Don’t waste our icons

This is the year of the 70th anniversary of one of my favorite movies, The Wizard of Oz, the Hollywood premiere of which was held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on August 15, 1939, four years before I was born. I saw the film for the first time when I was around eight or nine I believe. It also happens that my wife and I were married on August 15, 1965. Not to be sexist, but the male gender is not known for recollection of such important occasions,  so each year the movie’s anniversary coincides, which gives me a great mnemonic device to ensure I observe my own anniversary event properly.

401px-Wizard_of_oz_movie_posterSpeaking of observing an event properly, Warner Bros. Entertainment has had a Wizard of Oz Hot Air Balloon  and Ruby Slipper Collection traveling around the country, and on September 29 will release a 70th anniversary high definition edition of the movie. The press releases issued in conjunction with the anniversary celebration state that: “Over the last seven decades, the film has indelibly woven itself into America’s cultural consciousness”, and “The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved and iconic motion pictures of all time filled with timeless sentiments and values cherished by multiple generations…more than one billion consumers have experienced the classic story of Dorothy and friends in the Land of Oz.”

This got me thinking about icons. It started with the Greeks. What else is new? The Greek word eikōn, εἰκών  from another Greek word meaning “to resemble” simply meant “likeness”. The etymology proceeded from the Greek to the Latin “icon”, a word then applied to depictions of major religious figures. These “icons” were venerated, a touchy point as far back as the 8th century.  St. Basil the Great (329-379) – yes, there are icons of him –  tried to explain the distinction: “If I point to a statue of Caesar and ask you ‘Who is that?’, your answer would properly be, ‘It is Caesar.’ When you say such you do not mean that the stone itself is Caesar, but rather, the name and honor you ascribe to the statue passes over to the original, the archetype, Caesar himself.”  In the 16th century the word came into English usage in the sense of simile, likeness, image.  This is also the meaning that came to associate itself with “computer icons” and the like. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it is just since the mid 20th century that persons and things looked up to by many and “venerated” in a non-religious way started to be referred to as  “icons”.

One source finds some 18,000 “iconic” references in news stories, and another 30,000 for “icon”.  Suzy Freeman-Greene, in her article of September 15 in the online version of the Australian newspaper The Age refers to “iconomania”, in a time when the word is being applied to just about anything and anyone to the point that its meaningfulness is at issue. And retaining the value of its meaning is an issue. The importance of icons is that complex concepts can be conveyed and achetypes defined through them.  As such icons serve an important communications function.

When we speak of journalistic integrity we can invoke Walter Cronkite as an  icon. Mahatma Gandhi can be pointed to as an icon for non-violent resistance. Thomas Edison, an icon of invention and innovation. He was also called “The Wizard of Menlo Park”, which leads us back to The Wizard of Oz.

In the prologue to his new book Finding Oz author Evan I. Schwartz refers to L. Frank Baum’s classic in terms of it being a great American myth. In its feature about Baum and The Wizard of Oz the Smithsonian Institution online magazine states: “Today, images and phrases from The Wizard of Oz are so pervasive, so unparalleled in their ability to trigger personal memories and musings, that it’s hard to conceive of The Wizard of Oz as the product of one man’s imagination.” The Library of Congress names The Wizard of Oz as the most-watched film in history.

There are a number of words and phrases that have entered into the vernacular resulting from the cultural impact of The Wizard of Oz, for example: Yellow Brick Road. noun. 1. (figuratively or humorously) A proverbial path to a promised land of one’s hopes and dreams.  This example about sums up what an icon is all about, i.e., conveniently summing up something  not reasonably expressed otherwise, like a mnemonic. It would be a shame to waste them.

(A note about copyright. C&C is assiduous with respect to not using copyrighted materials without appropriate permissions. The Wizard of Oz Movie Poster reproduced here is in the public domain by virtue of its publication between 1923 and 1977 without a copyright notice.)

