Donald Sassoon

Making a Splash

Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon


Oxford University Press 392pp £25 order from our bookshop

Once upon a time – thirty long years ago, even? – icons were images to be worshipped. Today ‘iconic’ is an overused word for the paradigmatically famous. Not just famous, but so famous as to cause intense feelings of love and, more rarely, hate. Prince Charles’s first wife was pretty well-known anyway, but she became an icon. It’s not clear why, but she did. His second wife is merely famous and definitely not an icon. You need something extra to become iconic. Being beautiful helps, but it is not mandatory. Mao was an icon but he wasn’t pretty. Dying young in a car crash (Diana, James Dean), being assassinated (Kennedy, Che Guevara), committing suicide (Marilyn), or being crucified (Jesus) is a major step forward in one’s career towards icondom. But only a step: a complex historical and cultural process is required to transform an image into an icon. Martin Kemp picks a number of ‘icons’ and writes erudite essays about each: Jesus Christ, the Cross, the Heart (as in I ♥ NY), the Lion, the Mona Lisa, Che, the US flag, the photograph of the napalmed Vietnamese girl running naked, the classic bottle of Coca-Cola, the double helix of DNA, and E=mc2.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Tarantino's latest film is 'a fairy tale about Hollywood, where fantasy is an industrial product and the boulevards… ,
    • 'I don’t think we’re here on Earth to be Happy. I think we’re here on Earth to help God. I am a messianic writer'.… ,
    • 'Darley’s book is not a mad dash through this most compelling and complex of English counties. Nor is it another ti… ,
    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,