The word "iconic", which was earlier used with caution, is now used with and without reason. Every era has its own lexical signs - some words are in fashion and some are not, just as pop music and resorts. Yet, words that feel "fresh" today, tomorrow become a trite cliché. Would they be able to survive without a sufficient number of "preachers"?
"Brilliant," "cool," "holistic," "postmodern," "multinational" - the list of the most popular adjectives today is endless. The fashion for such words creates monstrosities like "an iconic body lotion," an "iconic styling gel," an "iconic music system", and their creators may not even think that this is too much.
Strictly speaking, nothing of what is now referred to as iconic can be considered as such. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following definition of "iconic": "designating a person or thing regarded as representative of a culture or movement; important or influential in a particular (cultural) context."
According to Jesse Sheidlower, American editor of the "OED", the New York Times usage of "iconic" has increased from 11 instances in 1988 to 141 in 1998 to 442 in 2008. He warns that this is an extremely crude gauge of a word's currency. But if a normally scrupulous newspaper such as the New York Times employs "iconic" more than once a day, it is all too easy to figure the word's incidence in the less linguistically prescriptive newspaper. However, if the same adjective can describe a great deal of different things, it depreciates and eventually no longer stands for anything.
We live in an era of the triumph of hyperbole. "100 percent" is not enough: the norm is "120 percent," and "150 percent" is a sign of exclusivity. Everything from wheels to razors is "world class". What was once considered "good" now has no right to be less than "stunning."
The word "icon" comes from the Greek εἰκών, which means "a portrait, image." For many centuries this word has been inextricably linked to Christian images of Jesus and Mary. Today "iconicity" is connected with the desire to bestow miraculous qualities on people and things to make them godlike. If the church does not give us the gods we like, we will create them ourselves. Or, we will follow self-proclaimed gods.
According to one theory much liked by the trusting Russian citizens, the tyrants of the twentieth century committed heinous crimes as a result of their atheism. To be precise, not because of the atheism, but because of secularism - they saw themselves as deity and therefore could not tolerate any competition with the traditional religions. Nevertheless, the Third Reich, the Soviet Union under Stalin and China under Mao Zedong depended on the "signs" as much as they did on terror. Dictators regularly attempted to "kill God" (the traditional one, of course, as he was regarded by them as a competitor), to take his place in the minds of the people and then sow the "divine" vengeance and kill innocent people. This resulted in destroyed churches, burnt books and a total genocide.
Prior to the triumph of Stalin after World War Two when he was called none other than the father of nations, he was usually put on a par with the other fighters for a brighter future - or an ordinary soldier, if you will, a follower of Lenin. As if Lenin was dictating his will to his successor from "the above." This position was convenient in that it originally meant justification, as the mistakes of the "son" were presented as the consequences of the missteps of "the father". A considerable part of the illiterate "flock" of Stalin knew him only graphically, from his portraits that hung nearly at every street corner. Stalin- a cult figure, and Stalin-a person became one.
Hitler proved to be more inventive. Each of his appearances in public was as well-considered as his speeches that he carefully rehearsed. His mustache and bangs became his brand. It does not matter who he really was - the Teutonic Knights, the little man fighting for the happiness of his people, a provincial master, a visionary or a soldier of the revolution - he secured recognition. The Nazi leader turned himself into a symbol, a brand, an icon, in the end.
The swastika has become one of the most famous logos in the world thanks to Hitler, but the icon had nothing to do with the ideas of Jainism. It was a symbol selected with a delicate calculation. Нakenkreutz, a cross with hooks, was intended to emphasize the connection between martial and sacred.
One condition of iconicity today is the impact that an event or person has on people. One may condemn the tasteless and bombastic grandeur of contemporary celebrities, but their shows evoke emotions. Whether we like it or not, there is a strong reaction.
The second condition is that the image has to transcend the subject. In the gallery of Holyrood House in Edinburgh there are hundreds of portraits of Scottish rebels of the royal family executed by Jacob de Wet on the orders of Charles II (Stuart). No one, including the artists themselves, had any idea of what the executed looked like in reality - the masters of the brush were given tactful suggestions by De Wet who took the appearance of his patron as a perfect "base."
The immediate recognition of a person or event is the third condition of iconicity. Jesus can be depicted in many different ways, but a crown of thorns and the outstretched hand will remain unchanged. Chaplin's walk and his hat, Mick Jagger's huge mouth, Salvador Dali's mustache - these are the things that give them one hundred percent recognition.
The fourth feature is actually recognition itself that ensures consistent quality. Bottles of Coca Cola, the Taj Mahal, a London phone booth, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben - all these are iconic objects. Less commonly, recognition is awarded to celebrities, mostly diseased - Marilyn Monroe, Che Guevara, Jimi Hendrix and James Dean - the actor who starred in only three of any relevant films and always played only himself.