Mlk, Jr.: Ambiguous and Contested Icon



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Stein, Daniel

Bebop’s Politics of Style and the Changing Iconicity of the Black Jazzman

Jazz has been at the forefront of public attention in America since its very conception. First rejected as the ragtag noise-making of scandalous savages, then celebrated as a commercially viable dance music, and later regarded as the often politically and socially motivated self-expression of self-conscious African-American artists: The music and the cultures that surround and suffuse it have created an extensive iconography with the black male soloist at the center. The present essay examines the changing iconicity of the jazz musician by tracing its workings in a variety of contexts. Special attention will be given to the bebop era (circa 1940-1955) with its dominant investment with the politics of style and representation. Drawing on a number of sources (interviews, autobiographies, jazz magazines, book-length studies, the mainstream press), the essay investigates how the image of the bebopper has come into being, how the icon has served as the battlefield of clashing ideologies and understandings of jazz as culture and music, and how the image of the revolutionary, beret-wearing and drug-using musical innovator has been employed by critics, novelists, and scholars alike in their definitions of what exactly jazz and its players can tell us about American culture.

Significantly, current divisions in the budding field of jazz studies offer greatly differing conceptions of the iconicity of the black jazz player. In fact, writers and commentators such as Albert Murray, Stanley Crouch, and Wynton Marsalis whole-heartedly and proudly embrace Durkheim’s and Parson’s notion of icons as symbols of their nation’s shared democratic values and history, albeit not without neglecting a large number of musicians, styles, and ideas that do not fit their agenda. As the far less reductive and ideologically invested work of Ronald Radano, Krin Gabbard, John Gennari, Scott DeVeaux, and Brent Hayes Edwards demonstrates, jazz music and its practitioners need to be situated among and within the many discourses and pressures (gender, race, class, marketplace) that have influenced, and continue to influence, the status of jazz as both art and economic commodity.

Stein, Lisa K.


The Magical Mystery Tour of America's European Icon: Chaplin's Little Tramp, Isolationism and the Age of Free Love

This paper will examine the rise, fall, and rise of Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp persona, a sort of "magical mystery tour" of a controversial icon of the disenfranchised and misbegotten in America in the 20th century. Thomas Burke, an author and early Chaplin critic, noted the iconic nature of the Little Tramp character, "Charlie" in his book City of Encounters, "Charlie was born fully grown, and is as static, and correctly static, as the figure of John Bull or Uncle Sam. We know nothing of his past or future, nor want to know. We realize that he has none. He lives all his life in the fixed and eternal present of the day of his birth" (144).


Often labeled "everyman" or the common man or the man of the people, the Little Tramp, a blatantly European character of the Victorian period, was adopted by American audiences as one of the first and longest lasting filmic icons. Chaplin reached the height of his fame in 1915, only a year after creating the Little Tramp character at Keystone Studios in Glendale, California and was able to sustain his success until the early days of World War II, a time in American history marked by a staunch isolationism with regards to foreign affairs. With the disappearance of the Little Tramp from the screen in The Great Dictator in 1940, Chaplin and his legacy fell into disfavor--a situation that resulted in his departure from the US in 1952. Because the Little Tramp had been cast out by "the man," the counter-culture of the late 1950s through 1970s resurrected the icon for their own uses and he became, once again, the herald-bearer of everything and everyone anarchic and anti-establishment in American culture and art.

Tate, William




Black madonnas. Readings on the heroic servant


black madonnas

Let me put it this way: Have you ever gone to a cocktail party where everybody seemed to know everybody else and as you stood at the door and looked around you realized that you did not know a soul? Everybody there regarded you as an intruder----- some as something that the cat had brought in.

We feel like that guest, only more so, for we have not even been invited to the party.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

University of Cape Town

February 1983
This paper is a set of readings, findings, unearthings, and radical discoveries.
In the year 1999-2000, I participated in the architectural competition for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. The project took me into deep researches of the American civil rights history, American slave history, and apartheid in South Africa. The project generated elements specific, symbolic, and mythological. The project work begs one to confront issues of race, justice, freedom, and peace. As we live it.

