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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A pop icon is a celebrity whose fame in pop culture constitutes a defining characteristic of a given society or era. Although there is no single definitive test for establishing "pop icon" status, such status is usually associated with elements such as longevity, ubiquity, and distinction. Moreover, "pop icon" status is distinguishable from other kinds of notoriety outside of popular culture, such as with historic figures. Note, however, that some historic figures are recognized as having reached "pop icon" status during their era, and such status may continue into the present.


A common element of pop icon status is the ubiquity of imagery and allusions to the iconic figure. It is common for the figure to be recognized and even celebrated in areas outside the original source of celebrity status. An example of this is Albert Einstein, a physicist whose image and legacy have been represented in comic strips, t-shirts, greeting cards and many other contexts.


Often pop icon status implies distinguished association with a societal ideal or archetype. It is not uncommon for iconic figures to have a nickname or sobriquet that is used to emphasize this association. Sometimes the very name of such individuals is even used as a synonym for common words or ideas. Einstein, for example, is routinely associated with genius and ingenuity. Marilyn Monroe is associated with sex appeal.

A number of pop icons are distinguished for having died at a young age. These include James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, River Phoenix, Jean Harlow, Jim Morrison, Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Bruce Lee, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Marilyn Monroe, among others. Other deceased celebrities cemented their status as pop icons by virtue of their role in captivating the ethos of their era, as is the case with Elvis Presley, John F. Kennedy, and Michael Jackson. Many still-living celebrities also attain the status of pop icon; solo recording artists such as Madonna, Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Annie Lennox, David Bowie and Janet Jackson as well as musical groups such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, U2, and The Who are examples.

Some pop icons, such as Mickey Mouse,My Little Pony, Betty Boop, Mario, Winnie the Pooh, Bugs Bunny, Shrek, Pikachu, Superman, Spider-Man, Batman and Homer Simpson, are fictional characters. Even inanimate objects have been recognized as pop icons.

Some figures attain transitory or context-specific "pop icon" status for particular events that captivate public attention, such as in the case of the O.J. Simpson trial.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pop icon" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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