want it banned, or for the people saying it to stop under pressure.
I’d prefer talking about it.
Or even shouting about it.
However we can remain free.
But as for tears, we should compare the tears over tens of thousands dead in Lithuania along with the tens of millions dead in Russia, because of Communism, and contrast them with the hundreds or thousands dead in Chile fighting Communism, and talk about this. As I think thoughtful folks would get verklempt on all accounts.
Then contrast them with the tears of a few Tonight Show employee who couldn’t bear Norm MacDonald’s light incredulity over the hashtags #MeToo and #BelieveAllWomen.
Meanwhile, I’m thinking about those sleeveless shirts with the Soviet Hammer and Sickle on them. Walmart files it under “Pop culture.” It’s hip to murder millions!?
I wouldn’t shed a tear over the death of cool.