Icons of Dissent: The Global Resonance of Che, Marley, Tupac, and Bin Laden

Professor Jeremy Prestholdt, University of California, San Diego, will give a book talk about his most recent publication.

Monday, May 6, 2019
4:30 PM - 6:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

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Icons of Dissent: The Global Resonance of Che, Marley, Tupac, and Bin Laden combines Professor Prestholdt's interests in consumer culture and politics by exploring popular attraction to four evocative figures: Che Guevara, Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, and Osama bin Laden. By considering the resonance of these figures in multiple world regions over the past half-century, the book sheds new light on the transnational and temporal factors that define icons. In the process, it reveals their dynamism, their symbolic volatility, and the commodification of political sentiment since the 1960s.

Icons of Dissent explores the meanings ascribed to four of the world's most ubiquitous iconic figures. Using evocative figures as barometers of transnational sentiment, the book examines the confluence of significant disillusionment and the ‘transnational imagination,’ a mode of perception that frames local circumstances in a global historical trajectory and so affects collective aspirations and actions.

The iconic figures in this project reflect popular sentiment, political sensibility, and consumer desire. They transcend cultural and economic boundaries, and they are rapidly integrated into consumer trends. Moreover, investigating the appeal of icons of dissent over five decades reveals two aspects of our increasingly interconnected world that are otherwise difficult to discern: the tension between a common attraction to symbols and locally contingent translations, and the intersection of political vision and consumerism. Through case studies of four very different icons in diverse social contexts, the book tells the story of how people in multiple locales have developed symbolic vocabularies that are simultaneously transnational and intensely local.

Evocations of Guevara, Marley, Shakur, and Bin Laden reveal how individual lives are mediated by shared references, or how so many people seek deeper meanings for their experiences in global popular culture. For instance, in the 1960s Che Guevara became a prominent symbol of Left radicalism and transnational solidarity. More remarkably, in the 1990s he was revived as both a revolutionary role model and a nostalgia-infused fashion symbol. The most omnipresent of these icons, Bob Marley, became a common reference for social justice and antisystemic sentiment in the 1970s. After Marley’s death in 1981, greater emphasis on the lighter, spiritual elements of his canon transformed him into a supra-religious figure. This dramatically increased Marley’s popularity but also contributed to an unprecedented commodification of his image. Tupac Shakur offered poignant critiques of contemporary inequalities and so came to embody post-Cold War disillusion and social alienation, particularly for young male audiences. After his death in 1996, Shakur became the powerful voice of a generation and lodestar of multiple insurgencies from Guadalcanal to Sierra Leone. Osama bin Laden, the most recent and controversial of the figures surveyed, became a symbol of defiance in the early 2000s. After September 11, 2001, many around the world perceived Bin Laden as the embodiment of diverse critiques of neoliberalism and US foreign policy. Much like other iconic figures, his image was broadly commercialized, appearing on everything from T-shirts in South Africa and Venezuela to cologne bottles in Pakistan.

Jeremy Prestholdt specializes in African, Indian Ocean, and global history with emphases on consumer culture and politics. His first book, Domesticating the World: African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization, addressed East African demands for imported goods and how these shaped global exchanges in the nineteenth century. His current research moves in two directions. One project is his forthcoming book, Icons of Dissent: The Global Resonance of Che, Marley, Tupac, and Bin Laden. A second project addresses political culture, violence, and claims of autochthony—or 'original' habitation—at Kenya's Indian Ocean coast. Specifically, the project seeks to understand the fraught integration of coastal Kenyans into the postcolonial nation through an examination of several periods of political strife. By analyzing the politicization of race, religion, and ethnicity at multiple junctures since the era of decolonization, the project aims to shed light on both recurring patterns of communal antagonism and how political thinkers have imagined concepts of belonging differently across time.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase.

Pay-by-space and all-day ($12) parking available in lot 3.

Cost : Free and open to the public; light refreshments will be served.

UCLA African Studies Center310-825-3686


Sponsor(s): African Studies Center, Bunche Center for African American Studies