American Icons


i con (i-kon ) n. Also i kon, ei kon (for sense 2). 1.a. An Image;
representation. b. A simile or symbol. 2. A represention or
picture of a sacred Christian personage, itself regarded as
sacred, especially in the tradition of the Eastern Churches.
(Latin icon. from Greek eikon, likeness image.

i con (i-kon ), syn. cipher, symbol, artifact, emblem, amulet,
totem, allegory, charm, idol, image. 

"Icons are images and ideas converted into three dimensions. 
They are admired artifacts, external expressions of internal
convictions, everday things that make every day meaningful by
connecting it to the eternal."

"Icons are the key to the unspoken attitudes and assumptions of a

"Icons are simply the process of thinking in pictures."  Herbert

"Icons are optical memory residues." Sigmund Freud

"Icons are the visible but disguised tracks of archetypes."  
     Carl Jung

"Through time, icons accumulate, transform, and lose meaning."

"History becomes mythology, mythology begets ritual, ritual
demands icons. Concepts end up as creeds and icons.  Careers of
men as different as ...Christ and Marx...become icons."

Every icon, even a pop icon like the Campbell's soup can, bears
some trace of the sacred, some suggestion that the reality it
presents is natural, transcends culture or mere human agency, is
in in some fashion magical.

"All sacred things must have their place. Being in their place is
what makes them sacred.  If taken out of their place, even in
thought, the entire order of the universe would be destroyed."
                         Claude Levi-Strauss

"Even the poorest among us has his private icon-bank.  We make
deposits there regularly, and withdraw more than we know.  Just
as we tuck away special treasures (notes, emblems, photos,
medals) in the corners of drawers, so do we tuck away iconic
images in the corners of our mind."
                         Marshall Fishwick

"Wherever there are icons, there are iconoclasts."

"it seems clear that we cannot distinguish reality from our
symbolization of it.  Being human, we can think only in symbols,
only make sense of any experience in symbols."  Robert Bellah

"A history of icons would be nothing less than the history of
human consciousness; the history of a single icon a window onto
the human mind."

"The human mind is functioning symbolically when some components
of its experience elicit consciousness, beliefs, emotions, and
images respecting other components of its experience.  The former
set of componenets are the 'symbols' and the latter the 'meaning'
of the symbols."  Alfred North Whitehead

"What we call symbolic thought makes it possible for man to move
freely from one level of reality to another.  Symbols identify,
assimilate and unify diverse levels and realities that are to all
appearance incompatible.  Magico-religious experience makes it
possible for man himself to be transformed into a symbol." 
     Mircea Eliade

"Icons function to synthesize our ethos -- the tone, character,
and quality of our life, its moral and aesthetic style and mood,
the picture we have of the way things actually are, and how the
world is ordered.  An Icon is an object, act, event, quality or
relation which serves as a vehicle for a conception." Clifford

"The icon is for use, when warm for prayer, when cool for
companionship."  Nicholas Calas

"American Icon:" a person (e.g.,George Washington), a place (Yellowstone Park), a text (The
Declaration of Independence), a    picture or sculpture (The Signing of the Declaration of
Independence), a built structure (The Empire State Building or the Vietnam  War Memorial), an
object(Coca-Cola Bottle or 1957 Chevrolet), an institution (The Supreme Court), or an event
(Rainbow Family Reunion or Presidential Inauguration)that claims or is perceived to be
representative of America. 

          ...should be immediately recognizable, comprehensible, powerful, even when their
precise meaning is unclear or disputed: e.g.,the flag, the six-shooter, Mount  Rushmore;   

          ...don't always work: e.g., Nixon's white house guard;

          ...contain ambivalence, contradiction, incoherence: e.g., Tom Paine, Madonna,
Daniel Boone, The Declaration of Indpendence;

          ...can be emptied of significant meaning over time, their original three-dimensional
historicity and contingency flattened into two dimensions -- or less: e.g.,  New England's little
white churches, The Declaration of Independence;

          ...unlike a sack,icons still stand upright even when empty, devoid of content they
still somehow also remain 'real' and powerful; the Democrat donkey and Republican elephant; 

          ...can be lost, then re-discovered, re-evaluated, re-defined through time and across
space: e.g., Anne Hutchinson, Malcom X, Freedom Hall in Philadelphia and the entire contents of
The National Register of Historic Places;

          ...can become contested ground where opposing factions compete for control of
meaning, value, power: e.g., The Declation of Independence during the Civil War, George
Washington on the Confederate Seal of State; Lincoln's Mantle during F.D.R.'s presidency, or
Harry Truman's in the last election, the confederate flag;

          ...can be put to the service of ideologies and institutions seemingly quite
antipathetic to their origins (the swastika, the cross);

          ... present themselves as if perfectly coherent and consistent despite their internal
incoherence or contradictoriness;

          ...often have silent partners with which they form binary pairs:,The Parties of Hope
and Memory, Donald  Duck and Mickey Mouse and their underground comix parodies,
Monticello and Graceland;

          ...can be wholly fictitious creations, the fabricated historical ground of some
present desire or need; e.g., Leif Erikson's Rune Stone, the Mecklenberg Declaration, the noble
redman, George Washington and the cherry tree;

          ...often seem to derive their power from their very fictitiousness ("Main Street" at

          ...are most clearly psychosocial sites, emblems of anxiety and desire, nostalgia and

          ...whether seeming to arise naturally (starving Somali children or Niagara Falls) or
clearly artificial constructs (Ronald McDonald or Ronald Reagan),icons claim universality and
naturalness in an effort to conceal their status as manufactured products (Miss America, Ben and
Jerry's Rainforest Crunch);

          ...gain power through association with other icons and through reiteration and
variation that creates the illusion of omnipresence in time and space, i.e, 'naturalness;'

          ...can become metaphors embedded in the language of the culture,the common
language any society uses to define and direct its energies (The Capitol Dome on the evening
news, "The People," "middle-class," "freedom," The Lincoln Monument);

          ...often originate in an individual's or group's own 'self-fashioning,' 

          ...can appear and develop differntially at different levels in society (folk, popular,
elite) and in different regions (Lincoln in the north and in the south; Willy Nelson in city or

          ...can be shaped and transmitted by different media (oral tales, texts, mass media).


                    Some Possibilities:

Heroes and Villains:
     George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, 
     Aaron Burr, Charles Manson, Abraham Lincoln and James Wilkes     Booth, Andrew
Jackson, F.D.R., J.F.K, Harry Truman, the    cowboy, the detective, the newspaper reporter, the
little man.   

Writers and artists:
     Poe, Twain, Whitman, Hemingway, Frost, Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Faulkner, Mailer, Capote,
Salinger, Kerouac

     Shirley Temple, W. C. Fields, Charley Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, Cary Grant, Jimmy
Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, Amos and Andy, Rudolph Valentino, John Wayne, The Beatles, The
Rolling Stones, The Doors, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, The
Grateful Dead, Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Theloneous Monk, Art Blakey, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy
Gillespie, Cheech and Chong.
Sacred Places:
     The White House, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Monument, Statue of Liberty,
Constitution Hall, Washington Monument, The Alamo, Plymouth Rock, Jamestown,
Williamsburg, Arlington National Cemetary, Vietnam War Memorial, The Smithsonian     
Institute, Mount Vernon, Mount Rushmore, The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park.

Sacred Structures:
     The little red schoolhouse, The ivy-covered college, the county court house, the state
capital, the log cabin, the plantation, The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center,    
Museum of Modern Art, The National Gallery, The Frank Lloyd Wright Museum, Falling Waters,
The Chicago Loop, The St. Louis Arch, Peachtree Plaza, Disneyland, the Space Needle.

Public Rituals:
     Football, basketball, baseball, Political Inaugurations, town meetings, Thanksgiving,
Christmas, Labor Day, Memorial Day, weddings and funerals, first day of school, the  

Material objects:
     The six-shooter, the covered wagon, the moldboard plow, the McCormac Reaper, the
Model T, The Edsel, BMW, Jeep, Coca-cola bottle, Dr. Pepper Bottle, postage stamps, vacation
clothes, work clothes, plastic dashboard madonna, pinball machine, slot machine, pool table, front
porch, rocking chair, .