I found that I was working within a crucible of uncertainty, damnation, and courage.

Good for a royal flush. That is our time.

Our entry did not win, which only means that Washington is not the immediate place for it to be built. For the ideas had merit, too strong to let lie. I have thus taken them into the deep South. Into the places of origin of the deep researches. Alabama. Birmingham. Selma. Johannesburg. Soweto. In these places I have encountered three men who are historic figures in these stories of marches and opression. And they still are involved. Now they are working on me, as an architect, as an American, as a believer. They call me to task. It is a state of subterfuge.


The three men are Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. F.D. Reese, and Jonathan Daniels.
Archbishop Tutu needs no introduction. He is currently teaching at Emory University and living in the United States. Dr. Reese is a teacher and Baptist minister who was one of the principal leaders in the Voting Rights march from Selma to Montgomery. He was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday. Jonathan Daniels was a martyred civil rights worker, whose death is commemorated annually in the Blackbelt of Alabama. He death and sacrifice still resonate for the people of that region.

The deep research has now gone beyond:

on Monday, 17 February 2003, I met Dr. F. D. Reese in person.

on Wednesday, 21 May 2003, I met Archbishop Tutu in person.

on Saturday, 23 August 2003, I will attend a memorial service for Jonathan Daniels in the Blackbelt of Alabama with his people.
The values I have found are those of integrity, risk, tenacity-beyond-hope, and radical vision. And each of these is based upon a definite spiritual perspective.
I propose to bring the experience, the meetings, and the questions to Graz. The paper will be a weaving of oral history, liberation theology, architecture, and stories of reconciliation. It will be about looking fear straight in the eye and saying No. That we may learn better how to serve, and how to overcome. How to endure, how to carry on, how to follow through, how to change.
The lessons here are profound; they anticipate the needs of our time. We are laden with lack, these three men are laden with fullness. As was the Madonna. Blessed art thou.
Oh that we may learn. That we may learn.
Cut out the cock-and-bull story about how you are going to change the system from within.

Be more honest and say you are in it for what you can get.

Freedom is certain and they are delaying the day of liberation when South Africa will be truly free.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

University of Cape Town

February 1983

Toal, Catherine



"In Search of a Gay Icon: _Redburn_ and American Criticism"

This paper will propose that Herman Melville's novel _Redburn_ strives to create a figure that can function as an icon for American homosexuality. It will argue that the novel's portrayal and treatment of the character of Harry Bolton, who fails to transplant himself successfully to America, represents a rejection of a European culture of aristocratic homosexuality and the kinds of social and economic relations which support it. The figure of Carlo on the other hand, serves as a celebratory and unconstrained focus for homosexual desire. An image or reference point rather than a character, Carlo is, like an icon, a repository for attachments and sentiments, and

becomes fully iconic in his final exit from the action of the book (standing to play "Hail Columbia" as he is "triumphantly rowed ashore"). My argument will suggest that Carlo's 'replacement' of Harry illuminates his general cultural significance: he signifies the fantasy of a homosexual economy which is purely aesthetic, free from class hierarchy and overtones of exploitation or power. I will consider the way in which this project in the novel has been neglected by recent American criticism, and the implications of this neglect for the relationship between class, aesthetics and power in American queer theory.


Tschachler, Heinz



'In God We Trust' or, how the dollar bill represents the American nation - an attempt in cultural iconography

