I think they should have hired me to do their marketing. I would have promoted the slogan “Che devoted his entire life to the revolucion del pueblo. Are you willing to dedicate four hours to hearing his life story?” I’m sure they wouldn’t have gone for it. Steven Soderbergh and his producers got all sorts of criticism that it was foolhardy to try to make a four hour movie. They knew that. But they didn’t actually make one long movie. They made two separate two hour movies. Soderbergh even lamented in the “Making of Che” documentary the feeling he has that movies just don’t mean anything anymore. That they are disposal. I almost cried when he said that because I think he’s right. He mourned the days when he was younger and he would treat an afternoon at the movies as a worthy dedication of several hours. Hell, we seem happy to sit through the recent trilogy of Batman movies that are more than two hours long. In fact I can’t help but feel compelled to compare the two films, if only because I just saw Che a few days after watching Dark Knight Rises, the latest installment of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
I wonder how many people are going to see the strongest connection between the 2 movies. Guns. Or more specifically, an armed revolution. But in the US most people have forgotten why the second amendment was (is) so important. People think it’s all about crazy right wing gun-enthusiasts wanting to make sure they can have as many guns and as much ammo for sporting purposes as they can get their hands on. That wasn’t actually the intention behind the second amendment. In fact, United Statesians could learn a lesson or two from Che Guevara and his life story. The second amendment asked the US citizens to be armed, not so we could shoot animals or “protect our families” from crazies and thugs. The second amendment asks us to be armed citizens so that in the case where the government has become so corrupt or abusive of power, we, the people, have the ability to overthrow the government.
But I must be careful what I say. I work for public institutions after all. This morning I am going in to re-sign an affidavit that I promise not to advocate the overthrow of the government if I want to keep my job.
But alas, the ones who think the government is broken are the peaceniks who want stricter gun laws. And in truth, I find myself having a hard time understanding why a disturbed person could go into a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado or to a grocery store parking lot in Tucson, AZ or onto a college campus in Virginia, or into a high school in Littleton, Colorado and gun down innocent people. They could have been severely hampered in their death toll if assault weapons had been less available to them. In my heart, I really want to be an advocate for stricter gun control laws. But in reality, for the real reasons the second amendment exists, we need assault weapons because that is what the national guard or the state police would use against us. And we should be able to fight against them. It was never about crime or crazies. And if we would stop to learn a little something from Che and Fidel, we might understand why the rule is there.
Fidel and Che proved to Batista that a leftist revolution was ineffective without an armed revolution backing it up. And where are our armed 99%? Why are all our armed militias written off as paranoid nutjobs? And why are all the gun advocates the ones supporting the corrupt government? The system is so broken we can’t even conceive anymore of the reasons why the second amendment was written in the first place.
While I was watching the villain Bane rallying his armed forces, using the rhetoric of class warfare, I was torn. Everything he spouted in terms of his language and rhetoric sounded like it could have come right out of Che’s mouth. I was sold. But then I saw how grotesque the film made those sentiments. Theft was justified as redistribution of wealth. Violence seemed to be justified as a way of showing the privileged ones how things “really are” for the rest of us. And the Scarecrow served as judge, jury and sentencer (if not executioner) of all who came before his bizarre trial system while he perched atop an absurd pile of furniture in a scene that could have come right out of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Bane was asking “the people” to take the power into their own hands. He started with folks who were supposedly unfairly imprisoned. And I found myself questioning everything I learned about the prison abolition movement. It took me a while to buy into the prison abolition logic. It is true. The entire prison system is based on a logic of class oppression that assumes that judgment equals right, just as might equals right in much of our shared colonial history. Who are the political prisoners? Who are the prisoners who are victims of class warfare? And who are the ones who are the so-called “hardened criminals” or the “criminally violent sociopaths”? And what are we supposed to do with them if prisons are abolished completely? Give them guns to fight the revolution for us? Would they make the best warriors? They might have more experience in hand-to-hand combat and with weapons. But according to Che Guevara, they would not make the best warriors.
In the film, Che claimed that the most important quality a warrior could have in order to be a true revolutionary was love: love of humanity, of truth, of justice. Certainly these are not the motivating factors for the looting and executions perpetrated by the liberated Gotham prisoners. And the wealthiest of Gotham are generally portrayed as weak and as victims (save for one billionaire in a mask who shall remain nameless). Perhaps what is wrong with this country is not a question of class warfare. Perhaps what is wrong is an absence of a warrior ethic. Perhaps the civilian population of the United States has become too dependent on our military as the “class” that will do our dirty work. I am grateful that I have never seen warfare. I am grateful that I have never had to fight for my life, nor have I ever been faced with the need to kill someone in self-defense. For these things I am truly grateful. But what I think I need (and perhaps all of us need) is training in how to think, act, and behave as a warrior in my daily life.
Che insisted that his guerillas be educated or he would not let them wield a weapon. His reasoning was that an uneducated public is a public that is easily deceived. Perhaps this is not the whole truth. Our literacy rate in the US is not so bad. And yet it seems we are also easily deceived. Perhaps it is not being merely literate in language, but literate in recognizing systems of oppression, recognizing deception, and being willing and able to question our own beliefs and assumptions in order to see things from a different perspective. Like questioning the assumption that capitalism is inherently good and right. Perhaps one of Che’s other comments is the more pertinent one – his comment that the myth of the self-made man is partially to blame for so much of the world’s oppression. I read this as the idea that capitalism and this myth – you know, the old “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” motto – has resulted in an ethos that rewards self-centered egocentric success stories and diminishes efforts which seek to find balance and support for the collective. What are our motivations for helping our fellow man? My own 15 year old son has bought into Ayn Rand’s philosophy that “forced altruism” is useless because it only creates resentment. People who are unable to care for themselves are called lazy or incompetent. They are generally viewed as a burden to society and in the most inhumane cases are considered expendable.
Perhaps what this country needs is a good old-fashioned armed revolution. Perhaps the 99% are the ones who need to arm themselves. Perhaps leftists need to put their guns where their mouths are. For, as Che and Fidel have shown us: a Marxist revolution without an armed rebellion to back it up is ineffective. But even more sadly, what part two of Soderbergh’s epic biopic reminds us is that the impassioned will to fight is not enough if your enemy is backed by American Imperialism. When the Bolivian general asks Che on the morning of his execution “If Bolivia is ripe for revolution, why did the peasants turn you in?” Che’s response is “Maybe they believed your lies.”