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Thursday 30 July 2009

The Icon Series: Introduction

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The Icon Series: Introduction

There are many historic figures who have served as symbols for certain ideas, ideals and endeavours. The whole concept of hero-worship is based on their very existence. However, it transcends even this. These people have become figures we associate ever more abstract notions until the real figure and what they represent don’t always correlate. These are what we call human icons.

Icons and iconography, particularly the human kind, have always fascinated me. What makes a teenager put up a picture of a movie star who has been dead for over four decades? Why do Einstein and Oscar Wilde have a special place in the hearts of 21st century university students? What makes the club-footed, incestuous, overspending Lord Byron so cool? These questions will be handled with a very personal touch in my icon series of articles.

The icons series are not intended to be biographies, but reflections on the impact and influence of icons that have caught my attention. There is no set structure or criteria or even set lengths, but common reoccurring themes and examples may include:

What Drew Me?

How was I personally drawn to a certain figure and what does it say about the cultures I was brought up around and the people had influenced and would influence me.

What Does the Icon Represent?

With obvious comparisons with ancient gods, what defines an icon is what they are seen to stand for. James Dean: the eternal rebel of youth, Adolph Hitler: the megalomaniac of racism, Oliver Cromwell: puritanical reformer, Charles Darwin: the father of evolution and so on.

Saints and Sinners

It is very hard to take an objective view on morals, but taking into account the common practices and beliefs of the time what has makes Che Guevara a symbol for heroic revolution and Vlad the Impaler a symbol for evil, tyranny and bloodlust?

Does the Star Still Shine as Brightly?

Forgotten fame is a favourite topic of mine, so don’t be surprised if you see me talking about icons that are no longer as popular as they once were. I will try to avoid “Forgotten Fame” people as such, as they are not really icons, but there are plenty of examples of icons that are surprisingly not as well known as you would think. The majority of my children’s martial arts class, for example, don’t know who Bruce Lee was. The reverse, such as Van Gogh, is also interesting.

The Person or the Time?

The great question often pondered and debated by many historians is whether the time created the person or the person created the time. In other words, if Winston Churchill had not been born would we have had to create him?

Fact or Fiction

Perhaps one of my favourite themes. Although this is not intended to be a proper historical, much less scientific approach to the subjects, I am a rational sceptic, so facts and fallacies have always interested me. I love myths and legends, so don’t be surprised if the odd fictional icon crops up too. What also interests me is the separating of the fact for the fiction? Did Nostradamus and Rasputin have magic powers for example?

I hope you enjoy the series, which someday may end up in book form. All sensible feedback is gratefully received.

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