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/09/20/dont-waste-our-icons/

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Walter Cronkite – the icon dies

He reported the exact time of John F. Kennedy’s death – 1 p.m. central, 2 p.m. eastern time. He took off his dark rimmed glasses, looked up at the clock in the studio and reported “38 minutes ago”; then in one of the rare instances on record, he choked up a little for a second or so – then gathered his composure and continued with the fact that vice-president Lyndon Johnson had left the hospital, that it was not known where he was “proceeding”, and that he would presumably be taking the oath of office.

Later, in his administration, Johnson would react to Cronkite’s suggestion that the Vietnam war would end in a “stalemate” by saying “If we’ve lost Cronkite, we’ve lost Middle America.” Upon his return from a fact finding mission to Vietnam Cronkite felt compelled to voice his opinion on the war on the air; since he never rendered an opinion in his on-air role, considering it his journalistic obligation to be objective and report the facts, the weight of this statement influenced a nation.

 Last night Walter Cronkite, exact time unknown, died. His is the voice many of us still hear in our heads reporting most of the major events during  just about all of the 20th century.

With uncanny coincidence his death coincides with the 40th anniversary of the space mission that put men on the moon; a mission he famously reported. It was another of those few occasions when he was overwhelmed momentarily by the magnitude of the event he was reporting – rubbing his hands together, smiling with glee – and in this way, accurately representing the feeling of all America – and of much of the world – at that moment of human achievement.

Why is Cronkite a communications icon?  For many reasons and in particular, because his work represents one of the standards by which broadcast journalism should be judged. It is said of Cronkite that he was trusted by all America. That trust was earned. It was cultivated through insistence on digging for the facts, getting it right, reporting it plainly, and without bias – telling the people what they needed to know, not necessarily what they wanted to know: Integrity is the word that comes to mind, reporting with integrity.

Now we are plied with an orgy of celebrity “news” ad nauseam; we are committed to a 24/7 news cycle that brings us a repetition of news which can actually numb our sensitivity to what is happening in the world around us; we are bombarded with opinion journalism – take your choice, and indeed that is what we invariably do, instead of demanding the truth, we tune in our favorite news slant, to confirm our perspective and tune out all else.

The Anchorman has died.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/18/walter-cronkite-the-icon-dies/

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Aaron Brown is back

I am ecstatic. I have just realized that Aaron Brown will be back hosting the PBS “Wide Angle” series starting in July! Wait, let me calm myself, take a deep breath and then I’ll explain why I am so thrilled to be the bearer of this good news. (taking breath…).

OK, first of all here’s some important background. In a nutshell, Aaron Brown, for whom an argument can be made that he compares favorably with such master communicators in broadcasting (each in their respective specialties mind you) as Walter Winchell, Edward R. Murrow, and Walter Cronkite, anchored CNN’s primetime news show and will always be remembered for his 9/11 coverage.

There are a number of versions of the CNN story I grant. However, to make a long story short, my assessment was and remains that the format and the anchor were thought to be to un-hip for the audience CNN was going after (read younger). So he was summarily dismissed. Subsequently, Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism (named so in honor of Walter Cronkite) decided Brown was good enough to become the inaugural Walter Cronkite Professor of Journalism at the school. At the time Cronkite, who had gone after Brown for the position, stated that “His passion for our profession and his commitment to its highest standards of objectivity and fairness has been the hallmark of his work, and will be a source of great inspiration for our students.”

Enter PBS, with the foresight to recognize a professional when they see and hear one.  “Wide Angle” was started in 2001 and PBS considers it “the only program exclusively dedicated to international current affairs documentaries.” Anyway they tapped Brown for the hosting assignment last April, so this will be his second season with the program.

Aaron Brown is a model for what makes a noted communicator, which is why I call him to your attention. His background, his public demeanor, his presentation skills, all are exemplary in this regard. But you can see for yourself. Watch the series to air starting in July, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on most PBS stations. In the meantime, watch and listen to a brief Brown video promo for the series and I think you’ll be convinced as am I that this is no ordinary broadcast journalist. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/about-the-series/introduction/31/wnet/wideangle/episodes/conversations-with-aaron-brown/introducing-wide-angle-host-aaron-brown/1808/

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/12/aaron-brown-is-back/

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