James Bond. Babe Ruth. Dale Earnhardt. Oprah. Monet. Van Gogh. What do all these fictitious and real life figures have in common? They’re all larger than life. And they’re all icons. What makes an icon? How do we define what an icon really is? Who is to say who and who is not an icon? An icon is someone or something that completely transcends real life and is instantly recognizable in their field or medium. They’re sometimes mavericks, but they all change the game somehow.
To be an icon, one must have reached the masses in a particular field or genre, so that their name is instantly recognizable to almost everyone. You say the name and, although they may not be immediately sure of what the person does, they know them for their sheer fame. Iconography is a representative of the people or of the thing they do. They have to exceed their main demographic. They become the poster child for whatever they do and become so recognizable that they last years and become timeless inspirations for people.
Does demographic matter? If they’re really an icon, it does not matter thatmuch. It shouldn’t, because if they’re really an icon, they should be able to be known to those who doesn’t even watch or participate in whatever they do. Do I dare call Lady Gaga an icon? I can actually. She joins the throng of iconic music artists like Frank Sinatra (I hear jazz enthusiasts screaming already), Michael Jackson, Queen, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and others in one of those clubs a lot of people are dying to get into. But time will tell if she truly is as iconic as we make her out to be. The clothes! The music! Her avant-garde style and representation makes her an icon. Her flamboyant and audacious personality has made her extremely Fame-ous.
Babe Ruth, like him or not, is an icon for the sport of baseball. He changed the way we look at baseball and has been the high mark and ruler for every other player that has ever dared set foot on the diamond. His fame is almost unreal. How is he an icon in our culture? He surpasses just baseball fans and has been accepted into popular culture where even those who don’t know a foul to a strike know who he is. Those of whom who are far from sports literate know who he is; he is that iconic. He matters that much to baseball. He is a sports icon.
The name’s Bond. James Bond. 1 in 4 people have seen at least one James Bond movie, and even those other three who haven’t know who he is. He’s the epitome of debonair, he’s the essential ladies man, and he changed movies forever. (You may ask about the original Ian Fleming novels, but honestly, they have not had as much impact on literature as the movies have had on cinema.) There were only a handful of franchises that dare cast a dapper leading man who saves all the damsels and few of them were successful and retain an intelligent plot (which, after 40 years, did grow tired, until the 2006 reboot of Casino Royale). Only one or two, like Flash Gordon and Robin Hood, had managed to become box office blockbusters, but neither of them were contemporary figures. Robin Hood was from the days of yore battling kings and jesters and so on. Flash Gordon was, for the most part, a serial that had short installments and was too futuristic to be taken seriously as a contemporary action hero. But James Bond was introduced to the screen in 1962 and became one of the first ever blockbuster action movies ever. Grossing more than $10 million dollars in a short few weeks, they rolled out more and more Bond films. Bond has a legion of fans and has been the inspiration for spoofs and copy cats, making him a modern (correct usage) action hero. The theme alone is famous enough, with those twanging guitar and heavy brass. He is a movie icon.
Dale Earnhardt made racing exciting for those people who weren’t rednecks. Racing to some was simply people in fast cars taking left hand turns all day. But when Dale Earnhardt came onto the scene, no one else made it more accessible to those people who didn’t normally watch it. He became more famous that Captain Crunch. He got on a box of Wheaties. But the point of his iconography is that he became a part of popular culture. Everyone knows who he is, or at least has an idea of who he is. He is a racing icon.
Oprah changed TV. She changed charity efforts. She changed talk shows. If she’s not an icon, I don’t know who is. She’s larger than life. That’s what an icon is. She is a huge force of nature in both the entertainment world and everywhere else. She’s an inspiration to many and she is one of the most powerful people in the world today. She is a world renowned icon.
Steven Spielberg is certainly an icon. Say Jaws, ET, Schindler’s List, Indiana Jones, or Saving Private Ryan and they’ll be sure to know what they are. They *should* know who was responsible for them, but that’s where iconography can get a bit hazy. Today’s generation has little knowledge or a lot of apathy for “old” movies. Really, if you can create a summer blockbuster on a shoe string budget, you deserve far more recognition than you’re getting. To adults, he’s obviously known as one of the most seasoned and talented directors out there. Not only that, but he, along with fellow filmmaking icon George Lucas, changed how we look at movies. No, I don’t mean how we perceive a movie, but how we actually can look at them today. He is credited with making the first summer blockbuster with one of the most successful films of all time, Jaws. Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, is responsible for creating Pixar Animation Studios and the first digital editing program. He’s the first director to film a movie using a digital camera instead of using film reels. Both have transcended what it means to be powerful and to be revolutionaries in the film industry. They are both icons.
The Beatles are most definitely icons. Everyone knows who they are. Producing a spectacular catalogue in 7 years, they are one of the most famous bands in the world. A catalogue featuring some of the most famous songs of any era, the band did so much in such a short amount of time. They were especially famous in their early years, with the release of albums like Please Please Me and A Hard Day’s Night. Fans horded the group and created a complete frenzy. But their iconography is not only their fame status. It’s the music itself. The music they created defined a generation and it continues to move listeners today. The Beatles and their music are iconic.
What does this all mean? What makes an icon relies on how they are perceived by the public and how much they have transcended fame itself. “Fame is both internal and external”, said Lady Gaga in an interview for ShowStudio recently, and she’s right. Iconography is just a representation of that fame.