The Christian culture has Jesus, the Muslim culture has Muhammad, Buddhist have Buddha. British culture has the Monarch or even St George. Communism has Karl Marx. Fascism had Mussolini among others.

These are cultural icons that a society pins their ideas and morals to. Without which the customs of the culture would have no moral authority.

I wonder if cultures can exist without a cultural leader.

Humans are pack animals, where we naturally form a pecking order and a leader. And we take our lead from that leader whether living, dead or undead.

Perhaps this cultural leader can be an inanimate object, a book, or statue. But does it have to have one?

Are there any examples of cultures which have traditions which have no obvious authority to pin them on? And would they disappear quite quickly if another culture came along with a charismatic leader with new ways of doing things?

As such, does this mean a culture can only be changed by an authority figure or icon? If a book was released with new ideas could the book become the new cultural icon?

  • 1
    Been there Jung that. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_and_His_Symbols
    – user4894
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 6:11
  • Cultures based on intellectual positions don't require icons. Socialism for example. But this kind of culture isn't as emotive as one based on icons. Sadly semiotics is perhaps more important as a study with regards to influencing human behaviour than just about any other.
    – Richard
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 0:10
  • 1
    @Richard But aren't most socialists either Marxists, or Trotskyists, or Blarite some other 'ists'. Even those who don't subscribe to any of these still have their figureheads be it Guardian journalists, or YouTube commentators. That's kind of how people define their brand of socialism by the figureheads. It's kind of a shorthand. I'll look into semiotics. I didn't realise this is what semiotics is about. I thought it was something to do with graphic design!
    – zooby
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 0:28
  • There are people who think they're socialists who have heroes.. but they're not really socialists. In fact a common thing for socialists to say is that they don't have heroes. At its core socialism is about equality. Everyone was born with a bellybutton, and everyone's shit stinks. Why then would anyone be worthy of lionization? Sure some people are rich.. some are great runners.. but on the whole human life is all equally worthy.
    – Richard
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 0:36
  • @Richard but then what set of ideas defines a socialist? Where are the rules? Unless you can point to a role model, or a book, someone has to set down the rules otherwise the concept is meaningless. Anyone could call themselves a "socialist" even if they were a fascist. I would say you need an authority figure to set out the rules. Or even a committee. But then the committee itself becomes the icon. Maybe socialists follow your definition. But then they would be Richardists. Or maybe they write their own rules. Then they are not socialists anymore just people with their own rules.
    – zooby
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 2:34

2 Answers 2


A culture to be normative requires imposing its values upon society (which does not mean that it's not incapable of change, but generally not essentially). This requires authority. Authority requires incarnation - whether in a book, a person, an icon or an institution, or severally together.

It's a mistake, by the way, to think of the Prophet Mohammed having the same status that Christ has in Christianity. He quite firmly said, that he was a rasul, or messenger, and his message was the Qu'ran.

  • This seems correct to me, but I'd prefer it with at least some minimal sourcing. Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 18:56

A cultural icon is an artifact that is identified by members of a culture as representative of that culture.

The process of identification is subjective, and "icons" are judged by the extent to which they can be seen as an authentic proxy of that culture.

When individuals perceive a cultural icon, they relate it to their general perceptions of the cultural identity represented.

In media, many items and persons of popular culture have been called "iconic" despite their lack of durability; and the term "pop icon" is often now used.

A web-based survey was set up in 2006 allowing the public to nominate their ideas for national icons of England[4] and the results reflect the range of different types of icon associated with an English view of English culture. Some examples are:

Big Ben (the nickname for the bell, but widely recognised as Elizabeth Tower of the Houses of Parliament in London);[5][6][7] Cup of tea (for the British tea drinking habit);[5][8][9] Red telephone box;[10][11][12] Red AEC Routemaster London double decker bus;[5][10][11] Spitfire, a World War II fighter aircraft.[5][11][13]

Matryoshka dolls are seen internationally as cultural icons of Russia.[14] In the former Soviet Union, the hammer and sickle symbol and statues of Vladimir Lenin instead represented the country's most prominent cultural icons.

The values, norms and ideals represented by a cultural icon vary both among people who subscribe to it, and more widely among other people who may interpret cultural icons as symbolising quite different values.

Thus an apple pie is a cultural icon of the United States, but its significance varies among Americans.

National icons can become targets for those opposing or criticising a regime, for example, crowds destroying statues of Lenin in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism[15] or burning the American flag to protest US actions abroad.[16]

Religious icons can also become cultural icons in societies where religion and culture are deeply entwined, such as representations of the Madonna in societies with a strong Catholic tradition.[17]

I do not think a 'folk- culture" can exist without an Icon. The question is why?

Its termed "Identity reflection" and the Icon reflects a long history of evolution. An American Flag- seen by community members- raises the memory of large historical events, happenings, and the culmination of a war of Independence. Similarly, if we see a Nazi flag or emblem the memory of the IInd world war and SS army, concentration camps etc.

In a diverse ethnic structure of a nation, these Icons are necessary for "identity' satisfaction and is useful as a protective cover.



You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .