September 12, 2007
The Biko Brand Name Alive and Well in South Africa
South Africa marked the 30th anniversary of freedom fighter Steve Biko's death yesterday, who was killed during interrogation at the hands of the apartheid police.
Steve Biko is one of the great "might have beens" of history, and because he died in such a tragic manner and wrote so eloquently against the apartheid system, he is somewhat of a political martyr in South Africa... and now a fashion icon and indeed a brand name.
Wearing his image is now something between a fashion statement and a political statement. The commercialization of the Biko name, however, has caused much soul searching on the part of his admirers.
This reminds me of the same kind of agonizing over the use of the image and name of Che Guevara, another resistance fighter who died an untimely death and leaves a difficult legacy behind him.
It seems to me that people who buy images of Che or Biko are often not wholly aware of either figure's politics.
Their images might have become disassociated with historical reality and taken lives of their own, much as the glamorous preppy life of Ralph Lauren has done.
Indeed, Ralph Lauren, ironically, is another person who will be remembered more for the myth he created about the inspirational polo playing lifestyle than the reality of Ralph Lifschitz (Lauren's real name) from the Bronx.
But I do think that it is worth noting that the romance of fashion may do a better job at preserving the memories of these men than the nuances of history.
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