It’s Time To Stop Using The Word “Iconic”

For the love of God, stop.

Natalie Portman in “Closer” (2004), dir. by Mike Nichols, Columbia Pictures

R.I.P. to understatement. It seems we’re no longer able to express anything that isn’t everything. “Your dress is everything!” No it’s not, hun. “Omg, that is THE worst!” Again, no. The word “iconic” is among the worst offenders, and I’m sick to death of it. It’s everywhere. Once you’re aware of it, you’re hyperaware — you hear it all the time, you read it in every other article byline.  The word “iconic” is the god-awful embodiment of our lazily hyperbolic society. How can we possibly ascertain any measure of value when everything is dialled up to 100?

As the New York Times put it in 2015, “few things really qualify as “iconic” and those that do generally don’t need the label.” A shopping location in (wait for it) Bognor Regis, an oak tree in Ottawa and an aqueduct (?!?) in Wales are just three of the things the internet has deemed worthy of the label this week. It’s laughable. (Honestly, searching “iconic” in Google’s news section is a sure fire way to brighten your day.)

“The Matrix” (1999) still, dir. by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, Warner Bros

Editor of AnOther magazine, Alexander Fury, is with me. “I fucking hate the word ‘iconic’”, one of his Instagram posts states. “It’s a blight of modern language”.  People we’ve never heard of are all of a sudden “iconic”. Every single fashion look Chanel ever produced is “iconic”. Companies that make notepads are “iconic”. (I’m not trying to undermine the importance of good stationery, but please.)

Particular scorn is reserved for those of you who use “iconic” about entirely new things. You literally have no idea whether they will stand the test of time. Stop. Now. I’m sent countless press releases claiming this jacket or that car is iconic. I’m not buying it. YOU’RE NOT SPECIAL. It’d be a pleasure, for once, to read about something that’s just good, efficient, or downright nice. I’ve got Madonna and I don’t need any other icon in my life.

For those of you struggling with what constitutes iconic, here’s a handy guide. And if you still don’t get the do’s and don’ts, play it safe and stick with “don’t”, for all our sakes.

Yayoi Kusama Exhibition In Infinity in HAM, Helsinki. Image courtesy of Katja Nevalainen under creative commons

In Art

The art world is full to the brim with icons, granted, but they really don’t need an introduction. You can safely assume anyone who is widely recognised by their last name (I’m talking Van Gogh, Monet, Basquiat, Hirst, Kusama, O’ Keeffe) is an icon. But you don’t need to say it. Say something interesting, choose another word.

Lukas Korschan for Sleek 55

In Fashion

The fashion world might just be the worst offenders for spreading this linguistic pathogen. In fashion, everything that’s just dropped is apparently “iconic”. We’ve reached saturation point, and enough is enough. Burberry nova check: iconic. Chanel double C: iconic. Basquiat walking for Commes-des-Garçons: iconic. Vetements DHL logo shirt? Not iconic, sorry Vice.

“Kids” (1995) still, dir. by Larry Clark, Miramax

In Film

The internet doesn’t need your wishy-washy “10 most iconic films” listicle, that inevitably begins with “The Godfather” and throws in “Citizen Kane” for good measure. (And who actually wants to watch Citizen Kane any more than once anyway?)  Find something different to say; at least try and latch on to the quality that makes something iconic. Why not write about “5 of the most gripping nordic noirs” or “10 dramas that will heighten your political awareness”? To be frank, I’d rather read “5 films to make you feel nice” than yet another “iconic” list.

Britney Spears in “Baby One More Time” (1998) dir. by Nigel Dick, Jive Records

In Popular Culture

Pop culture icons are one thing. Prince is an icon, Bowie’s an icon, Aretha Franklin’s an icon — they’ve all left a lasting legacy after their death. “Iconic moments” is quite another and this shit needs to stop. Yesterday I read about a “drunken Real Housewives of Dallas moment” that was “instantly iconic”. I can’t. I don’t have the words anymore.

Well done world. Well done for making “iconic” absolutely, positively redundant.


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