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How long ago was it I wrote that handful of staging-myself-as-Blimp posts about the over-use of the phrases 'icon' and (more particularly) 'iconic'? It was probably an iconic amount of time. Those posts are probably now iconic.

I ought to take this more seriously because I'm sure it's an indication of something. It's reached a ridiculous overload level now. It's become like the use of offhand obscenities in Scarface.* I seem to find it on every other page of newspapers and magazines. It seems to ricochet endlessly from the mouths of TV announcers now - no longer even part of programmes, but spread, meme or virus like, into the general population. (It always begins with an enclave - the Rich, perverts or academics: deconstruction, cocaine use, herpes or tattoos. Then before you know it, blank eyed 14 year olds are sidling up to you at bus stops offering knocked off icons, innit.) The two I remember from the weekend past are an announcer on ITV 2 or 3 or 13 or 98 bigging up some tawdry space-filling REPEAT, by calling the TV version of Agatha Christie's POIROT 'iconic'. And then an article in some TIMES section or other [TIMES MONEY? TIMES YACHTS? TIMES FELLATIO?] calling, oh sweet Jesus, the doorway of the restaurant Le Caprice 'iconic'. There was a third instance, but the very fact I cant remember what the third instance is may be more telling than the other two or ten or twenty. I remember thinking, with the third instance: this is degree zero. Because whatever it was, the deployment of the phrase was so knee-jerk meaningless that, in effect, all it signalled was that ... well, basically EVERYTHING IS ICONIC NOW. The first three things I THINK OF ARE ICONIC. Ian McShane in Lovejoy? Iconic. The new Joanna Newsom album sleeve**? Iconic. Old photos of Sam Fox. Eighties iconic. News photos of all those poor Amish folk yesterday? Iconic. Like that film with Harrison Ford. Icon. Star Wars. Iconic. Icon.... (Cue scene inside my head a bit like the overload moment in Being John Malkovich...)

What made me think of this to start with, paradoxically, was the lovely illustration MarK has chosen to head [t]his De Palma post with. Properly iconic.***

As for the rest of it, we might enquire: "iconic OF WHAT," tho?
Iconic of iconicity, essentially.
Icons or ikons used to be venerated (or execrated) precisely because what they portrayed or represented was so powerful. But now that a little known footballer's 1981 season tight shorts or egregious perm can be passingly referred to as "iconic", or the Miami Vice credits, or an old Coke commercial, or a little seen and badly made porno movie, or a clip of David Jason falling through a serving hatch, or, not just album sleeves, but MUSIC, sound, can be called iconic, that something from 3 years ago or 7 weeks, that Jon Snow might say it of Scarlet Johannsen, say, or an announcer supposedly "ironically" of John McCririck... we're all icons now; everything is iconic, a child with her skin peeling off from napalm is, of course, what else, iconic, those two athletes at the Olympics giving the Black Power salute, iconic, Free Willy, he's iconic, the prosthetic dong in Boogie Nights, that’s iconic, George Galloway as a cat, iconic, Eric n Ernie, o wow SO iconic, the laptop I’m writing this on – oooh, so cool n ICONIC!, my cat Buddy – he looks just like the ICON on the FELIX tin! Feline ICONIC! JFK's head exploding or Yves Klein leaping into the void ...
My ballsac…
Sorry. There was a serious point there when I started, but I seem to have lost it somewhere along the way. Something to do with repetition and overload. With surface and belief, or surfeit and lack of belief. A war of civilisations - one sated with icons, against one scoured of them.

Altho the scarecely iterable irony may be that "They" are ahead of the game in their relation to the techniques and scenes and critical sense of the edge of an encroaching post post-modernity; that, precisely because they are able to think outside it, and critically, they can wield it effectively as a weapon; whereas we are so stuffed with it, gorged on it, made sluggish by it, that we just flounder n flail. How else explain that the propoganda war is being won by a handful of ragged guys in some cave somewhere, who want to return to a centuries ago vanishing point; whereas our governments with all their experts in "spin" and presentation and billion dollar 'hearts n minds' campaigns, just seem to blunder into one more (PR, tactical, ICONIC) cock up after another? (Corpses AREN'T iconic - whereas a man on a leash led by a female US soldier = iconic, and catastrophically so.)

