Becoming Iconic

King, B
Item type
Journal Article
Degree name
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Annenberg School, University of Southern California

Contemporary popular journalism and cultural commentary are marked by the widespread proliferation of the term “iconic” in a way that departs from its traditional, sacred meaning, albeit carrying the aura of the former into a new context of representation. The semiotic processes underpinning this usage are explored to expose the shifting relationship between sign forms and the construction of cultural value under advanced capitalism. Linking Peircean semiotics to Marxian sociological categories, a new “formation of celebrities” (the Iconae) is identified that melds market success with the concept of the intrinsic qualities of persons and things— though in celebrity discourse things are the properties of persons. The immediate rhetorical function of the term “iconic” is to promote celebrities as the victors of a tournament for popular approval. In this process, the concept of the popular becomes subjected to the formation of a hierarchy as the ostensible expression of “natural” talent. Keywords: Frankfurt School, iconic power, commodification, reification and personification, physiognomy, physiocratic inequality and hierarchy

Semiotics; Frankfurt school; Meritocracy
International Journal Of Communication, 12, 19. Retrieved from
Rights statement
Copyright © 2018 (Barry King). Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd).