Cultural Icons and Fetishes
FAST-US-7 United States Popular Culture (Hopkins)
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere
Objects which have identities or connotations that are regarded as
symbolic of certain beliefs or concepts, or which 'personify' types of
behavior, lifestyles, and/or identities, may become "cultural icons"; e.g.
they are perceived as having a "sacred or pseudo-religious" influence
within the particular culture.
"Iconization" usually denotes a 'positive' or 'successful' image and
sense of 'permanence', though there are also temporal and 'tarnished'
icons. American icons often need to have overcome adversity (rags to
riches, performing despite pain, etc.); positive icons almost always need
to be seen as "one of us."
- Coca Cola and McDonald's distinctive packaging, product
marketed to represent a particular lifestyle or cultural level
e.g. Coca Cola being more than just a simple drink (India anecdote); plus
McDonald's 'Golden Arches' and The Economist's 'Big Mac' economic
indicator index. Are such brands/symbols representative of America?
(If so, what specifically?)
- Or, in contrast to McDonald's, the traditional American roadhouse diner (symbolic of a
past era & lifestyle) (see also Diner
City) (cf. "fast-food" franchises, "yuppie coffee houses," upscale,
ethnic, & other restaurants)
- [Finnish iconic brands? Elovena (and the 'Elovena Girl'), Paulig
Coffee (and the Paulig Girl?) appeal of 'imaginary' vs 'real'
symbols? Jalostaja 'tube' mustard, Sisu salmiakki, Fazer Blue
chocolate, the Marimekko Unikko design, etc.?]
- Presidential images and symbolism: cf. J.F. Kennedy's presidency
(contrasts of youth, style, optimism; Camelot) vs. LBJ, Nixon, Carter,
Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Barack Obama, etc. ...
- Sports characters (enduring): Babe Ruth (see also
Clip), Lou Gehrig (see Farewell Speech
Lombardi [YouTube], etc. (cf. the more recent Cal
Ripken [in YouTube Coca-Cola commercial])
- Sports characters (temporal?) Bill Bradley, Jim Ryun, George
Foreman in the early '90s as the oldest heavyweight boxing champion; also
his lifestyle (eating, religion, personality, behavior); Joe Namath (white
shoes, sexual activity, gambling, health), Mark McGwire (1998 image vs
current unclear status cf. steroid usage), Barry Bonds, Marion Jones,
- Icons in general tend to be 'past performers' who are 'safe' from
revelations about their careers that may change their status
- Sports icons are highly dependent on the status of their sport
cf. the traditional, general status of baseball, basketball and football
Most-Popular Sports and 1998 Top Sports vs
Sports) compared to the recent status of Nascar racing or the relative
invisibility of ice hockey or very different perceptions of ski-jumping
for general American audiences vs how they would usually be understood in
- U.S. sports icons are often associated with something 'unusual' apart
from athletic sucess, often having dared to attempt something and
succeeded at it against the odds which would have been
'disastrous' to their status had they not succeeded. The success stories
are mythologized. These stories support other mythologies of
individualism and 'doing one's own thing'
- 'Tarnished' Sports Characters: 'Shoeless Joe Jackson' & the Chicago
'Black Sox' (cf. the films Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams, among
others); Pete Rose & hard-work ethic, but then gambling scandals; Barry
Bonds, Mark McGwire, Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong (?), etc. (cf. Matti
Nykänen, Mika Myllyla, Jari Isometsä, the Allianssi football
team in 2005, etc.)
- 'Tarnished' but then comeback: the early Muhammed Ali (early draft
problems and ban) vs the later Ali (coping with Parkinson's disease,
Olympics, charity and Muslim education work), etc.
- Sports locations: Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden in NYC, the
former 'Candlestick Park' in San Francisco, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena,
California, U.S. Master's golf course in Augusta, Georgia, etc.
- Historic sites: Route 66,
Gettysburg, The Alamo, Wounded Knee, Woodstock, or Polo Grounds and Ebbets
Park and Wrigley
Field vs Astrodome [followed by Enron Field, subsequently Minute Maid
Park], the Georgia
Dome, Seattle Kingdome [replaced by Qwest Field], New Orleans
Superdome, etc. (tradition and 'natural' vs 'newness' and high-tech
- Historic figures: George Washington, Daniel Boone, Robert E. Lee,
Abraham Lincoln, Charles Lindburgh, F.D.R., Will Rogers, etc.; cf. George
Custer, George Patton, Amelia Earhart, etc.
- Contemporary Internet 'Icons'? BlogStars? YouTube Icons
(what attracts their audiences; any shared attributes?) Language Icons?
Orlova and her website Hot For
Words, and her YouTube clip on sexting)
Objects which are so strong that we are "compelled" to "worship" them are
"cultural fetishes", e.g. "bastard" icons which are abnormal or "twisted"
from their original meanings. The relationship of fetish to icon is as
devil worship to religious practice, but fetishes are often regarded as
"the life blood of society" (belief & appeal of last resort).
For example, has the "iconized" accomplishmnent of 19th century
immigrant settlers who survived the odds to settle the Western frontier
become "fetishized" in contemporary TV "Survival" series?
- 'Expected behavior' (turning 'received politeness' into a fetish
previous anecdote of Janice and the car door).
Note the resulting sequence:
- Conditioned Behavior,
- Rituals in which the Conditioned
Behavior is "formalized" or "enacted,"
- Fetishism when the Ritualized
Action is "demanded" as a token of self-esteem rather than having been
"offered" as a token of courtesy or respect
- "Must 'prove' oneself" (jobs, military units, fraternity hazing
rituals, other "survival of ordeal" expectations [cf TV "Survival" games;
"initiation rites" of college fraternity 'pledges' who need to "prove
their worthiness"], etc.)
- Athletic rituals and superstitions: "No sex (on a game weekend) until
Monday" [or before important games, or during entire tournaments, etc.],
X-C marathon ski diets, not changing one's clothes/uniform during a
"winning streak", or wearing "special clothing" ('Bull Durham'), rabbit's
foot, lucky bat (cf. 'The
- Faith in technology (Reagan's [and now George W.'s] "Star Wars"
strategy for missile defense, etc.)
- National Enquirer (CB Radio, web blogs), etc. "the untold story",
"inside story", the "truth" revealed
- Superstitions, especially those that "control" one...
- Academic "publish or perish" injunctions, etc.
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Last Updated 28 January 2010