American Icons in the 20th Century




Olivo, Victoria Barbosa

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Benedict Anderson's term "imagined communities" holds that no one person could ever meet all members of their political community, however, in one's mind, a member lives within an imagined community that shares a unified identity. I seek to identify American icons and utilize Anderson's imagined community theory to expand our understanding of what makes an icon. Icons are powerful signifiers due to their widespread recognition and complex cultural meaning. An icon can be a person, place or thing/event that exemplifies a culture. Depending on the audience, time, and context, icons hold different meanings and power. For this paper, I focus on an American perspective of American icons. When a person, place, thing, etc. is deemed iconic by the American people these icons are held as embodiments of a particular value or possibly something Americans find sacred. An American icon may represent any aspect of the American culture, from a struggle such as war, politics, revolutions to mundane aspects of everyday life. For a symbol to become an icon the symbol must not only be popular but a "fully-fledged member of a particular culture or subculture." Throughout this paper I focus on the complexities of American icons by examining the legends icons produce. Within the context of what historians have labelled as the "American Century." Lastly, I will make recommendations on the best practices for teaching undergraduate students about American icons.


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American Icons, nationalism, pop culture, stereotypes