Cultural icon

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"Iconic" redirects here. For the EP by Icona Pop, see Iconic (EP).
A selection of cultural icons common to the United States

A cultural icon is an object that represents some aspect of the values, norms or ideals perceived to be inherent in a culture, or section of a culture.[citation needed] Cultural icons vary widely, and may a symbol, logo, picture, name, face, or indeed real or fictional people.[citation needed]

In the media, many items of popular culture have been called "iconic". Some writers say that the word is overused.[1][2][3]


Cultural icon of Russia: the first set of matryoshka dolls by Zvyozdochkin and Malyutin, 1892

The values, norms and ideals represented by a cultural icon vary both among people who subscribe to it, and more widely among other people who may interpret cultural icons as symbolising quite different values. Thus an apple pie is a cultural icon of the United States, but Americans may not agree on what it symbolises.[citation needed] The term has varying meanings; it is described by Dr Mike Parker as the "contested and poorly defined subject area of cultural iconicity".[4]


For example, widely accepted cultural icons of the United Kingdom include:

Matryoshka dolls are seen internationally as cultural icons of Russia.[16]

Cultural icons in general can be of almost any kind, for example human, such as the figure of the female athlete;[17] film characters, such as Superman;[18] animals such as the horse;[19] aspects of science, such as DNA;[20] disasters, such as the loss of the Titanic;[21] books, such as Plato's Timaeus;[22] artists such as Madonna, or types of boat, such as the oriental Dhow.[23]

Media overuse[edit]

Some writers say that the terms "icon" and "iconic" have been overused. A writer in Liverpool Daily Post calls "iconic" "a word that makes my flesh creep," a word "pressed into service to describe almost anything."[1] The Christian Examiner nominates "iconic" in its list of overused words, finding over 18,000 "iconic" references in news stories alone, with another 30,000 for "icon", including its use for SpongeBob SquarePants.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Let's hear it for the Queen's English, Liverpool Daily Post
  2. ^ a b Modern word usage amazingly leaves us yearning for gay, old times, Christian Examiner
  3. ^ Heard about the famous icon? We have - far too often, The Independent (London), January 27, 2007
  4. ^ [1]/University of Central Lancashire - Phd Thesis
  5. ^ a b c d British Postal Museum & Archive: Icons of England. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  6. ^ Holloway, J Christopher; Taylor, Neil (7th Edition, 2006 (First published 1983)). The Business of Tourism. Pearson Education. p. 217. 
  7. ^ McManus, Erwin Raphael (2001). An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind. Flagship Church Resources. p. 113. 
  8. ^ BBC: Tea steams ahead in icon hunt. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  9. ^ Thorne, Tony (2011). "The 100 Words that Make the English". Cuppa (Hachette Digital (e-book)). 
  10. ^ BBC. "a classic icon of British design inextricably linked to our national image"
  11. ^ a b c Jenkins, Simon; Dean Godson (editor) (October 2005). "Replacing the Routemaster". p. 7. Retrieved December 15, 2012. 
  12. ^ Rodgers, René (editor) (October 2002). "ROYAL MAIL LETTER BOXES A Joint Policy Statement". Royal Mail / English Heritage. Retrieved December 15, 2012. 
  13. ^ a b c Culture24: Icons of England. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  14. ^ O'Neill, Brendan (2 April 2009). "Gulf News / Christian Science Monitor". To save a past that rings a bell. Retrieved December 15, 2012. 
  15. ^ Parker, Mike (2012). "Cultural Icons: A Case Study Analysis of their Formation and Reception (PhD Thesis)". Chapter 5: The Spitfire Aircraft (University of Central Lancashire). pp. 123–167. 
  16. ^ Bobo, Suzanna (25 December 2012). "Scuttlebutt: Wooden toy tells a story of love and industry". Kodiak Daily Mirror. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  17. ^ Foudy et al, 2003.
  18. ^ Brooker, 2001.
  19. ^ Edwards et al, 2011.
  20. ^ Nelkin and Lindee, 2004.
  21. ^ Heyer, 2012.
  22. ^ Reydams-Shils, 2003.
  23. ^ Gilbert, 2008.


  • Biedermann, Hans (1994). Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them. Meridan. 
  • Brooker, Will (2001). Batman Unmasked: Analysing a Cultural Icon. Continuum. 
  • Edwards, Peter; Karl Enenkel, and Elspeth Graham (editors) (2011). The Horse as Cultural Icon: The Real and the Symbolic Horse in the Early Modern World. Brill. 
  • Foudy, Julie; Leslie Heywood and Shari L Dworkin (2003). Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon. University of Minnesota Press. 
  • Gilbert, Erik (2008). The Dhow as Cultural Icon. Boston University. * Heyer, Paul (2012). Titanic Century: Media, Myth, and the Making of a Cultural Icon. Praeger. 
  • Heyer, Paul (2012). Titanic Century: Media, Myth, and the Making of a Cultural Icon. Praeger. 
  • Meyer, Denis C. (2010). Cles Pour la France en 80 Icones Culturelles. Hachette. 
  • Nelkin, Dorothy and M Susan Lindee (2004). The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon. University of Michigan Press. 
  • Reydams-Schils, Gretchen J (2003). Plato's Timaeus as Cultural Icon. University of Notre Dame Press. 

External links[edit]