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“Hey, baby, let’s make an icon together!”

The other day I told someone that I had two fine Redwood trees in the backyard of my new home in Mill Valley. “Those are so iconic to California,” the person responded. At first I nodded in agreement but then I wondered 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 we are going to have. Let’s take a fun but hard look at the “iconizing” of everything. Theses days, the word icon gets tossed around to describe just about anything. For example, someone says ‘those red apples are so iconic.’ To what exactly: The fruit category? Fall? Computers?

It’s gotten to the point that if we see something in the same place a few times (a billboard, a building, a homeless dude) it becomes an icon. The word “icon” or “iconic” has become overused in the same way the word “awesome” has. Hell, I’m guilty of doing it myself. Especially when it pertains to advertising. That typeface is so iconic! And this photograph… And that bottle… And this label…

If everything is an icon then what isn’t?

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Mundane, random and yet somehow iconic…

With popular culture 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.

If ad agency folk are in the business of creating icons then 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. We could never do an ad like that! Our brand is an icon.” Um, it’s fucking motor oil. Real brand icons like the classic Ford Mustang or Coca Cola bottle still resonate. But for every one of them there are countless poseurs. Poseurs we embrace like bogus celebrities.

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So many icons so little time…

Perhaps another taproot of icon-ubiquity was the advent of personal computing, when and where we all started clicking on icons. There, some little symbol represented a bigger property. More and more of them were added to our desktops and iPhones. Icons upon icons upon icons. The virtual world became an icon for the real one.

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The sublime adoration of anything…

(Author’s note: albeit altered, this post is a rewrite of a previous one.)

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At a restaurant the other day I overheard a woman paraphrase the famous Andy Warhol quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” She was referring to a video her son recently posted on You Tube. She told her rapt friends it had “hundreds of views!” For her, and likely her boy, that meant fame.

But is that what Andy Warhol meant? Yes and no. Remember, he was looking at fame through the lens of mass media. Warhol and his Factory defined popular culture, essentially creating it. Before him fame via artistic creation (be it painting, literature, photography or films) was the providence of a precious few, those who earned it with their talents and/or exquisite connections. After Warhol, fame could mean anything from getting a bad haircut to getting arrested.

I won’t belabor the obvious. The Internet and social media have made getting famous a whole lot easier for the rest of us. In this sense Andy was a prophet.

And yet.

In a world where everyone and their teenaged sons are famous for a few minutes, what exactly does “fame” mean? Are there a certain number of views, likes and followers that can deliver one into fame? Surely, it’s more than several hundred. But even gaining many thousands of online friends can’t equal the popularity of the most random of reality TV stars. And, in turn, can one honestly compare a reality TV celebrity with, say, Audrey Hepburn or Jack Nickolson?

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For 15 minutes…

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Forever…

As more people become sort of what is considered the pinnacle and whom would we find there? George Clooney? Bono? Ghandi?

Hard to say. But surely Joe the Plumber (remember him?) or some opera-singing five-year old wouldn’t be there. Or might they? After all, aren’t those the knuckleheads Andy Warhol was talking about when he said his famous bit about fame? And besides, wasn’t Justin Bieber just a Canadian falsetto on You Tube?

I wonder. If everyone today is capable of being famous can fame even exist anymore? By definition don’t we need lots more un-famous people in order to appreciate the ones that already are? Remember your Dr. Seuss. As soon as all those Sneetches finally got stars on their bellies the stars lost all of their meaning.

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Back in the day my father said his 15 minutes came when the Wall Street Journal rendered his portrait in those iconic black dots. That trumped merely just getting his picture in the paper, which, by the way, used to be the quintessential determiner of fame.

I recently read a blog post talking about “access” being the new standard for wealth. In other words, one doesn’t need to own things in order to be considered wealthy -just have access to them. Is fame like that, too?


“I told you so.”

At a restaurant the other day I overheard a woman paraphrase the famous Andy Warhol quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” She was referring to a video of her teen-aged son on You Tube. She bragged to her friends it had “hundreds of views!” For her, that meant fame.

