Ponzio’s iconic diner (in South Jersey) is turning 50; designer Milton Glaser is creating an iconic environmental logo for his line of eye ware; steel and Domino’s sugar are iconic industries; Smokey Bear is an iconic symbol of wildfire prevention; and Roberts Shoe store—an iconic Chicago institution—is closing its doors. These are just a few examples of what you find, if you do a news search on the word “iconic” today.
In the simpler America at the end of the last millennium, you had to be really a star in the business of degrading American taste to be called iconic: Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, the Beatles. Maybe even Ed Sullivan or Dick Clarke or Wolfman Jack or Jesse Ventura, but not even Dan Rather or Meryl Streep were iconic. Now all you have to do is sell shoes or sugar or design goofy eyeglasses. Why, this is blasphemy!
Listen some time to the geniuses on NPR, and you will learn that just about every crumby pop music idol or sports hero is an icon. If you are imprudent enough to raise this question with one of your fellow-equals with the right to vote, he or she or he-she will probably advise you to lighten up. After all, few people know the meaning of icon—or even idol or hero—and certainly NPR newsreaders are among the least likely candidates for basically literacy that one can imagine. Surely, they mean no harm. It is just that they are as stupid as they are ignorant.
That newsreaders are ignorant and stupid, no one can reasonably deny, but have they never felt a twinge of pleasure in using a Christian religious term for profane purposes? If this were true, we should have to forgive them for using litany (as in “litany of complaints”) when all they mean is a list of often unrelated items rather than a solemn entreaty of God or the saints. And, if they were sincerely dumb, they would not have to call every unpleasant initiatory experience a “baptism by fire” or the casual shack-up of two same-sex degenerates “marriage.”
No, dumb as these people are—and one really has to hand it to them, David Green and Renee Montaigne are about as close to minerals as a living creature can get—they have a feeling down deep in the guts they mistake for souls: Blasphemy is the last thrill they can get out of their tedious existences.
It is, of course, wrong to blame the tax-subsidized Valley girls and guys on NPR. They are products of the American educational system. It is people with any education or decent principles who are the freaks. The news-reading cheer-leaders of the revolution against sanity and humanity are the norm. To the extent there is a common American culture—apart from pornography and football—it is a culture of hatred: hatred of the people who carved this country out of the wilderness, hatred of everything normal, and hatred of Christianity. Each one of them is, to paraphrase an iconic piece of music from the only cultural tradition with which they are familiar, “a hunk a hunk of burning hate.”
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.