Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Media Icons and Geniuses Part 1

I almost feel sorry for the media. They pay lip service to "hard news" but are obligated to fill a 24/7 online world with information that can barely be called news. An increasingly broad spectrum of choices for the mindspace of the consumer has led to increasingly desperate ploys and tactics from various media outlets. Filling all that space has led to some serious brand deterioration (I'm looking at you CNN). One consequence of this "need to fill" is the dramatization of everything. Inflating the importance of whatever's on the stand, the cover, or the front page. You can't have the "best week ever" every week. I think MTV/VH1 is aware of this irony.

I was at a newstand the other day ogling various covers and the one that caught my eye was the cover of Vogue with Sienna Miller on it and the label "Fasion's Feistiest Icon". WHAT? ICON? Really. I don't know $hit about fashion but I know an icon when I see one, I think most people do. I figured I should look at a couple of sources first, so I queried Merriam-Webster and American Heritage dictionary. The definitions of "icon" that most closely mirror Vogue's usage would be: 1) an imporant and enduring symbol 2) One who is the object of great attention and devotion; an idol. When did icon status start getting handed out so readily and in such a short time? My enduring memories of Sienna Miller are her less than flattering remarks about Pittsburgh which started a minor firestorm and of course the fact that her much more famous boyfriend Jude Law cheated on her with his nanny. Make no mistake, Miller's fame skyrocketed with the revelation that she was a reverse-cuckold. It's certainly not her luminous body of work. I'm not a fashionista, far from it, I have no clue about its basic tenets, but she dresses a lot like Marianne Faithful. If you dress like a somewhat maudlin pop star from 45 years ago you're not breaking ground and you're not an icon. I'm gonna make that call.

It's not Sienna's fault, apparently she hates the label; probably because it underscores the fact that she's better known as a clotheshorse than a serious performer or artiste. Icons are enduring symbols that represent many things to many people or in some case a single grand idea. Historically important individuals are not necessarily icons, even though they could be more important than your typical icon. Is Winston Churchill more historically significant than Muhammed Ali? Naturally. Is Ali more of a cultural icon, absolutely. Global icons are rare but some that come to mind: Che Guevara, Muhammed Ali, Gandhi, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley. Now, these people can be vastly polarizing but their impact is unquestionable as is their fame. I ask you again, Sienna Miller?

I don't mean to pick on Miss Miller. She was the trigger. I recall some years ago Chloe Sevigny was labeled a fashion icon. It does make some sense that an industry that lives and dies in direct proportion to the attention it receives anoints so many with so grand an appelation. You want to read about "Fashion's Feistiest Icon" not about "Fashion's Flavor of the Month."

In the next installment I'm going to take a look at "genius" how it's defined and how people feel about genius. That might take two treatments, frankly.

If you have any thoughts on who is and who isn't an icon, send them in . . .

In a bit.

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