"Iconic" redirects here. For the EP by Icona Pop, see Iconic (EP).

A cultural icon is an object that represents some aspect of the values, norms or ideals perceived to be inherent in a culture, or section of a culture. Cultural icons vary widely, and may include objects like telephone boxes, aircraft, and buildings, or indeed real or fictional people.


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 apple pie is a cultural icon of the United States, but Americans may not agree on what it symbolises. The term has varying meanings; it is described by Dr Mike Parker as the "contested and poorly defined subject area of cultural iconicity".[1] In Russia, nesting sets of matryoshka dolls have been popular toys since 1892, but are seen internationally as cultural icons of Russia.[2]


For example, widely accepted cultural icons of the United Kingdom include:

Cultural icons in general can be of almost any kind, for example human, such as the figure of the female athlete;[14] film characters, such as Superman;[15] animals such as the horse;[16] aspects of science, such as DNA;[17] disasters, such as the loss of the Titanic;[18] books, such as Plato's Timaeus;[19] or types of boat, such as the oriental Dhow.[20]

Media overuse

Some writers say that the terms "icon" and "iconic" have been overused. A writer in Liverpool Daily Post calls "iconic" "a word that makes my flesh creep," a word "pressed into service to describe almost anything."[21] The Christian Examiner nominates "iconic" in its list of overused words, finding over 18,000 "iconic" references in news stories alone, with another 30,000 for "icon", including its use for SpongeBob SquarePants.[22]



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External links

  • The Daily Telegraph
  • The Age
  • British Postal Museum & Archive: Icons of England
  • Culture24: Icons of England


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