Friday, 27 February 2009

icon see clearly now ...


Iconography is an interesting and shifty business. People and things that are important at any given time can vanish utterly from the cultural landscape. In my last post I talked about Ed's ideas for a tattoo - icons that would sum him up. I wonder how long they would stay current? The image of the 45 rpm record adaptor, currently adorning the calf of a middle-aged commenter on the blog, would be mysterious to my kids -- or indeed to anyone under the age of, well, 45. And by the time my kids are 45 their tattoos of Nintendo characters will, no doubt, puzzle their own kids. Searching through the refuse of my household on this Garbage Day, I can't help wondering which bits and bobs from our particular civilization will endure and which will vanish, as it were, overnight. Cell phones? Eyeglasses? Plastic tags that show the best before date for bags of milk? Paper clips? Roach clips? I don't know. Listen -- I don't know. One of my alternative titles for the book Into the Ravine was Huck Finn In The Suburbs, but my editor nixed the idea because, as she put it, Kids today don't know who Huck Finn is. I disputed the statement hotly, and over the next month or so I asked various gymfuls of students if they recognized the name Huck Finn. Mostly, I was greeted with blank stares. My current project involves a disposable camera -- and as I am writing it I am wondering if my readers will know what a disposable camera is in, say, ten years....
I am not saddened or frightened by this ignorance of past culture. Indeed, I am heartened. A forward-looking civilization makes its own icons. The Iron Age did not spend a lot of time moaning for the good old days when things were made of bronze. Renaissance painters did not hearken back to a time when the world was represented in two dimensions and only two dimensions. (Kids today and their perspective! It's not art, I tell you -- it's a mess!)
What will last, I wonder? What common household face will still be current in five hundred years? Or one hundred? In 1925 the two most famous living people in the world were Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini and my kids couldn't pick either of them out of a line up. Hey, I couldn't spot Harry myself (that's him below, if anyone is interested).


5 comments:

SplitRail said...

There are at least three icons of my long-lost youth that are firmly ensconced in current culture and which I firmly believe will stand the test of time: the peace sign, the happy face, and the extended middle finger.

Wal-Mart alone is responsible for the resurgence in popularity of at least two of the three.

Richard Scrimger said...

I can't say I would be real happy to see a happy face portrayed on anyone's skin, though... RS

Marilyn said...

Barbie seems to be doing well. Also lunch boxes.
Everybody has had a lunch box at one time or another.
And then if you've had one with Barbie on it.....

Richard Scrimger said...

Never had much of a thing for Barbie. Betty and Veronica, now ... RS

Anonymous said...

hi, new to the site, thanks.