Looking for Cultural Icons

gigi2Creating a cultural icon out of someone who goes, ‘I’m stupid, isn’t it cute?’ makes me want to throw daggers. I want to say to them, ‘My grandma did not fight for what she fought for just so you can start telling women it’s fun to be stupid. Saying that to young women, little girls, my daughter? It’s not OK.’
~ Reese Witherspoon  (American Actress, b.1976)


You can quote them in an instant. You know them by just one name. You can dress like them on Halloween. Something they said or did not only changed your life, but affected American life as a whole. Who are they?

The 200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons include Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, Bill Clinton, James Dean, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Frank Sinatra, Ellen Degeneres, Katie Couric, Jay Leno, John F. Kennedy, Hemmingway, Johnny Carson, Elvis Presley and, yes, Hugh Hefner. The divas, the visionaries, the sex symbols, the shocking and divine influence what we eat, the way we dress, think and react.

VH1 developed the list based on their view of America’s most outstanding and outrageous personalities — the individuals who have significantly inspired and impacted American society.

These representatives of popular culture have the power to captivate our imagination: music we listen to, movies we watch, books we read. The internet has made it possible for one person to have a farther reaching impact than the days before such extensive cyberspace connections.

They’ve not only affected people personally, but also have mass societal impact, affecting millions of people around the world. They’re part of a universal vocabulary. They’ve become brands in their own right… great writers, dazzling filmmakers and musicians, brilliant philosophers and scientists, influential political leaders.

The criteria for selecting these icons was thoughtfully, and not without debate, created to be sure that a noted icon had to be more than famous. They had to pass one or more of the following criteria:

Do they pass the one-name test?
Can you dress up as them for Halloween?
Did they blaze a trail in pop culture?
Did they create a signature character in pop culture?
Can you quote them (or their character) in 10 seconds or less?
       (Do they have a catch phrase?)
Did society imitate their sense of fashion? Hairstyle?
Did SNL create a sketch satirizing them?
Did someone write a song about them?
Was or is there merchandising/paraphernalia that bears their image?
Can they be connected to Kevin Bacon?

We are not without our own cultural icons, people now gone but remembered for their vision and perseverance from George Putnam (publisher/editor of The Bend Bulletin), Donald M. Kerr (founder of the High Desert Museum), Les Schwab (founder of Les Schwab Tire Centers), Bill Healy (creator of Mount Bachelor Ski Area), Becky Johnson of Redmond (devoted children’s activist), Vince Genna (pioneering baseball and park enthusiast), Arthur Ray Bowman (Prineville civic leader), Ben Westlund (Oregon State Treasure and creator the Oregon Cultural Trust), Arthur Pozzi (lumber industry veteran), renowned builders Kirby Nagelhout and Hap Taylor, John and Betty Gray (developers of Sunriver Resort) and William E. Miller (founder of Miller Lumber / community leader).

They may not have been as sexy as Marilyn or charismatic as the Kennedy’s but they shaped our region and set us on a path for the lifestyle we currently enjoy.

Today our cultural integrity is carried forward with impressive leadership and insight of the Taylor and Miller families, Bill and Trish Smith (Old Mill District), Mike and Sue Hollern (Brooks Resources and the Bend Foundation), Brad Tisdel (Sisters Folk Festival and Americana project) and Becky Johnson of OSU-Cascades.

However the underlining forces that preserve our culture and create new customs are largely conducted by the unseen and rarely acknowledged…the individual artists, musicians and writers, the managers of our museums, theatres and festivals, the subcontractors, restaurateurs, yoga instructors and gallery owners. It’s unlikely they will make the top 200 pop culture icons, but they make our day and safeguard our way of life without pomp and circumstance.

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