Scratch a tin god and you'll find a fallen idol
a. An image; a representation.
b. A representation or picture of a sacred or sanctified Christian personage, traditionally used and venerated in the Eastern Church.
2. An important and enduring symbol: "Voyager will take its place ... alongside such icons of airborne adventure as The Spirit of St. Louis and [the] Bell X-1" William D. Marbach.
3. One who is the object of great attention and devotion; an idol: "He is ... a pop icon designed and manufactured for the video generation" Harry F. Waters.
The foregoing is just by way of saying that ‘icon’ is a word that is so overused it has lost all of its original meaning. In that it’s become like honor rolls in schools. When I was in high school only the serious grinds or budding genii made it to the honor roll. The rest of us kept pissing around and earning our gentlemanly Cs. But, by the time my stepdaughter was in HS, all a kid needed to get on the honor roll to show up most of the time and to be basically toilet-trained by 11th grade.
Icon has become like that. It has become a media show-biz descriptor of people who are of no consequence whatever, and never will be. It leaves nothing for the genuinely talented to strive for because ‘anybody’ can get it, since it’s entirely at the whim of a headline writer and/or promoter of whatever schmuck or schmuckette deemed worthy of the appellation.
Headline in a local rag yesterday referred to Canadian music icon being in the community: The ‘icon’ in question was one Murray McLaughlin. I had to scratch my memory bank to recall who he was, and basically came up blank. Hands up all those who are remotely aware of the existence of a Murray McLaughlin. Yet, he is deemed an ‘icon’. Weird. Now, as far as Canuck musical icons are concerned, I will gladly grant the term to Neil Young or Leonard Cohen, and maybe even (hugely grudgingly) to Joni Mitchell. Now, don’t be pulling Celine Dion stuff on me, for I would have to balk.
Icon, it seems, is going the way of ‘idol’, which is kind of synonymous with icon, and overused even more gratuitously, as in American Idol or inconsequential li’l cousin, Canadian Idol. How can people who haven’t yet arrived (and likely never will) be deemed idols? Elvis is an idol to some, and so are the Beatles. They were groundbreaking and began a musical movement towards which lesser mortals aspired.
My whole point about the idol/icon thing is a certain universality which may or may not be based on genuine talent, but is certainly based on the ineffable ability of some to capture the imagination of not just their own generation, but of generations to come.
“I don’t care if he would be old enough to be my grandfather,” said my stepdaughter of James Dean once after having watched the video of Rebel Without a Cause, “He is so incredibly cool.”
See, universal appeal down the generations. Dean qualifies as an icon. Natalie Wood in the same film, and despite her tragic demise, not so much. That’s why folks still get great impact from viewing Hamlet on stage or listening to Beethoven’s Ninth.
Marilyn Monroe was a bosomy, artificially enhanced, emotionally-unbalanced, drug-addicted, nymphomaniacal ‘sort of’ actress who was intolerable to work with, according to those who had done so, yet decades after her death she still has impact. Huge impact. And I personally adored her in The Seven Year Itch, but Tom Ewell had a lot to do with my affection for that superlative comedy, too. So, you see, you don't have to be healthy to be an icon. There's hope for Amy Winehouse yet.
Yes there are icons/idols but few are those amongst our overhyped pop jerks that we keep getting foisted on ourselves. Maybe if we sought some genuine heroes in the arts, culture, professions and politics we might be just a bit better off. Unfortunately, however, the genuine heroes among us go unhyped, and all we are left with is the dregs we worship. Society is the worse for that.
Labels: Idolatry bites