Between simplification and diversity: World War II as an iconic era

Ribbens, C. R. (Keynote speaker)

Activiteit: Toespraak of presentatieAcademisch


In rather diverse societies across the world cultural icons have a very clear presence. Not only do they emerge in large numbers in various contexts, they are also increasingly identified as such - by scholars, journalists, opinion-makers and other observers of contemporary developments.
In this situation, icons find themselves in a somewhat curious position. Since they are supposed to refer to something special, even to something unique, the implicit assumption is generally that they are relatively rare. In reality, they are an increasingly common phenomenon, though still attracting growing attention. At the same time, there is little unanimity about the definition of cultural icons. Their recognisability is an important element, as is the special status of what is referred to. But does that offer sufficient grip for a consistent delineation to study icons from a cultural-historical perspective?
Closely connected to this is the question whether icons are by definition visual markers, images exclusively referring to specific persons, events and phenomena? Or should we, based on the current situation in the early 21st century, acknowledge that there are iconic eras that should not only be perceived as a collection of individual iconic persons and events, but ought to be considered as an icon itself, despite a certain lack of coherence which might even be highly characteristic.
The Second World War seems to lend itself very well to such an approach, while the study of the iconic meaning(s) of this era may also contribute to the mapping of the boundaries of the phenomenon. From this perspective, helpful questions can be raised about the producers and consumers of icons, about the cultural and geographical scope and the wider development of the phenomenon, and about the power or impotence of icons in society.
Periode26 jan 2018