A few years ago I showed my wife a t-shirt from Marketo, the San Mateo-based lead generation company. They were revolutionary, and to underscore that they had a manifesto, and their shirt featured an image of Che Guevara.
My wife is a marketer who has lived in Central America; she immediately noted the use of Che was potentially offensive in parts of Florida, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. In fact, I’ve learned that wearing that shirt in Warsaw could get me sent to prison. It’s true. (I thought it was just communist chic, but there its criminal.)
Evocative symbols of Europe’s fascist past have long been illegal in some European countries. Poland has gone further by banning symbols of communism. Poles can be fined or put in prison if they are caught with a item bearing the hammer and sickle, red star, or the image of Che.
However, this isn’t sitting well with younger Poles, who are taking these still-emotionally charged images and disarming them through humor and fashion.
In America, we’ve seen African American and gay culture claim words used to persecute them. Nazism similarly has been discharged by spoofs such as Hogans Heroes, the spoof Werewolf Women of the SS, or the band Women of the SS. When Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi for Halloween, he was doing what youth do: grabbing hold of previously charged symbols and satirically playing with them. This last example turned out badly for Prince Harry.
That’s what happened in Poland, just like what happened in other parts of the world, where trendy communist-themed bars popped up. Remember Pravda in Boston? And one restaurant that pokes fun at its Soviet past offers “trout from the fish shop wit the three-hour queue” and “Bulgarian peach pie: bartered for irons and Soviet cameras during the International Tourist Exchange.”
Get it? The past, though tragic, can be made silly to detached youth. And it can be healthy to satirize the most troubling aspects, acknowledge them, and at the same time disowning some of the baggage of the past. The Polish law saves feelings, but it’s restricting the next generation from stepping free of something it wasn’t part of and intend to own.
So to that end, here are a few of the images that, in my opinion, are neutralizing communism via humor and pop culture. But remember, if you visit Poland, leave your Marketo shirt at home, and at the bar, don’t order “Lenin-ade” Or you could experience some Eastern European Prison Chic.