A cultural icon is a person or an
artifactArtifact, or artefact, may refer to: Science and technology *Artifact (error) In natural science Natural science is a branch of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that ...
that is identified by members of a culture as representative of that culture. The process of identification is subjective, and "icons" are judged by the extent to which they can be seen as an authentic symbol of that culture. When individuals perceive a cultural icon, they relate it to their general perceptions of the cultural identity represented. Cultural icons can also be identified as an authentic representation of the practices of one culture by another. In popular culture and elsewhere, the term "iconic" is used to describe a wide range of people, places, and things. Some commentators believe that the word "iconic" is overused.


According to the ''Canadian Journal of Communication'', academic literature has described all of the following as "cultural icons": "Shakespeare, Oprah, Batman, Anne of Green Gables, the Cowboy, the 1960s female pop singer, the horse, Las Vegas, the library, the Barbie doll, DNA, and the New York Yankees." A web-based survey was set up in 2006 allowing the public to nominate their ideas for national icons of England, and the results show the range of different types of icons associated with an English view of English culture. One example is the red
AEC Routemaster The AEC Routemaster is a Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, front-engined double-decker bus that was designed by London Transport Executive, London Transport and built by the Associated Equipment Company (AEC) and Park Royal Vehicles. The f ...

AEC Routemaster
London double decker bus.British Postal Museum & Archive: Icons of England
. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
Culture24: Icons of England
Retrieved 15 December 2012.
Matryoshka doll Matryoshka dolls ( rus, матрёшка, p=mɐˈtrʲɵʂkə, a=Ru-матрёшка.ogg; also known as babushka dolls, stacking dolls, nesting dolls, Russian tea dolls, or Russian dolls) are a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one ...
s are seen internationally as cultural icons of Russia. In the former
Soviet Union The Soviet Union,. officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. (USSR),. was a that spanned during its existence from 1922 to 1991. It was nominally a of multiple national ; in practice and were highly until its final years. The ...
, the
hammer and sickle The hammer and sickle (Unicode Unicode, formally the Unicode Standard, is an information technology standard Standard may refer to: Flags * Colours, standards and guidons * Standard (flag), a type of flag used for personal identifica ...

hammer and sickle
symbol and statues of
Vladimir Lenin Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. ( 1870 – 21 January 1924), better known by his alias Lenin,. was a Russian revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as the first and founding head of government The head of government is e ...

Vladimir Lenin
instead represented the country's most prominent cultural icons. The values, norms and ideals represented by a cultural icon vary both among people who subscribe to it, and more widely among other people who may interpret cultural icons as symbolising quite different values. Thus an
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apple pie
is a cultural icon of the United States, but its significance varies among Americans. National icons can become targets for those opposing or criticising a regime, for example, crowds destroying statues of Lenin in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism or burning the
American flag The flag of the United States of America, often referred to as the American flag or the U.S. flag, is the national flag A national flag is a flag that represents and symbolizes a given nation. It is Fly (flag), flown by the government of tha ...

American flag
to protest US actions abroad.
Religious icon An icon (from the Greek language, Greek 'image, resemblance') is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, the Catholic Church, Roman Catholic, and certain Eastern Catholic c ...
s can also become cultural icons in societies where religion and culture are deeply entwined, such as representations of the
Madonna Madonna Louise Ciccone (; ; born August 16, 1958) is an American singer-songwriter and actress. She is considered one of the most influential figures in popular culture and has often been referred to as the " Queen of Pop". Madonna is noted ...
in societies with a strong
Catholic The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptised Baptism (from the Greek language, Greek noun βάπτισμα ''báptisma'') is a Christians, Christian r ...


