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. Cultural icons vary widely, and may include objects like telephone boxes, aircraft, and buildings, or indeed real or fictional people.
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. The term has varying meanings; it is described by Dr Mike Parker as the "contested and poorly defined subject area of cultural iconicity". In Russia, nesting sets of matryoshka dolls have been popular toys since 1892, but are seen internationally as cultural icons of Russia.
For example, widely accepted cultural icons of the United Kingdom include:
- Big Ben (the nickname for the bell, but widely recognised as the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament in London);
- Cup of tea (for the British tea drinking habit);
- red pillar box (Royal Mail letter collection box);
- Red Telephone Box;
- red Routemaster London double decker bus;
- Spitfire, a World War II fighter aircraft.
Cultural icons in general can be of almost any kind, for example human, such as the figure of the female athlete; film characters, such as Superman; animals such as the horse; aspects of science, such as DNA; disasters, such as the loss of the Titanic; books, such as Plato's Timaeus; great artists such as Madonna often cited as the 'Queen of Pop' and the greatest and most successful recording artist ever or types of boat, such as the oriental Dhow.
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." 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.
- /University of Central Lancashire - Phd Thesis
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- Foudy et al, 2003.
- Brooker, 2001.
- Edwards et al, 2011.
- Nelkin and Lindee, 2004.
- Heyer, 2012.
- Reydams-Shils, 2003.
- Gilbert, 2008.
- Let's hear it for the Queen's English, Liverpool Daily Post
- Modern word usage amazingly leaves us yearning for gay, old times, Christian Examiner
- 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.
- Our New Icons by The Daily Telegraph
- Nothing and no one are Off Limits in an Age of Iconomania by The Age
- British Postal Museum & Archive: Icons of England
- Culture24: Icons of England