*Coincidentally, the night of the same day I wrote that Scarface thing, the History Channel had a yeah-yeah BIG-revelation programme about Sinatra and Mafia types, and one of the 5-oclock-shadow interviewees actually went by 'Tony Montana'. (Oh, and last night's Simpsons repeat featured Homer guarding a huge pyramid of sugar. He soliloquizes thus, in a husky Pacino-as-Montana voice: "In America, furst you get da sugar, then you get da power, den you get da women.")

** {A kind person sent me this; and yesterday evening I tried listening to it for the first time, and I must admit to … really not getting it. Virtually everyone I know seems not just to like this, but think its stellar, astonishing, album of the year, more, album of the decade, ICONIC! (Irony being, of course, that the sleeve IS a genuinely thoughtful take on something properly iconic.) I only lasted 12 minutes. I just don’t think she has a voice that was made for 19 minute tracks. Rickie Lee Jones used to work up to, or occasionally fleetingly indulge that kind of faux kiddie vocalese. But to have to sit through 70 odd uninterrupted minutes of it? And the rhythm and setting of each track on Ys seems so unvarying. It just sent me screaming back a) to her less ‘ambitious’ last album whose stark normal-length songs suit her lark-on-the wing voice FAR better I think; or b) Rickie Lee Jones Pirates, in which odd lapses or leaps into slurry or kiddie voices, and beautiful string arrangements, are strung like odd beads and personal amulets along different song types and rhythms and registers, moods and moorings and mournings… now, THAT was ambitious. (In fact, it pretty much sank her career.) Whereas… well, IS Ys as “ambitious” as everyone is saying it is? Isnt it in fact pretty unvaryingly monotonously complacent? I get the feeing it doesn’t even TRY to make the journey halfway to us with whatever its hermetic secrets and spells are? Whereas… oh, never mind. Because a) this is a huge argument and if I get started on Pirates I’ll never finish (literally). And b) I have, after all, so far only listened to Ys for 12 minutes, once, in the crabby panic-room space between The Simpsons finishing on C4 and Lovejoy starting on ITV 3. (But can I just mention Cat Power's neglected The Greatest, too, here, and passingly wonder why, tactically, Newsom is getting so much praise NOW for THIS, where other female singer songwriters aren't or havent?

***{Altho I might argue that we might be able to date the rot kicking in precisely with this sort of 'homage'. With film students so hung up on the icy 'iconic' perfection of Hitchcock... but that’s a different post. Hitchcock’s feelings towards his female actresses were so disarmingly real he had to stage them as fake. (See also: MARNIE's "scenery". In fact, maybe some clever sod of a student out there could write a thesis intertwining Marnie's compulsion to STEAL, qua sexual sublimation or pathology, with De Palma's compulsion to repeat or 'reference' cinema "history"...)

... an interesting sub-note to this, about hidden-ness and the power of revelation maybe. When I first came to London, you couldnt see Vertigo or Rear Window (and possibly some others, I can't remember), because of some kind of unresolved legal knot regarding the Hitchcock estate. I remember taking a girl to see a double bill at the old Electric, which had merely been advertised as a 'Special Presentation' or something, and then, so, subsequently, consequently, I did indeed see Vertigo and Rear Window, on a double bill, on a Saturday night, in an old fashioned - and PACKED FULL - movie house, on a big big screen. It was staggering, as you might imagine. Nothing quite prepares you for just the opening credits of Vertigo ... (The feeling with those opening seconds of Vertigo is: what the fuck is going on? Whereas I never have felt that with De Palma; on the contrary, you always feel the proffered duration of a smug pause, where you can think 'Ah! I KNOW what he's doing here...')

... and maybe this is where the story begins, or begins to go wrong. When what should remain properly unsayable or excessive, uncategorisable, gets reduced to quondam 'Iconic'. For - what do you call the genuinely iconic, when the phrase itself has been reduced to something with the status of a toilet roll commercial or a pimple on the arse of a B movie fluffer or C list reality contestant?

Maybe in that repsect the use of the word is consolation - in the same way that youre not a desperate mugger, you're an unemployment-stressed statistic of "gun enabled crime"; not a crack whore but an "addiction indexed sex worker"; and not a war criminal but a "proponent of neo conservative democratic triumphalism".

In that sense "icon" is yet another tool or category in the worldwide spread of spectral New Labour(s) (AKA 'media business'). What I mean is, one minute youre a fat old scumbag strung out on Seroxat and Viagra who used to do porno movies in the 70s; the next morning you wake up to a cell phone call from your manager Vinnie, who sez, "Good news Donkey Dick! I heard from my sista in law's nephew that ... get dis! Youre an ICON! You got Star Wars level recognition with all da kids on campus and at the mall... This is big bucks kiddo!"