In C.S. Peirce's theory of signs, the relation of an icon to its referent is described in terms of similarity. As regards the dollar bill, it is, firstly, a representation of money in the form of paper currency. Yet beyond representing something concrete, the dollar bill also represents something abstract, i.e., the United States of America or, rather, the American nation. The transferral of meaning is of course culture-specific. The phrase "In God We Trust" means "United States" or "America" only to those who know that it is the national motto. What we see on the dollar bill is, therefore, part of the larger semiotic universe that Americans are born into and that will largely determine the way they see the world around them. The cultural formation which fostered these depictions can be tied to the emergence of a central state authority in the nineteenth century. Then various elites in the employ of the central state engaged in designing (or "inventing") a "tradition" for the purpose of buttressing and sustaining an "imagined community," to borrow Benedict Anderson's famous phrase. As a congressman from Michigan remarked in 1863, "As surely our flag represents ... the unity of these States, just so surely, sir, do the United States Treasury Notes represent ... the priceless value of these United States." The Treasury Notes are a good example of the role of money in the production and reproduction on a national scale of the integration of people. Then, as well as before and after, the iconography of the dollar bill drew upon seminal images in the history of the nation - including personalities, events, classical images and allegories, and historical vignettes. Overall, the material symbolicity of the dollar bill is part of a coherent web of stories, events, national symbols and rituals which, taken together, represent the shared experiences in the nation's history.


Vågnes, Øyvind



Quoting the Zapruder


November 22, 2003 marks the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy forty years ago. Among the most famous pieces of documentary films in American history, the super 8 film Abraham Zapruder shot of the assassination remains - in spite of its brevity (it lasts a mere 25 seconds) - a repository of imagery that serves as a source for reinscription in almost every visual narrative of the event that has followed it.


My paper is a presentation of a selection of such reinscriptions into narrative, each narrative contributing to a manifold and complex cultural memory of the event. Among the narratives I will show images from (on transparent paper) are: a reportage in Life published a week after the assassination (Life/Time bought the film before it was developed); a book of charcoal sketches by Josiah Thompson, Six Seconds in Dallas (1967), which made Life ask for an injunction against Thompson on the claim that the sketches were ”appropriated” from the film they owned; The Eternal Frame (1975), a filmed reenactment in Dealey Plaza by the performance collective Ant Farm; Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991); a children’s book, A Picture Book of John F. Kennedy (David Adler/Robert Casilla, 1991); two graphic novels, Badlands (Steven Grant/Vince Giarrano, 1993) and The Red Diaries (Gary Reed/Caliber Comics artists, 1997); a digitally enhanced commercial release of the Zapruder film on DVD, The Image of an Assassination (1999); mixed media images and poetry by Steve McCabe, The Wyatt Earp in Dallas: 1963 Project (2003).
The presentation will focus on how the meanings of the Zapruder film change every time it is reinscribed, and on the consequences of such image-quotation for the ongoing formation of cultural memories of the assassination.

Van Oostrum, Duco

US Sports Icons: Cartoons, Ads, and Resistance


When Michael Jordan shares the basketball court with Bugs Bunny in the 1996 film Space Jam, what happens to MJ’s iconic status? The entire film plays games with the icon Michael Jordan: Michael Jordan plays Michael Jordan; in-jokes about ‘being the face of corporate America’ are being performed in his face (for example: ‘eat your wheaties and your Big Mac, put on your Haines and your Nikes. You’ve got a game to play’). As a cartoon character, Michael Jordan stretches himself like a super duck to score the winning basket against the alien ‘Monstars’. The Nike Ad, “I want to be like Mike,” is translated into serious scholarship by Eric Michael Dyson (see his article, “I want to be like Mike: The Pedagogy of Desire”). Henry Louis Gates is puzzled by MJ’s iconic status to unite an entire Nation and even to go global with the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. But rather than ‘anchor the sliding of signification,’ MJ’s iconic status drifts from a safe corporate harbour. Even with the children’s film Space Jam, there is a horrific cartoon of Michael Jordan as slave (the result of his addiction to betting, another cruel in-joke), suddenly not even resembling Michael Jordan but a badly drawn image of a black man.


American sports is too easily regarded as the great ‘Americanizer,’ able to dissolve any differences on and off the playing field, race probably the most visible one. Many clichés on the locker room walls read: ‘there is no I in team.’ Yet the sports stars themselves reflect multiple images from their playing ability, from their representative value, to those of the fans. Is it possible for an American sports star—the ultimate US icon—to have agency, to resist commodification and become three-dimensional? Are the stories of dreams, success, failure, super human ability always read in the hegemonic myth of US culture?
In this paper, I will examine the cartoon dimensionality of African-American US sports icons by reading three texts from 1996: film (Space Jam mainly), literature (Paul Beatty, White Boy Shuffle)) and autobiography (Dennis Rodman, Bas As I Wanna Be).


