7 Revolutionary Icons Being Used to Pimp Capitalist Excess, War and Vanilla Ice Cream


It’s a sad, but predictable cycle: an outspoken person of color captures the world’s attention with a powerful call for justice—sometimes offering his or her life to the cause—and years later winds up on some well-meaning kid’s t-shirt. Or on the walls of your local Apple Store. And now, on the side of a Navy cargo ship. Over the past four decades, it seems that nothing sells better than revolution.

We’ve rounded up just a handful of the most laughable examples of revolutionaries who, in their death or retirement, have been used to represent the sorts of things they spent their lives opposing.

Revolutionary: Cesar Chavez

Re-branded: A U.S. Navy ship

Recently, the U.S. Navy named one of its cargo ships after Chavez. So, the tireless advocate for migrant labor who worked passionately against oppressive borders is an instrument of imperial war to help enforce them. “His example will live through this ship,” said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus at the dedication, before a crowd of Latino ship builders.

Revolutionary: Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Re-branded: Fashion icon

From t-shirts to designer handbags,  the Argentine-born revolutionary’s image has become omnipresent in the very system of commercial capitalism that he reviled. The revolution begins at Urban Outfitters, it seems.

Revolutionary: Malcolm X

Re-branded: Enlightened U.S. patriot

In 1999, Malcolm X’s image appeared on a collectible U.S. Postal Service stamp for the government that he spoke openly, passionately, and repeatedly about wanting to dismantle. 

Revolutionary: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Re-branded: Happy-go-lucky hero.

Last summer, Glenn Beck scheduled his own “Restoring Honor” gathering on the National Mall to coincide with the anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” That fact requires no further comment, but Beck is just the most extreme example of MLK’s rebranding as a diversity teddy bear.

Revolutionary: Native American resistance leaders

Re-branded: U.S. military symbols

Just days after Osama bin Laden’s death, news broke that the covert military operation that led to his killing was nicknamed “Geronimo.” In an interview with “Democracy Now!”, Winona LaDuke noted that the U.S. military is filled with Native American nomenclature: Black hawk and Apache longbow helicopters, tomahawk missiles.

Revolutionary: Mohandas K. Gandhi

Re-branded: Luxury goods pitchman

These days, Gandhi’s image is used to sell almost anything, but especially luxury consumer goods built with sketchy labor in poor countries. Most prominently, Gandhi’s likeness became a key part of Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign in the late 1990s.

Revolutionary: Bobby Seale

Re-branded: Vanilla ice cream enthusiast.

Seale, who co-founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in the late 1960s, became a pitch man for Ben & Jerry’s in the early 1990s. In the ad Seale sports the Panther’s signature black beret while holding up a clenched fist in one hand and a serving of vanilla ice cream in the other.

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