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 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);
Cup of tea (for the British tea drinking habit);
Red telephone box;
Red AEC Routemaster London double decker bus;
Spitfire, a World War II fighter aircraft.
Matryoshka dolls are seen internationally as cultural icons of Russia. 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 or burning the American flag to protest US actions abroad.
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.
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.