Today’s pop culture is rich in symbolisms of protest, such as Che Guevara, poster child of the global revolution and its capitalist reincarnation, whose image can be found on anything from T-Shirts to baseball caps, from coffee mugs to key rings, suggesting anything from Radical Left anti-capitalist critique to the revolutionary struggle of the cherries as they were squashed between two layers of chocolate. The latest addition to the range of protest merchandise are Occupy’s Guy Fawkes masks, “a symbol of festive citizenship” according to The Guardian, and possibly Pussy Riot style ski masks that might soon be adopted as symbols of solidarity by advocates for freedom of speech around the world, before they run risk of trailing the Commandante’s fate. These symbols are in a long tradition of revolutionary branding that also services the shallow level of analysis dedicated to dynamics of social and political change around the world as we colour-code the good, the bad and the ugly. As suggested by Keck & Sikkink, “activists interpret facts and testimony, usually framing issues simply, in terms of right and wrong”.
Symbols of protest are an omnipresent phenomenon on the streets of New York, London, New Delhi and Tokyo. What is the effect this has on the perception of underlying issues as they are embedded in middle class notions of a global civil society. Does the commodification of these symbols add meaning to the issues they stand for, eliciting support and nurturing solidarity with distant concerns, or does it drain their underlying political message by bringing them into the commercial realm? By wearing a Che-Shirt, are we automatically part of the protest culture with all its associated political undercurrents, or do we just follow a trend in global pop culture? Does it anaesthetise our conscience by suggesting that a piece of garment fabricated in a Third World sweatshop for minimal costs and sold on Cuba Street with a substantial profit margin and a cup of fair trade soy latte that suggests happy farmers with smiling children is as much of a contribution to protesting the havoc wrought by global capitalism as we need to indulge in on any given day?
As we know, few causes make it on the global civil society agenda for a number of reasons – the greatest benefit of raising the profile of Russian punk bands and Australian whistle blowers is the magnification of a single cause that can help draw attention to similar or related issues elsewhere, hoping for a spill-over effect to trigger sympathy for causes a handful of activists might have advocated for a long time without any notice being taken. The question remains, is there any revolutionary subtext left in Uncle Che’s image or has he been completely absorbed by the system he chose to fight?
 Keck, M. E., & Sikkink, K. (1998). Activists beyond borders: advocacy networks in international politics. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.