Describing something as ''iconic'' or as an ''icon'' has become very common in the popular media. This has drawn criticism from some. For example, a writer in ''
Liverpool Daily Post The ''Liverpool Post'' was a newspaper published by Reach plc, Trinity Mirror in Liverpool, Merseyside, England. The newspaper and its website ceased publication on 19 December 2013. Until 13 January 2012 it was a daily morning newspaper, wi ...
'' calls "iconic" "a word that makes my flesh creep", a word "pressed into service to describe almost anything."Let's hear it for the Queen's English
Liverpool Daily Post The ''Liverpool Post'' was a newspaper published by Reach plc, Trinity Mirror in Liverpool, Merseyside, England. The newspaper and its website ceased publication on 19 December 2013. Until 13 January 2012 it was a daily morning newspaper, wi ...
Mark Larson of the '' Christian Examiner'' labeled "iconic" as an overused word, finding over 18,000 uses of "iconic" in news stories alone, with another 30,000 for "icon".Modern word usage amazingly leaves us yearning for gay, old times
, '' Christian Examiner''

See also

* :Lists of cultural icons *
List of cultural icons of England This list of cultural icons of England is a list of people and things from any period which are independently considered to be cultural icons characteristic of England. Animals * Dartmoor pony. * Exmoor pony. * Gloucester Old Spot pig. * Herefo ...
List of cultural icons of France '' by Eugène Delacroix '' by Auguste Rodin Image:TourDeFrance 2005 07 09.jpg, Tour de France This List of cultural icons of France is a list of links to cultural icons of France. Animals * Abondance (cattle ...
List of cultural icons of Germany File:Kampsbrezel.jpg, Pretzel Animals *Boxer (dog) *Dachshund *German Shepherd *Poodle *Schnauzer Art Artists *Reinhold Begas (1831-1911), Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) *Otto Dix (1891-1969), Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) *Max E ...
List of cultural icons of Italy File:Michelangelo's David 2015.jpg, upMichelangelo's ''David (Michelangelo), David '' The List of cultural icons of Italy is a list of links to potential cultural icons of Italy. Art *Gian Lorenzo Bernini *Sandro Bottic ...
List of cultural icons of the Netherlands '', Vincent van Gogh s in the foreground. Image:Volvo FH12-Meulman (NL)-2004.jpg, Norfolkline The List of cultural icons of the Netherlands is a list of links to potential cultural icons of the Netherlands]List of cultural icons of Portugal * List of cultural icons of Russia *
List of cultural icons of Scotland This list of cultural icons of Scotland is a list of objects, topics or people identified as cultural icons of Scotland. Animals * Capercaillie * Osprey * rock ptarmigan, Ptarmigan * Red deer * Red kite * Red squirrel * Scottish wild cat A ...
* List of cultural icons of Spain *
List of cultural icons of Wales The List of cultural icons of Wales is a list of links to known cultural icons of Wales. Animals *Welsh corgi, Welsh lamb Art *Love spoon *National Museum Cardiff *Welsh costume *Welsh hat *Welsh dresser Buildings and structures ...
Gay icon A gay icon is a public figure who is highly regarded by the LGBT community The LGBT community (also known as the LGBTQ+ community, GLBT community, or the gay community) is a loosely defined grouping of lesbian, gay men, gay, Bisexuality, bisex ...

Gay icon
Horror icon A horror icon is a person or fictional character that is considered to be significant to horror fiction within mediums such as Horror film, film, Horror literature, literature, Horror television programs, television, or Survival horror, video games ...
Pop icon A pop icon is a celebrity, character or object whose exposure in popular culture is regarded as constituting a defining characteristic of a given society or era. The usage of the term is largely subjective since there are no definitively objectiv ...



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External links

Our New Icons
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The Daily Telegraph ''The Daily Telegraph'', known online and elsewhere as ''The Telegraph'' (), is a national British daily broadsheet A broadsheet is the largest newspaper format and is characterized by long vertical pages, typically of . Other common ne ...

The Daily Telegraph
Nothing and no one are Off Limits in an Age of Iconomania
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The Age ''The Age'' is a daily newspaper in Melbourne Melbourne ( ) is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger uppercase or ca ...
British Postal Museum & Archive: Icons of England

Culture24: Icons of England
{{DEFAULTSORT:Cultural icon Cultural history