Friday, January 13, 2012

MLK: The Quintessential Cultural Icon of our Age

The term cultural icon has been defined as “figures who have changed our cultural landscape throughout the years”. Open Culture  It seems like a good definition to me.

Searching the web to see who might be considered the cultural icons of 2011, I stumbled upon somebody’s list for the last 50 years:

10. Paul Newman
9. Princess Diana
8. The Beatles
7. Oprah Winfrey
6. Muhammad Ali
5. Michael Jackson
4. Marilyn Monroe
3. Frank Sinatra
2. Madonna
1. Elvis

No politicians. . . no religious figures . . . no one save Princess Di from outside the United States . . .  Eight of the 10 are entertainers, one a sports figure and one a paparazzi-drawing public figure.

To be fair, their list was of ‘pop’ cultural icons.  And the Lord knows, with this list, I’d have to bend over backwards to be fair.  The comments were even worse than the list, as many made the case to move Michael Jackson to the top.

Pop (short for 'popular') or not, I want to know . . . where is Che?  And if we’re talkin’ t-shirts here, how about Dylan, Baez, Hendrix & Morrison?  Buddy Holly for that matter?  JFK?  Jackie O?  Bollywood?  Andy Warhol?  Liz Taylor?  Elton John?  Gandhi?  George Carlin?  David Bowie?  Noam Chomski?  Paolo Coelho?  Leonard Cohen?  Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert?  And if we stretch just a bit further than the 50 year limit, how about Salvadore Dali and Ann Frank?

Dr. King featured on postage stamp of Kyrgyzstan
How about a man so famous all that’s needed are his initials to identify him?  How about MLK, for God’ sake?

Even a quick Google search reveals something like 2.7 million hits for t-shirt and other images featuring Dr. King . . . Google I have a dream . . . and you get more than 85 million hits . . .

When we recall the words to the songs of the musicians on the above list, we may remember where we were . . . but when we recall the words to Dr. King’s I have a dream speech, we remember where a nation was.

Dr. King was many things: preacher . . . prophet . . . Nobel laureate . . . unfaithful husband . . . visionary . . . lightening rod . . . agent of reconciliation or polarization or perhaps both . . . father . . . friend . . . saint and sinner . . . child of God . . . and, I submit, the quintessential cultural icon of our age.

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