Lesson two Icons
Heros and Cultural Icons
If you were asked to list ten American heroes and heroines，you would probably name some or all of the following ： George Washington，Abraham Lincoln，Daniel Boone，Martin Luther King Jr.，Amelia Earhart，Susan B. Anthony，Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis，Helen Keller，Elizabeth Cady Stanton，and Rosa Parks. If next you were asked to list people who are generally admired by society，who somehow seem bigger than life，you might come up with an entirely different list. You might，in fact，name people who are celebrated for their wealth and glamour rather than their achievements and moral strength of character. And you would not be alone，because pollsters have found that people today do not choose political leaders who shape history for their “Most Admired” list，but rather movie and television celebrities，fashion models，professional athletes，and even comic book and cartoon characters. In short media icons.
By definition，heroes and heroines are men and women distinguished by uncommon courage，achievements，and self-sacrifice made most oftern for the benefit of others——then are people against whom we measure others. They are men and women recognized for shaping our nation's consciousness and development as well as the lives of those who admire them. Yet，some people say that ours is an age where true heroes and heroines are hard to come by，where the very ideal of heroism is something beyond us——an artifact of the past. Some maintain that because the Cold War is over and because America is at peace our age is essentially and unheroic one. Furthermore，the overall crime rate is down，poverty has been eased by a strong and growing economy，and advances continue to be made in medical science. Consequently，bereft of cultural heroes，we have latched onto cultural icons-media superstars such as actors，actresses，sports celebrities，television personalities，and people who are simply famous for being famous.
Cultural icons are harder to define，but we know them when we see them. They are people who manage to transcend celebrity，who are legendary，who somehow manage to become mythic. But what makes some figures icons and others mere celebrities？ That's hard to answer. In part，their lives have the quality of a story. For instance，the beautiful young Diana Spencer who at 19 married a prince，bore a king，renounced marriage and the throne，and died at the moment she found true love. Good looks certainly help. So does a special indefinable charisma，with the help of the media. But nothing becomes an icon more than a tragic and early death——such as Martin Luther King Jr.，John F. Kennedy，and Princess Diana.
Donna Woolfolk Cross
One hundred years ago，people became famous for what they had achieved. Men like J.P. Morgan，E.H. Harriman and Jay Gould were all notable achievers. So were Thomas Edison，Mark Twain，and Susan B. Anthony.
Their accomplishments are still evident in our own day. Today's celebrities，however，often do not become known for any enduring achievement. The people we most admire today are usually those who are most highly publicized by the media.
In 1981，a Gallup poll revealed that Nancy Reagan was the nation's “most admired woman”。 The year before，that distinction went to president Carter's wife，Rosalynn. In fact，the wife of the current president is always one of the nation's most admired women. Today's celebrities，as the writer Daniel Boorstin says，are “people well -known for their well-knownness.”
To become such a celebrity，one needs luck，not accomplishment. As Boorstin says，“The hero was distinguished by his accomplishment； the celebrity by his image or trademark. The hero created himself； the celebrity is created by the media. The hero was a big man； the celebrity is a big name.”
There is another distinction： heroes inspire respect； celebrities inspire envy. Few of us believe we could be another Jonas Salk or Eleanor Roosevelt，but we could be another TV star like Telly Savalas or Suzanne Somers. Except for the attention they get from the media，these people are exactly like us.
The shift from hero-worship to celebrity-worship occurred around the turn of the century. It was closely tied to the rise of new forms of media-first photography，and later moving pictures，radio and television. For the first time，Americans could see and recognize their heroes. Previously，men like Gould and Harriman，whose names everyone knew，could easily have passed through a crowd without being recognized. The reproduction of photos in newspapers turned famous people into celebrities whose dress，appearance，and personal habits were widely commented upon. Slowly，the focus of public attention began to shift away from knowing what such people did to knowing what they looked like.
The shift was accelerated by the arrival of moving pictures. Between 1901 and 1914，74 percent of the magazine articles about famous people were about political leaders，inventors，professionals and businessmen. After 1922，however，most articles were about movie stars.
With the arrival of television，the faces of the stars became as familiar as those we saw across the breakfast table. We came to know more about the lives of the celebrities than we did about most of the people we know personally. Less than seventy years after the appearance of the first moving pictures，the shift from hero-worship to celebrity-worship was complete.
Today an appearance on a television talk show is the ultimate proof of “making it”in America. Actually，the term “talk show” is misleading. Celebrities do not appear on such a program because of an actual desire——or ability——to talk，but simply to gain recognition，and prove，merely by showing up，that they are “somebody.”
Being a guest on a talk show does not require qualities of wit，eloquence，brilliance，insight，or intelligence. A former talent coordinator for “the Tonight Show”，says that when he would ask a scheduled guest，“What would you like to talk to the host about？” the reply he got often was，“Have him ask me anything.” This ，he says，usually meant. “I am a typical Hollywood actor，so I have never had an original thought and I have nothing to say of any interest to anyone anywhere.”
Most hosts are grateful just to get someone who will fill the room with sound. One talk show coordinator comments. “we look for the guest who is sure to talk no matter what. Ten seconds of silence appears very awkward on television； thirty seconds is disastrous. A guest who's got to stop to think about everything he says before the opens his mouth is a ratings nightmare.”
This kind of attitude rewards smooth，insincere talk，and makes hesitancy look like stupidity.
“we wouldn't have used George Washington on our show.”says one talent coordinator. “he might have been first in the hearts of his countrymen，but today he'd be dragging his bottom in the ratings.”