Is nothing sacred or is everything? We are being overrun by icons!

August 3, 2012

The Adoration of Spongebob…

The other day I told someone I had two fine Redwood trees in the backyard of my new house in Mill Valley. “Those are so iconic to California,” the person responded.  At first I nodded in agreement but then I thought aren’t palm trees more iconic to California? I suppose one could break it down using Southern and Northern California.

But that’s not the discussion I wish to have. The point of this post is to take task at the “iconizing” of everything.  Seriously. Theses days the word icon gets tossed around to describe almost anything. Example: Apples are so iconic. To what: The fruit category? Fall? Computers?

The word “icon” or “iconic” is dangerously close to being overused in the way that “awesome” has been. I’m guilty of doing it myself. Especially as it pertains to my tenure in Adland. This typeface is so iconic! And that photograph. And that bottle. And that label. Oh my God, if everything is an icon what isn’t?

Now that popular culture is usurping legitimate culture the matter has gotten exponentially worse. Maybe it started with Andy Warhol. A box of Tide became an icon. A can of soup. Now we can’t go down the grocery aisle without being bombarded by icons. Or alleged icons. If ad agency folk are in the business of creating icons our clients are in the worse habit of declaring their brands to already be icons. How many times have I heard statements like “I don’t know, Steffan. Our brand is an icon. We could never do an ad like that!” Um, it’s fucking motor oil. Real brand icons like the classic Ford Mustang or Coca Cola bottle still resonate. But for how long? For every one of them there are countless poseurs. Poseurs that we embrace like bogus celebrities.

So many icons so little time…

Another guess on the taproot of over-iconizing might be the advent of personal computing, when we all started clicking on icons. There some little symbol represented a bigger property. We added more and more of them to our desktops and now iPhones. Icons upon icons upon icons. In some weird way the entire virtual world became an icon for the real one.

This ubiquity of icons exists on terra firma. If we see something everyday in the same place (a billboard, a building, a homeless dude) it becomes an icon.

Baby, let’s make an iconic!

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7 Responses to “Is nothing sacred or is everything? We are being overrun by icons!”

  1. and… in So. Cal most of those palm icons are planted… only one species is native

    • Steffan1 said

      Very true, Vickie. thank you for reading and commenting. And I LOVE your blog concept as well.
      -Steffan

      • Hello Steffan – I think the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on TV was an ad campaign for an airline by Leo Burnett – “Chatter Box” – copy writers rule! And, welcome back to the west coast. ;)

  2. Gerry Pirritano said

    “Surreal” is another over-used word that many apply to anything that is outside a very small margin of dummy descriptions. And we all know dummy descriptions are a staple for TV news and infotainment. Just last week I heard the local newscasts proclaim “the lighting storm was surreal” and “the flock of birds was surreal” and “the sunset was surreal” and even “the traffic jam was surreal.” Maybe that was the word of the week…maybe that’s because mainstream news is so dumb.

    I think the overuse of common iconic platitudes is indicative of awesome problems in the surreal landscape of newscasts everywhere.

  3. Mike Willis said

    Iconic is one of those words that is being rapidly cheapened and watered down by overuse and has ceased to be meaningful. Everything is ‘iconic’ nowadays, even songs and other things that aren’t even pictures. How can a song be ‘iconic’? It’s brainless like so many thoughtlessly and automatically used words. It’s because people can’t be bothered to say “It’s a song that defines an era” or ‘instantly and almost universally recognizable image’ etc. I suppose it does have the virtue of brevity and saves people the trouble of actually thinking about what they’re saying (which is always an attractive bonus in the media and TV).

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