But is this what Andy Warhol meant? Yes and no. Remember, he was looking at fame through the lens of mass media. Warhol and his Factory defined popular culture, essentially creating it. Before him fame via art (painting, literature, photography or films) was the providence of a precious few, those who earned it by talent and/or exquisite connections. After Warhol, fame could mean anything from getting a bad haircut to getting arrested.

I’m not going to belabor the obvious. The Internet and social media have made getting famous a whole lot easier for the rest of us. Andy was a prophet.

And yet.

In a world where everyone and their teenaged sons are famous for a few minutes, what exactly does “fame” even mean? Are there a certain number of views, likes and followers that deliver fame? Even one hundred thousand friends on Facebook can’t equal the popularity of many reality TV stars. And, in turn, can one honestly compare a Real Housewife with, say, Audrey Hepburn or Jack Nickolson?


15 minutes


Forever

The fame elevator goes ever higher… with ever more VIP’s clamoring to get to higher and higher floors. Joe the Plumber (remember him?) or some opera-singing five-year old can’t possibly belong there. Or can they? After all, aren’t they the knuckleheads Andy Warhol was talking about? In the beginning Justin Bieber just only kid on You Tube. Silly stuff I know.

Here’s a more interesting question: If everyone is famous (even for only 15 minutes) then how can fame even exist? By definition don’t we need way more un-famous people in order to appreciate the famous ones?

Back in the day my old man said his 15 minutes came when the Wall Street Journal rendered his portrait in iconic black dots. That trumped merely just getting his picture in the paper, which, by the way, used to be the quintessential determiner of fame.

I recently read a blog post talking about “access” as being the new standard for wealth. In other words, one doesn’t need to own things in order to be considered wealthy -just have access to them.


Tweeting in his grave?

At a restaurant the other day I overheard a woman paraphrase the famous (pun intended) Andy Warhol quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” She was referring to a video her son recently posted on You Tube. She told her rapt friends it had “hundreds of views!” For her, and likely her boy, that meant fame.

But is that what Andy Warhol meant? Yes and no. Remember, he was looking at fame through the lens of mass media. Warhol and his Factory defined popular culture, essentially creating it. Before him fame through art (be it painting, literature, photography or films) was the providence of a precious few, those who earned it via talents and/or exquisite connections. After him, fame could mean anything from getting a bad haircut to getting arrested.

I’m not going to belabor the obvious. The Internet and social media have made getting famous a whole lot easier for the rest of us. Andy was a prophet.

And yet.

In a world where everyone and their teenaged sons are famous for a few minutes, what exactly does “fame” mean? Is there a certain number of views, likes and followers that deliver one into fame? Surely, it’s more than several hundred. But gaining even one hundred thousand friends can’t equal the popularity of most reality TV stars. And, in turn, can one honestly compare a Real Housewife with, say, Audrey Hepburn or Jack Nickolson?


For fifteen minutes…


Forever.

My point: The beanstalk to fame grows ever higher… until one finally reaches the V-V-VIP lounge, where George Clooney plays ping-pong with Justin Bieber and Megan Fox does Merrill Streep’s hair. Oh yeah, and they’re naked and spray painted gold!

Joe the Plumber (remember him?) or some opera-singing five-year old can’t possibly belong there. Or do they? After all, aren’t those the knuckleheads Andy Warhol was talking about? And wasn’t Justin Bieber just a kid on You Tube? Silly stuff I know.

Here’s a more interesting question: If everyone is famous (even for just 15 minutes) then how can fame even exist? By definition don’t we need way more un-famous people in order to appreciate the famous ones? Remember your Dr. Seuss: When all the Sneetches finally got stars on their bellies the stars lost all their meaning.

Back in the day my old man said his 15 minutes came when the Wall Street Journal rendered his portrait in iconic black dots. That trumped merely just getting his picture in the paper, which, by the way, used to be the quintessential determiner of fame.

I recently read a blog post talking about “access” as being the new standard for wealth. In other words, one doesn’t need to own things in order to be considered wealthy -just have access to them.

So what’s the new yardstick for measuring fame?

For those of us still on the ground floor, here’s an interesting article on gaining Klout.

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