Westwell, Guy

The Girl in the Picture: image icons and American cultural memory of the Vietnam War


This paper describes how the reporting of the Vietnam War in newspapers and on television results in the production of a number of vivid and powerful ‘image icons’. Analysis will focus on one image icon in particular – an ‘accidental’ napalm strike on Trang Bang village in 1972 which resulted in news photographs, film footage and television reports showing a young girl – Kim Phuc – burnt by napalm. This image-icon has had a significant impact in the shaping of the American cultural memory of the war in Vietnam.


The paper will begin by identifying how image icons such as these are always already positioned, or ‘interpretatively coded’, by the technological, institutional, and ideological preferences and practices of the American news media. Then the paper will offer a description of how the central position of image icons such as these within popular cultural experience of the war triggers a secondary process of representation in which the initial meanings are re-scripted in response to the changing needs of the present. In conclusion it will be claimed that through the use of this particular image icon and the telling of ‘Kim’s story’ we are beginning to see a merging of competing representations of the war into a single icon which is able to reconcile some of the conflict so central to the Vietnam experience.

Wynn, Neil




The Black Boxer as American Icon: From Jack Johnson to Mike Tyson

The symbolic role of African American boxers is often acknowledged in literary and other writings. Individuals like Jack Johnson and Joe Louis for example stood as representatives of their race against the white majority and challenged notions of racial superiority in the ring. Both Johnson and Louis were not only heavyweight champions of the world, but significantly black champions. Johnson’s success, applauded by African Americans, was hated by whites. While Louis too began as a ‘black’ hero his ‘iconic status’ shifted as he assumed, and was located in, the role of representative ‘all-American’ firstly by conforming to a public style acceptable to white audiences, and secondly through his public relations role during World War II. Muhammad Ali on the other hand, moved from the position of black hero to American and even international hero as a consequence of shifting racial and political positions and a retrospective iconisation. More recently, different responses to Mike Tyson demonstrate that the contested reading of the black sporting icon still reveals much of the racial divisions in American society.


This paper locates these issues in a broad historical/cultural interpretation of the different ways the black boxer has been ‘read’ by diverse audiences at various times, offering a barometer of the state of American race relations.

1 Initially published in 1983, the essay was reissued in 2000 in an expanded version of the original collection, Loving in the War Years, which includes new essays that sustain the themes at work in “A Long Line of Vendidas.”

2 See Lorde’s poem “The Brown Menace or Poem to the Survival of Roaches.”

3 Jonathan Edwards, Images of Divine Things, in Works, ed. Harry S. Stout (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), volume 11 (“Typological Writings”), p. 53.

4 Ibid., p. 61.

5 Ibid., p. 80.

6 Ibid., p. 101.

7 Ibid., p. 53.

8 States Benjamin: “Any person, any object, any relationship can mean absolutely anything else. With this possibility a destructive, but just verdict is passed on the profane world: it is characterized as a world in which the detail is of no great importance. But it will be unmistakably apparent, especially to anyone who is familiar with allegorical textual exegesis, that all of the things which are used to signify derive, from the very fact of their pointing to something else, a power which makes them appear no longer commensurable with profane things, which raises them onto a higher plane, and which can, indeed, sanctify them. Considered in allegorical terms, then, the profane world is both elevated and devalued,” The Origin of German Tragic Drama, tr. John Osborne (London: NLB [Verso], 1977), p. 175.

9 Wallace Stevens, “Two or Three Ideas,” in Collected Poetry and Prose, ed. Frank Kermode & Joan Richardson (New York: The Library of America, 1997), p. 841.

10 Ibid., p. 428.

11 Ibid., p. 842.

12 Jonathan Edwards, Images of Divine Things, p. 62.



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