Before you know it, Sadsack has his own T shirt range and hip "profile" on Channel 4, directed by some pillock with a Hoxton fin and an "ironic" affection for 1970s cop show muzack. Iconic up the wazoo.

posted by Ian 10/03/2006 06:44:00 AM

Doesn't this lazy flip usage just illustrate how language gets drained of meaning in these over-saturated/accelerated times? "Iconic" has just ended up being a synonym for "cool". I too remember the thrill of tracking down Vertigo and Rear Window and how it was heightened by their elusiveness. Now everything is TOO available and that has a cheapening effect all-round. (It seems ridiculous to complain about a cultural embarrassment of riches that once I could only dream about but it's still an undeniable by-product).

I was going to post about this on the Greil Marcus thread but it ties in just as well here: my own pet hate is the way that nowadays anything remotely historical gets hyped up as The Secret History of..., no matter how inconsequential or un-earth-shattering the subject matter. I suppose this all dates from that Donna Tartt novel and Marcus got in there early by sub-titling Lipstick Traces as "The Secret History of the 20th Century" but it really has got out of hand now. I mean, look at the number of books here that resort to this schtick:


The Secret History of Golf in Scotland *indeed*! The Man may have tried to suppress it but there was just NO WAY...
three recent 'History of' reads I really enjoyed / had my eyes opened by and can thoroughly recommend:

THE DREAM LIFE: Movies, Media and The Myth of The Sixties by J. HOBERMAN [The New Press]

SECRETS OF THE SOUL: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis by ELI ZARETSKY [Vintage]

THE SHADE OF SWORDS: Jihad and The Conflict Between Islam and Christianity by M.J. AKBAR [Routledge] {esp. the chapter on Pakistan}
ur blog so longgggg
cannot understand well, coz my english not good
but seems many ppl saw it and comment you ,so i do the same
This 'iconic' thing is obviously a semiotic disease of postmodernity... it's worth trying to really identify all the symptoms of the syndrome...

For instance -- what is the relationship between iconic and ironic?

There must also be a relationship between the tyranny of the iconic and the ridiculous proliferation of awards... I was in the Tube the other day with Infinite Thought looking at the billboard for yet another meaningless awards show and I remarked that Warhol's lol iconic observation needs to be amended to in the future everyone will win an award... The tragicomic spectacle of the Darkness - an 'unprecedented' twenty zillion Brits one year, can't even get into the ceremony to wait tables the next - constitutes a postmodern fable...

What I was calling a few months' back 'anticipative commemoration' must play a part too... ITV's (still) breathtaking strap line for its world cup coverage, 'let the memories begin', and its world cup studio, decorated with photographs of - natch - iconic images was like a little PoMoPod, in which events are replaced by icons...
re: joanna newsom
you're right -- i could think of many powerful women who are as complex, ambiguous and romantic as RLJ, but who have been pilloried and trivialised for having adenoidal, coo-coo voices -- such as yes, chan marshall, but also stina nordenstam (who, as it happens, cites RLJ as a key influence, and whose music is most certainly as complex, alienating and welcoming as 'Pirates'). perhaps it's down to the 'otherness' of the personae -- newsom seems fairly down to earth, and the only genuinely 'odd' thing about her is her voice. whereas RLJ coats her extraordinarily 'odd' voice in underwater orchestras, luxuriates in confusion and quandary, and makes it problematic for people to 'rescue' or understand her. but then there's bjork -- i don't know what to make of her, she falls into both categories.
Strap-line on the cover of the new Uncut: "Dylan - the secret history of his brilliant new album".

For fuck's sake - it only came out a month ago and yet it's already somehow mythical. Pah!
bob dylan remains chronically over-rated, and worst thing about it is that it isn't even his middle-aged fans. it's youngsters. i couldn't give a damn if he invented a language for rock -- it's an over-rated, over-used and regressive language. the people pimping dylan (who, it appears, run STARBUCKS) are the very same people who keep ramming neil goddamn young and crosby, stills & nash down our throats, or in our ears. why the fuck aren't joni mitchell or buffy sainte marie on the covers of things all the time? as least they have a sense of humour about themselves.
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