After recently rereading last year’s Portsmouth Point magazine based on icons, I was moved to write an article on an important question that susequently arose– what is it to be an icon? The definition of an icon is given here as:“A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration”
I thought, in order to look into this definition, I would present some well known icons, who each represent the idea of iconic symbols in different ways.
The first icon I thought of was a well- known celebrity, Marilyn Monroe. Born Norma Jeane Mortenson, she has long been considered one of the most iconic figures in recent history, arguably due to her image. Her sex appeal can still be seen as the main reason for her famous status – her blonde hairstyle and that scene in ‘The Seven Year Itch’ (see above) are known globally. Did the public ever see Marilyn, therefore, in any context other than as a female icon and superstar of their time? Arguably not. What is curious about this is how she came to earn the status of an icon – though her films grossed fairly highly, Marilyn was by far more famous than they were, and in some ways this societal pressure to stay as the woman the public saw her as could have been a catalyst to her downfall . A lethal habit of alcohol and drugs saw Marilyn Monroe slowly deteriorate and, on August 5th, 1962, aged just 36, she was found dead in her apartment after an overdose, which was later seen as possible suicide. Despite this, even today, we see Marilyn as one of the most iconic figures the world has seen. I wonder whether this says something about our society; does the glorification of the tragedy of some of these celebrities (such as Monroe) mean they can be considered as idols? Upon looking at Monroe we can see that her image was key to her iconic status, which is our first example of how we can interpret this term.
The second person I decided to look at on the topic of idols was Wayne Rooney. A footballer for both Manchester United and the England squad, Rooney has acquired a long list of titles and awards, including the England Player of the Year (twice), PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of The Year. Rooney is seen as a football icon, but is arguably most iconic not for his skill in football and awards, but for his infamous temper on pitch. Rooney is tied with David Beckham as the most red-carded player for the England squad with two red cards, and his rage has often been described as iconic in the football sphere.
Is the use of ‘idol’ here therefore used in a negative light? Does Rooney appear to be well known for his somewhat aggressive nature rather than his sporting talents? In addition, the sex scandals associated with Rooney further question how well he can be seen as an idol. There is no doubting of course, that Rooney is iconic; he is one of the few footballers that have earned this status, but it does beg the question of whether we should regard him as “worthy of veneration”. It seems as if Rooney, though iconic as a footballer, is also iconic in personality, perhaps another indicator of the definition presented.
Malala Yousafzai is my final example of an icon. She recently hit the headlines after being targeted by the Taliban for standing up for the rights for women, in particular the right of girls to an education in Swat Valley, where the Taliban operate. She is presented as an icon in a different way from both Marilyn Monroe and Wayne Rooney in the sense that her iconic nature comes not from her image, or her job, but what she has stood up for and believes in. Malala has won many awards for her efforts, including the National Youth Peace Prize, the Sakharou Prize and the Simone de Beauvoir Prize, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. Her efforts towards the promotion of equal rights have promoted her as a modern-day icon – although coming from humble beginnings, her qualities as a person are something many of us admire and desire.