Essays

What makes somebody an icon?

June 30, 2015
What makes somebody an icon?

Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, John Lennon, Princess Diana, Charlie Chaplin, Freddie Mercury, Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, John Wayne, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Martin Luther King Jr… There is an endless list of people who are referred to as ‘icons of their generation’, but what is it about them that really makes them iconic, and how do you go about becoming an icon?

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

 

What makes you an icon?

1. Talent

An ‘icon’ is defined as being someone who should be held in great esteem because of their “talent”. But that isn’t strictly true. There are lots of very talented people in the world who aren’t seen as great icons. Massimo Bottura was regarded as the best chef in the whole world in 2011, yet you wouldn’t call him an icon, and most people have probably never heard of him. So there must be some more things that make someone an icon.

John Lennon

John Lennon

2. Death

A lot of people who are seen as ‘icons’ are dead, usually under tragic circumstances, be it because they were frightfully young (perhaps 27), from a drug overdose or from murder. Death makes someone an icon because they’re not going to make any more music or films or make any more speeches. What we have left of them becomes treasured as it’s become extinct. There are of course living icons, such as Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, the Spice Girls, Bob Geldof, Mohammed Ali, but most icons make more money and have more fame in death than when they were alive. Michael Jackson, for example, has made over $1.5 billion since his death in 2009.

There is an endless list of people who are referred to as ‘icons of their generation’, but what is it about them that really makes them ‘iconic’.

3. Retirement

Possibly on a par with the whole death thing, when people retire or bands split up, they create which is commonly referred to as a ‘legacy‘. What they created and achieved in that period of their life is praised and celebrated beyond belief because it makes people feel nostalgic about the icon’s era. For instance, put a Spice Girls song on at any 30th Birthday Party and you can guarantee the dance floor will be full. The Spice Girls were iconic and represent a whole generation of people, as do Oasis, Pulp, Supergrass, The Smiths to name but a few.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse

4. Be BFFs with the media

Primary example, David Beckham. He was by no means the greatest footballer in the world, but he played the press like heaven knows. Superstar wife? Yep. Exclusive deal with OK! for the most over the top wedding ever? Yes.  A film made about him? Absolutely. The list goes on. If you play the “meejah” enough, you’re sure to be recognised as an ‘icon of that generation’.

5. Make a statement with your look

Heston’s glasses, Amy’s beehive, Che’s hat, Churchill’s cigar. Basically, if you make it easy for people to dress as you at fancy dress parties, you’ll be on one of those BBC Three, low-budget ‘Top 100 Iconic Looks of the 21st Century’ programmes they show at 3am in the morning.

Che Guevara

Che Guevara

6. Do what you’re supposed to be doing

On the eve of the release of AmyI took some time to reflect on what it really means to be an icon. Most icons are people who were born to be a singer/actor/philanthropist/rights campaigner, and it’s humanizing for the public to see them in that way. Amy Winehouse always said she was born to be singer. So often in life, we are pulled and pushed further and further away from what we want to be doing, and when we see people like Jay-Z who came from the most unthinkably terrible background and is now worth over $500 million, we are in awe of that.


 

If anyone has any more ideas about what makes someone an icon, I’d be fascinated to know.

Perhaps one day, people will be pulling silly camera faces and dying their hair funny colours, and maybe then, Mazifur will have become an icon…

 

 

 

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