What is the Most Iconic Image in the World?

An unusually enjoyable grad scheme application posed me this question the other day, and for an entire week a few minutes I was pretty stumped. A reel of images kept sporadically flashing through my head: Audrey rocking the cigarette holder, the eiffel tower, the McDonalds’ logo, Marilyn straddling a grate, road signs, a young girl feeling napalm, Kitchener, Che Guevara…

But it didn’t ask what one of the most iconic images in the world was, but requested THE most iconic. Now, as anyone who has ever met me will probably know, I posses an innate derision for anything vaguely sappy (read: any form of PDA, Taylor Swift lyrics, overtly sentimental social media messages, Love Story – the list is endless). Therefore, it almost pained me to draw my instinctual conclusion to this question, but the evidence is indisputable.

A schoolgirl cathartically carving into a desk, the lucky hand in a poker game, a medieval coat of arms, tablet-shaped sweets, Milton Glaser’s pop-style epithets proudly emblazoned across t-shirts worldwide; it’s inescapable: the love heart is everywhere.

No one knows where it came from, but popular culture has rendered the love heart eternal; it’s not just a seasonal Valentine motif to be fired from porky Cupid’s bow. Given the fact the love heart graphic looks nothing like it’s anatomical actuality, it’s done pretty well for itself and has remained doggedly persistent in our fickle and icon-saturated age.

The love heart has been manipulated to connote many things; a breaking heart, love struck, lovesick, loving, to love. The typing of those two keys, <3, can channel a complex series of emotions from nerve endings into digital cyberspace, projecting an expression of love from Paris to Berlin. Those two lines curving in geometrical grace kissing at the apex can be interpreted anywhere, by (almost) anyone. The image connotes that most complex human emotion that’s evaded the capability of even the most honey-tongued poets; it seems we got to the stage where we decided if we can’t adequately talk about love, we’d better draw it.

Now I can’t speak for everyone in the world (remote Amazonian tribesmen, I’m looking at you) – but I personally consider the love heart to be the most iconic image in the world, a symbol that virtually everyone could identify with. Do you have any better ideas people?

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One comment

  1. […] at the time my contributions were limited, whilst she wrote an eloquent piece on the icon of a heart all I could think of was the McDonalds’s ‘M’ or the Christian cross; both very endocentric […]

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